In a little over a year ago, Chisom Chikatara [kneeling first from right] was another lad helping his parents make ends meet by tramping the streets of Umuahia, the Abia State capital with tray load of Kolanuts, the roundish caffeine-fruit that plays a very important role in his Igbo traditional welcome rituals for guests.
When sold out on a good market day, each of those tray loads of about 50 kolanuts (usually less) could fetch N1500 (about $10) which probably doesn't happen. The name, Chisom literarily translates to ‘God is by me’ or ‘God is following me’ and the lad seems to have lived up to his name going by his fortune to have been picked by an academy coach at a ground where he elected to take a break from street hawking to join other lads play football.
With God’s benevolence sticking by him, Chisom also had the fortune of breaking into the first team of a Nigeria National League (NNL), Abia Warriors at first try and that God still stayed by him through his first season in professional football to now compete at the highest level of league football in Nigeria as he scored nearly 50% of the 34 goals that saw Abia Warriors finish top in the NNL Group B.
On Saturday, March 8, 2014, he played alongside some celebrity names in domestic football like Bishop Onyeudo, Ogbonna Okemiri, Emmanuel Fabiyi and Chidozie Johnson amongst others as he tasted first action in Nigeria's top flight, the Glo Premier League against Kaduna United. For the chap who only some months ago was one of the army of street hawkers, the spare time he spent training with the New Generation Football Academy under the care of Coach Uchechukwu Nwabuko has paid mighty dividends.
A fairy tale life, many will say but bringing it up for discussion didn’t elicit the kind of glitter in the eyes one expected from the hugely shy player as he was approached at the end of the Glo League 2013/14 opening day match at the Umuahia Township Stadium.
“I dwell more on where I am at present than looking back to where I was," he remarked offhandedly but quipped, “but I am happy with the attention my humble beginning has drawn to me because it can help push my career by people always wanting to talk about me."
The match that was beamed live on cable television that reached global audiences and it didn't turn out the same story book debut Chisom would have wished as he fired blanks though his team won. It was the very first match he would appear in that was televised with camera trailing him and teammates while cables ran the entire perimeter of the pitch. The paraphernalia may have been intimidating coupled with what was considered a record attendance at the over 6,000 seats terrace. Chisom was a marked man and he was substituted in the second half.
Reviewing the game, he said: “It was the biggest game I ever played, we have been anticipating this day since we won promotion to the premier division and I just wanted to make the coach proud for fielding me. There was a bit of positive anxiety but it was only supposed to make me know the responsibility given me but unfortunately, it was not one of those scoring days."
An alumnus of the famous Government College, Umuahia, graduating in 2012, Chisom considers himself lucky to have had his league baptism from the level of the NNL and within one season, playing at the highest level.
“I never played at any level of the league before they took me to NNL and it was an enriching experience. Obviously, the Premier League is tougher and I will need to improve on my techniques and also score more goals than I did in the NNL," said the lad who is the third in a family of six.
His surname Chikatara means ‘God has spoken rightly’ and the player in tune with his name is already speaking about and projecting his future in the game. "In the next two to three years, I see myself in a bigger club either in Nigeria or overseas and ultimately earn a place in the Super Eagles for the 2018 World Cup in Russia," he predicts.
Who knows, the God who is by him may have also spoken rightly to him.
Culled from www.lmc-ng.org