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In his shadow, p.1
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       In His Shadow, p.1

           M Koleosho
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In His Shadow




  Copyright Mayowa Koleosho 2013

  In his shadow I have stayed for so long. Watching him bask in success, trying so hard to catch up to him, sometimes succeeding, most times stuck in the wake of his glory. Ours will be written in the books of history, as a rivalry unlike other. Two mortals unlike any, two of the best to ever do it. Alas I think I am the only one who will see it so. History is never kind to the ‘might- have beens’, ‘second bests’ and ‘also-rans.’

  I will be forgotten. Perhaps mentioned in a highlight package or two, never truly getting the credit I deserve. Is it my fault that I am playing in the same era as he? How different would things be if I had shown up a good ten years before or after his reign?

  People think I hate him. They’ve convinced themselves that I dislike him for stealing my shine. They couldn’t be farther from the truth, and whilst we might not be the best of friends, I respect him as a competitor and most especially as a man. He is one worthy of emulation, a great teammate from all I have heard and an even better family man.

  It seems this is also another point of contention between us. People perceive him as being humble and modest, an everyday man blessed with extraordinary talent. He looks like the guy who bags your groceries at the local store. Completely harmless, wouldn’t hurt a fly. Yet when he steps on the field, time slows down and he does things even I am amazed by. You will never hear me saying he is better; I am too much of a competitor to concede such. There’s nothing he can do that I can’t, but certain factors have helped him do better, number one being the style of play his team employs. But I digress, my nemesis as the media likes to portray, shies away from the spot light. Rarely gets seen besides the field of play and is happily married with two kids. I on the other hand, I am completely opposite. I don’t mind saying I love the attention. If you grew up the way I did, wouldn’t you want to hug the spotlight too?

  Born into poverty, I fought for everything I got and most times those battles were at the dinner table, trying to make sure I got enough to get through the day. Those times were harsh, and moments like these bring back those memories vividly.

  Father wherever he is, had abandoned us after mother gave birth to me. She rarely talks about him, but once in a while, when the spirit moves her, she tells us how he was a no good bastard, but a very attractive one at that. She constantly reminds me that I have his looks but thankfully none of his character. If only she knew that I am terrified I might just be like him and that’s why I avoid settling down. Unlike him, I have all the resources to give my kids all they ever want yet at the back of my mind, I wonder will I keep searching for greener pastures. Am I doomed to keep chasing something; be it my rival or that Holy Grail I still haven’t been able to define?

  Whereas I grew up with little, God blessed me with talent. Gobs and Gobs of it. In fact when I look back, he probably used that to compensate for us lacking in so many other areas. Ironically, my first love wasn’t soccer. I never imagined I’d be making millions from it, never thought my name would be mentioned with the greats and most certainly never thought it’d be the path that would lead my family and I out of poverty.

  It was simply a hobby that the local kids took upon themselves because toys were too expensive and most of us didn’t have television sets in our houses. We didn’t need expensive equipment, bare feet, a round ball or anything spherical for that matter was good enough. Goal posts were made of literally anything we had. Shoes, sticks, stones and what have you.

  We played with no expectations, the game was pure. No ulterior motives, no agents, no fans, no media, no shoe companies and all those factors that add another dimension to what the global game is right now.

  I don’t recall being the best player in those games. I was a very frail kid that got pushed around a lot. Once in a while I’d do something that made the other kids look like their feet were stuck in mud, but I never stringed those type of plays together for a long period of time. If you asked anyone back then if they thought I’d end up playing professional football, they would think said person was out of their mind.

  Things started to change towards my last two years of high school. That was when I had my growth spurt and went from a skinny short kid to a skinny tall kid. Yes I remained frail, but I was no longer the shortest kid in class. Do you know how weird it is to tower over the same people that used to look down upon you? It wasn’t just my height that changed; my body seemed to have picked up on it too. I was faster on the playground, more alert. I reacted quicker than all those around me, which slowed down the games for me. Soon I became unstoppable on the playground and my popularity started to grow.

  The coach of our high school team convinced me to join them and said I could play any position I wanted. This was right about the time when Maradona was weaving and probing defenses like they were made out of holes. That man was a god to me. The things he could do on a football field where unheard of, and no matter how much I tried, I felt I wasn’t good enough.

  Now that doesn’t mean emulating him didn’t improve my game. It did a lot for me, and even up till now, some comment on how much my game is a lot like his. It was a no brainer asking to play in attack. I pictured myself scoring all the important goals and the adulation that would follow. I imagined how all the girls who had once ignored me would swarm around me after such heroics. I had already counted my sheep, fleeced them and was well on my way to collecting the profits only to have the rug yanked from under my feet.

  We sucked! There is no other way to put it in simpler terms. We were B-A-D, in every sense of the word. Whereas I thought I was waltzing into a championship season, it was actually the opposite. I don’t want to lump all the blame on my teammates, after all we win and lose together as a unit, but some of those guys should never have been let near a ball talk less starting on the team. Out of a possible 15 games we played that year, we only won 3. It was a tough time for me; the humiliation sometimes too much to handle. From loving the game of football, to detesting stepping on the field. I considered quitting the team but back then I was getting free food and some rations for playing on the school team. Our financial situation at home hadn’t changed and I wasn’t about to pass up those free lunches because we lost some games. Lest it sound like my conscience was placated because of some free meals, I am here to set the record straight that such wasn’t the case. Each loss hurt and after a while you begin to dread what’s coming next.

  Your confidence wanes and the joy you once had about the game is gone. It becomes a chore to step on the field, teammates aggravate you easily, you become detached and life loses meaning. Extreme perhaps, but losing sure gives you a jaded view of reality.

  My senior year was definitely better and would turn out to be the stepping stone to my future endeavors.

  The school had hired a new coach and we picked up some new transfers that year too. It was the perfect prescription for our ailing team and we could tell from the very first practice that it was going to be a special year.

  I owe Coach Manuel a lot and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay him for what he did in my life. Prior to meeting him I was an undisciplined; starving young lad whose main priority was making it through the day. I played soccer because I had to not because I loved it. Some of my teammates had talked about applying to colleges, going to university but those dreams never appealed to me. I who struggled to eat daily could surely not be able to pay for university. Besides, I was not that great of a student. I could probably have done better if I had applied myself but I had more pressing issues on my mind.

  Coach Manuel saw that talent in me and helped nurture it. He saw what ‘could be’ and he steered me towards the path. I went from a guy who s
howed up, laced his boots and danced around with the ball, to a guy who started to understand that there was more to a game than how good you looked. I began to comprehend just how important that piece of round leather was. How much it meant to us and how I could use it to better myself.

  It worked!

  I began to change on the field of play and it benefitted all not just me. With his training, I moved better with the ball. With his teaching, I learned to beat opponents not only with my skills but with my mind too. It was a lethal combination for a high school attacker, and soon we turned our fortunes around. The more we won, the more my fame spread around the region. Soon our once empty stands were being packed with crowds. In all honesty, I also played with some talented teammates back then, two went on to play professional football so it wasn’t like I was the only one doing it all. Where was this talent a year ago you might ask? The same place it had always been, lying dormant within us, looking to be brought forth by the right person. Manuel Gomez just happened to be that man.

  It wasn’t easy to be honest. He was a disciplined man and he demanded the best from us. He simply could not stand incompetence and to not give your best
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