Ajegunle is thought for being one in all Lagos’ hardest, most harmful slums, nevertheless it additionally has one other popularity – for producing a few of Nigeria’s prime footballers. So what is the secret to its unlikely success?
For a football-obsessed nation like Nigeria, expertise will be present in each nook, however there’s undoubtedly one thing particular about Ajegunle, or AJ Metropolis, because it’s recognized by locals.
Because the early 1990s, Ajegunle has been churning out soccer expertise. Well-known names resembling Taribo West, Odion Ighalo, Brown Ideye, Samson Siasia, Obafemi Martins, Taribo West and Jonathan Akpoborie all began right here.
Life isn’t simple for most of the residents of this sprawling ghetto.
They should cope with excessive crime charges, as nicely the absence of working water, grid-powered electrical energy or healthcare.
So what are the elements that contribute to Ajegunley’s footballing pedigree? Variety, for one.
“It is a group with so many individuals from totally different ethnicities,” says Bennedict Ehenemba, a soccer scout for German golf equipment who’s a local of Ajegunle.
“Ajegunle accommodates the Yorubas, the Igbos, the Hausas, the Itsekiris and all the opposite tribes in Nigeria.
“It is a uncooked expertise hub of Nigeria,” he tells me.
Many success tales will be traced again to 2 native establishments – St Mary’s Catholic Church and the Navy Barracks Camp.
They continue to be secure locations for a lot of younger individuals to play the sport.
Different open areas are sometimes claimed by so-called “Space Boys”, unruly gangs who typically demand a charge for individuals to play there.
Tremendous Eagles striker Jonathan Akpoborie, who made his title in Germany’s Bundesliga within the 1990s, additionally honed his expertise right here.
“That is truly the house of soccer in Nigeria,” Akpoborie tells me, including that the sport is seen by many children as a path to a greater life.
“I do not need to downgrade the world by attributing the success of footballers to poverty however there’s simply nothing to do for the youngsters.
“They spend most of their time right here taking part in soccer and in so doing they develop themselves and naturally turn into gifted footballers.
“In a single nationwide crew there’s all the time one participant who originated from Ajegunle.
“It is precisely how I began – the grown-ups play first, we watch them play, then ultimately we get within the area. They had been inspirational to us.”
The slum additionally has a longtime system of grassroots soccer, which inspires gifted children to play aggressive soccer for native golf equipment at an early age.
This typically offers them an edge over gamers at competing academies throughout the nation.
Alfred Emuejeraye, who plies his commerce within the Swiss decrease leagues, additionally grew up in Ajegunle.
He believes the key of the slum lies in its deep love of the sport.
“The individuals right here, the group are obsessed with soccer, obsessed with every thing and are pushed to reach no matter they do from musicians to taxi drivers… It is an all-round group,” he tells me.
Odion Ighalo – previously of Watford FC within the English Premier League however now taking part in for Chinese language Tremendous League outfit Changchun Yatai FC – is one other Ajegunle native.
Now he lives in among the world’s largest cities, however nonetheless remembers Ajegunle fondly.
“It was very robust rising up there. It isn’t like in Europe the place you may have every thing supplied.
“You need to search for cash to purchase soccer footwear, jerseys, transport and even water for to drink after coaching. If you cannot afford the transport you then keep – and those that keep are nice gamers,” says Ighalo.
Bolarinwa Olajide is a sports activities reporter with Lagos-based radio station Wazobia. He noticed many of those gamers emerge from Ajegunle over time.
“We see the hopeless, those that know they’ve a expertise however they cannot exhibit it anyplace. They cannot afford charges to hitch a soccer academy, so that they go to Ajegunle as a result of they know scouts come to observe them play, and it is an opportunity to indicate what they’ll do as footballers,” he tells me.
Leicester Metropolis and Nigeria midfielder Wilfred Ndidi didn’t develop up in Ajegunle however performed towards boys from the slum throughout his time at an academy in Lagos.
He believes Ajegunle has produced good soccer gamers as a result of the boys there “work onerous, the approach to life is troublesome so that they attempt to work very onerous and are available out with their greatest.”
To maintain the Ajegunle legacy going, among the footballers are already giving again to the group with initiatives to nurture future expertise.
Akpoborie helps to determine future soccer expertise, whereas Ighalo is constructing an orphanage within the coronary heart of the slum.