Moses takes Nigeria to promised land

Nigerian fans are sweating on the availability of Chelsea winger Victor Moses who has been a revelation since grabbing his chance against Zambia in group C.

The 21-year-old bristles with quiet determination. Last season he was the main man at Wigan and the Cup of Nations has seen him become something similar for Nigeria.

He says at the moment the Super Eagles are only looking at themselves.

“We just concentrate on ourselves at the moment. We just want to do our best. It’s going to be a hard game for us. But it’s also going to be a hard game for them.”

It’s the team above all else. Team-mate Emmanuel Emenike has reported golden boot ambitions, but thoughts like that are not important to Moses.

“I haven’t heard of that. We should not think of that for the moment. We just want to play as a team and make sure we score goals. Anyone can score goals, even the goalkeeper. If we get a chance, we just have got to take it.”

Moses was Chelsea's final attack-minded signing of the summer and the competition for places is ferocious. It is reasonable to wonder whether Moses  will enjoy the minutes that a talent like his wants and needs. He had no hesitation, though, in signing up for the challenge.

"I don't really know if it was Di Matteo or if it was the chairman or whoever but I knew that Chelsea were interested in me and that was it, really," Moses says. "For a club to come and get you, they are going to use you at some stage. I know that there are a lot of players at Chelsea but if I do get my chance, I just have to grab it."

Former Nigerian international Benedict Akwuegbu agrees saying: “If a club like Chelsea want you, you have to take the chance that is offered and have belief in your ability.”

When Moses speaks, it’s in shy, hushed tones but they do not disguise the awe and excitement that he feels. His arrival at Chelsea marks a significant staging post in his quest to reach the game's summit, even if it pales in comparison to his broader journey from the depths of personal tragedy. His parents were murdered in Nigeria and Moses fled to England as an 11-year-old asylum seeker. He feels that they look down on him with pride.

Moses's single-mindedness and strength of character is evident and it is easy to connect it with the manner in which he has coped with his childhood trauma. His father, Austin, was a Christian pastor in Kaduna, and his mother, Josephine, helped with his work.

Violence, though, was depressingly familiar between the Muslim majority and the Christian minority and when riots erupted in 2002, Moses's parents, who were obvious but unflinching targets, were attacked in their home and killed. Moses was given the news as he played football in the street. He became a target, too, and, after being hidden by friends for a week, he was sent to England, where he was placed with foster parents in south London. Upon his arrival in the country, he knew nobody.

"Definitely, wherever they are at the moment, they should be proud of me, looking down being proud," Moses says of his parents. He is not ready to open up publicly about the bereavement and the gamut of emotions that he has run, but he does reflect on the work ethic that has guided him and been in place from the outset.

"It has been a long journey [from Nigeria] and I just want to keep strong and work hard for myself, whether it's football or not football," Moses says. "I have to thank God for being where I am, it's like a dream come true and, if I keep working hard, who knows, I'll probably end up in Barcelona one day."

Moses has fond memories of the street-football days in Nigeria – "No boots, just in your bare feet, a little ball got chucked in and we started playing" – and, also, the English after-school equivalent. He always wanted to be a professional footballer and he was spotted by Crystal Palace as he kicked a ball about in Norbury Park. They brought him into their academy and recommended him to Whitgift, the fee-paying school in Croydon where he could benefit from the superb facilities.

He was a prodigy, utterly prolific in front of goal, a man among boys. He led the Whitgift under-14 team to the FA Youth Cup in 2005; they beat Grimsby school 5-0 in the final, with Moses scoring all five. Grimsby played in red shirts, which prompted the Grimsby Evening Telegraph into the first of many bible-based headlines for the player: "Holy Moses – wonder player parts red sea."

He made his Palace debut at 16 and was called up by England at every youth level. He won the Golden Boot at the European Under-17 Championship in 2007, in which England lost to Spain in the final, but his momentum was checked at Under-21 level. Stuart Pearce fielded him only once, against Uzbekistan in 2010, and the manager substituted him at half-time. Moses was not called up for the next game. "I played for England Under-16s, 17s, 18s, 19s, 20s and then 21s … then … I just decided to make the decision to play for Nigeria," he says.

Moses based the decision, in part, on where he felt full international opportunity would knock. He was conscious, he says, of the "great players" that England produce. "Every year," he adds, "you can see young players coming up and doing really well."

Moses is desperate to impress and he says that he has no preference about where he plays. "I feel comfortable anywhere up front," he says.

"Left wing, right wing, behind the striker. I thought that the transfer wasn't going to happen because it did drag on a bit but I'm delighted that everything is sorted. I just want to enjoy myself and play football."

 


 

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