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The incredible life story of Nigeria's Emmanuel Emenike

Presenting the amazing story of a boy who left home to pursue his football dream.

Emenike West Ham
Emenike was on loan at West Ham United last season

Have you ever had that horrible dream where you see yourself being chased by your worst enemies in a long and dark tunnel with no sign of it ever ending? After running for what seems an age, you finally see a light at the end of the tunnel and reach it. You wake up all cold and sweaty. You are relieved, yet terrified, that the journey through hell is over, only to realise that you’re lying in a Turkish jail cell and your worst nightmare has just begun.

Emmanuel Emenike’s life has been far from a bed of roses. He has had to endure terrible hardships and see horrific incidents ever since he left his home in Nigeria as a teenager to pursue his football dream.

From spending nights on restaurant floors to playing in Europe

Defying his father’s wish for him to become a businessman, he went ahead with his passion for football, leaving home for South Africa. Homeless, and without money,  his fairytale wouldn’t come true just yet. He had to spend nights hungry, eat leftovers and sleep on the floor of the Pure Grace restaurant in Johannesburg.

By 2007, a 20-year-old Emenike had managed to save enough money to pay for a video showcasing his football talent on the basis of which South African club Mpumalanga Black Aces. After one year there, he moved to play for Cape Town FC where he became the top scorer in the second division.

These were happy times for the young player, who had spent days in hunger before. Better news was waiting for the Nigerian when he went to Europe to trial for Turkish club Karabukspor who signed him eventually in 2009. 

Disaster strikes

Emenike scored 30 goals for Karabukspor in his two years at the club. Little did he know that the summer of 2011 would be the most frightening in his life. The Nigerian was arrested in July 2011 after having signed for Fenerbahce –a  move which was full of controversy.

While still playing for Karabukspor, Emenike was accused of intentionally missing a match against Fenerbahce which they eventually lost 1-0, handing the title to the Turkish giants. Two weeks later, Fenerbahce signed him for a reported €9 million, which was believed to be a gift for him. In spite of showing a doctor’s certificate, Emenike was still thrown in jail where he had the most terrible experience in his life.

Emenike reiterated in an interview with The Sun: “My time in prison was a crazy nightmare that I couldn’t wake up from.

“I’ve never committed a crime in my life, but I was treated like a criminal, living on bread and water.

“It was not a good experience! It gave me a different perspective on life.”

Emenike was released after four days. However, the investigation continued and he was not acquitted until April 2013. God was his support through the horrific time in jail where he was coerced into revealing details of the alleged match-fixing crime he hadn’t committed. He said: “When I was finally cleared I thanked God for letting justice prevail.”

A false ray of hope

A sign of relief came to the on-loan West Ham striker as he was sold to Spartak Moscow in the same summer of 2011 without playing a single game for Fenerbahce.  

But life can be cruel sometimes. Just when he thought he had recovered from the trauma of staying in a jail cell, he was subject to racial abuse in Russia. He became a target of crude monkey chants from Dynamo Moscow fans in a match in 2012. Emenike’s experience in Russia was not one to remember either in spite of performing well for Spartak Moscow, where he scored 21 goals in his stay.  

The young kid who had left his home in Nigeria to play football in Europe had his sight set on a move to England. However, when nothing came calling, he moved back to the club where he had faced his worst nightmare- Fenerbahce but he scored 12 goals in the first season with his new club, helping them to lift the trophy.  

Victim of a terrorist attack

But there are no happy endings in life, just happy memories. Two years later he faced the barrel of the gun, literally, when the bus he was travelling in was attacked by a gunman on their way to Trabzon airport in Turkey. 

Emenike recalled: “I was on the phone to my brother when I heard a loud bang. The bus suddenly swerved and there was panic.

“I instinctively took cover and our security officer told us the driver had been shot. Seeing him covered in blood was scary.

“We were lucky but it brought back bad memories. I had been involved in a terrible car accident in Nigeria where my mother and I both lucky to be alive.”

In 2016, the Nigeran finally fulfilled his dream to play in the Premier League when West Ham signed him on loan with an option to make it permanent. It was a new beginning for Emenike who scored two goals for the Hammers last season. 

There was, indeed, light at the end of the tunnel. Dark days in restaurants and jail cells gave rise to a new morning, where nightmares didn’t exist, only dreams.

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