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USA refuge for Nigeria stars past and present

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Many Nigerian players who have found “refuge” in the United States of America never planned to quit active football when they did, but the experiences behind their move to America are better imagined than told.

No fewer than 50 Nigerian players and counting are currently eking out a living in the US and many more have not been lucky to continue what’s left of their chequered lives in the God’s Own Country due to lack of funds or visa denials.

The worst hit of this trend are the NPFL players – both active and retired – who have found relocating to the US tough, but still hoping to get on the move once the opportunity comes.

The Nigeria Professional Football League players have not kicked a ball since the last season drew its curtains four months ago and after several postponements, and action will return to the league venues today.

The NPFL players’ pockets have been hit badly following the uncertainty sorrounding the resumption of the new season and lack of competitiveness has not also translated into moving abroad to further compound their woes back home.

Agents have scarcely been on the trail of NPFL players due to league inactivity and the players have hung on survival instincts to keep moving.

Many who have had opportunities with the national teams may have cursed their decisions to hang on in Nigeria, while their US or Schengen visas expired before the lure of bettering their lives outside Nigeria beckoned badly.

Attempts to lift their lives from the woods have not been helped with visa denials at the embassies leaving the players cursing their luck, while they refused to help their lives when they had better opportunities to move abroad at least to work for survival.

For those who succeeded to cross the Rubicon, they have savoured the new life in the US and counted themselves lucky to leave the troubled shores of Nigeria.

One-time NPFL top scorer and former Orlando Pirates and Club Africain striker Ezenwa Otorogu is one of the former NPFL players who “escaped” to the US as the trend continues to grow among Nigerian players.

The former Enyimba star has since settled down in US for a brand-new lease of life and put behind his harrowing experiences of his second return to the local league after he was released by his Israeli club.

The 2008 NPFL season top scorer is currently enjoying all the perks of his new American life as he’s settled in his new life as a worker, not even remembering what part of his home he hung his boots in Aba.

Otorogu endured the agonies of poor and delayed entitlements after he returned from Israel to put his career back together before US smiled on him to bring back a smiling face.

His ex-El Kanemi Warriors’ mate Ikechukwu “Mosquito” Ibenegbu had nothing to prove again in the NPFL with club and individual honours complementing his long NPFL sojourn, has also left the troubles of NPFL to join him in the US.
Ex-Enyimba star Rasheed Olabiyi has also stayed put in the USA

He’s done this, done that in the local league and age was not on his side any longer to keep attracting mouth-watering figures from clubs hence his decision to better his life after football which Nigeria may not fully guarantee.

“Mosquito” could not secure a move outside the shores of Nigeria despite his superb outings for Enyimba and Rangers and with age catching up with the mercurial midfielder it wasn’t as good as it got for him.

“Mosquito” has since reunited with his long-time friend to bring their once lively El-Kanemi dressing room to Maryland where the duo have taken “refuge” after their tough times in Nigeria.

Otorogu isn’t the only ex-foreign based player who has sought new life in the US – a good number have put behind their bad experiences of securing clubs after being released from their foreign clubs to smile again in the US.

After painting India red and leaving no milestones to achieve, Ranti Martins found a new home in the US after winding up his career in Malaysia.

Smart investor back home and in Ghana where he kick-started his hugely successful career, Martins also took his investment to US where he has since settled with his family.

Former Sunshine Stars’ striker Victor Kayode Igbekoyi had a very successful career in Azerbaijan, where he turned out for five clubs before he moved to US to play for North Caroline in the USL Champions in 2018.

The Ondo-born star, whose clearance to star for adopted Sierra Leone could not be finalised before he was withdrawn from the Leone Star’s team to play Tunisia in an AFCON qualifier, decided to permanently move to US after hanging his boots.

Still back home and hanging on the hope for a better life in the US, local players have also gone on the desperate route to get on the US escape route by looking for funds to pay agents for US visas.
‘Mosquito’ Ibenegbu chilling out in the USA

Not too many success stories have been told of this, but a few have succeeded and off they jetted out leaving their worries back home.

Even the retired are not left out in the most sought after US succour – some of whom donned the national colours and played abroad.

Life in the US, according to them, is better than hanging on irregular wages and near endless league kick-off postponements and menial jobs over there can at least put food on the table and a few more dollars to send home.

With education alien to some of them, unskilled jobs keep body and soul together, while they work hard to obtain Green Cards through marriages to raise some bars for their lives.

The ageing ones in the NPFL appear to be the most desperate in this US survival story and more often than not they get a new lease of life leaving for the US through arranged marriages to US citizens organized by their younger more successful friends, who were lucky to “escape” to US.

While the ageing and the clueless grope in the dark and waiting for miracles, a few still active have hatched up plans for their smooth move to the US when they finally call time back home.

One of those is a NPFL veteran, who told SCORENigeria he’s garnered enough life experience playing in Nigeria and abroad to put his life in his desired standard.

Part of his post-career plans is to move to US and continue his life without having to hang on anybody or anything for crumbs.

He said he has kept his US contacts close to his heart for a smooth transition, while his US visas are regularly renewed.

“I have turned both mentor and financial adviser to younger players and to my greatest joy, I’ve succeeded in helping lots of players to move to US for better lives after football,” the veteran continued.
Ranti Martins in the USA

“I have read many books and gained lots of information about immigration and its requirements which many of my colleagues are ignorant of or poorly educated to know.

“A few derailing players have had their steps redirected by my advice thanks to my timely advice and interventions.

“I’m so close to some that even their families rely on me to bring their heads home and a lot have succeeded.

“I have had friends who played in Europe that didn’t know immigration opportunities therein until I told them and thank God lots have succeeded.

“Several times, I’ve succeeded in advising players to shelve pleasure and put their future in the right direction.

“Some who were and still are based in Europe I have advised to move their families to US and quit coming home on holidays to show off.”

The US trend seems to have caught up with the active foreign-based players currently as many of them have moved their families to US, while they remain in Europe to see off their careers with a view of moving over when their careers are ove

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