* It is a tale of grace to grass for the once promising footballer
* Opabunmi’s eye affected him and he was forced to up hang his boots in his prime
* He is unemployed and seeking help from the NFF and well meaning Nigerians
When Femi Opabunmi started his footballing career in the ancient city of Ibadan, he was hopeful and dreamt of becoming the best in the world. True to his dream, within a short period of time he was playing for the national team and represented Nigeria at the FIFA World Cup. He was the youngest footballer ever to play at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, where he also played against David Beckham. Growing up in those years and from a humble background, he idolised Roberto Baggio. He looked up to him with the hope of surpassing the Italian football superstar. Little did he know that his woes were just around the corner.
“I want to be like Roberto Baggio, I love his style of play and of course he inspired me. Baggio was my role model growing up and also when I became a professional footballer,” he told NAIJ.com. Career The now 31-year-old started playing in the ancient city of Ibadan, where he played for Shooting Stars Football Club before luck shone on him and he found himself in Europe: “I played for Shooting Stars FC before heading to Europe to play,” he said.
The player had a stint with Grasshoppers Zurich and Hapoel Be’er Sheva in Israel after which he came back to Shooting Stars to play when the eye problem got worse. “I played Shooting Stars then after that I played Grasshoppers of Switzerland. I played Hapoel Be’er Sheva in Israel, then FC Lyon in France, a second division club, before I encountered my problems.” “Those were interesting times of my life and my career as a footballer.” National team career Opabunmi was the third youngest player to play at the FIFA senior World Cup. He was the player who scored the winning goal when Nigeria won the U-17 Championship in 2011. He scored a hat-trick in 2001 at the U-17 FIFA World Cup. Amongst his honours were the Silver Shoe and Bronze awarded to him at the same tournament as the second highest goal scorer in the tournament. “In every footballer life you want to be great and the highest level to play football is to go for World Cup, so but it’s a privilege; its not by my power its by His Grace,” he told NAIJ.com.
He scored a goal for the Super Eagles in 2002, and he was a FIFA 2002 senior World Cup player in which he later played against England. Unfortunately, he was overlooked after the World Cup. Eye problem Opabunmi never anticipated any problems during his blossoming career: his eyes did not give him any hint of blindness. Everything was working well and he seemed to have a perfect life. All he knew was football and how to get better. Then he woke up one morning to a sharp pain in his left eye. He ignored it and continued training thinking it was a one-off thing. Instead it was the beginning of the end of a great career. “I just noticed the sharp pain and never saw it as a big deal. I started suspecting all was not well when the pain won’t go away.”
“I couldn’t take care of myself in France, I operated my eyes twice in Paris and the Doctor said my case is complicated.” After a two unsuccessful attempts at surgery in Europe, he left for Ibadan to seek spiritual help from pastors and imams as he suspected that he had been bewitched. “I was in France when I have encounter with my eyes and the doctor there said my case is complicated so I have to come down to Nigeria to find solution.” “When oyibo (foreign) doctor said your case is complicated what would you do? I was going from one prayer house to another to find solution and at the end it is life.”
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