In search of greener pastures, the desperation to leave Nigeria at all cost has led many young footballers to undesired destinations and unpalatable situations abroad.
Lawrence Ogbe, 22, is a defensive midfielder who had endured the times and demands of playing in a non-FIFA accredited league after excelling in Magusa Turk Gucu U21 side. He was hoping to get a chance in Cypriot clubs such as Apoel Nicosia and the others he had watched play in UEFA competitions on TV while in Nigeria. Little did he know that the Republic of Cyprus was different from the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
“I was actually hoping to see Apoel Nicosia and those other bigger Cypriot clubs that play in Europe, I never knew there was another part of Cyprus,” Lawrence told PageOne.ng.
Northern Cyprus is recognized by Turkey while Southern Cyprus is officially recognized by Greece; ideas alien to young Lawrence.
“To get across the border, you need a visa to access that part of Cyprus, most people are not aware just like I was unaware when I left Nigeria.”
Full of confidence, Lawrence set himself the goal of bagging a contract within a month after he arrived in Europe. “My mindset while coming here was focused on European Cyprus, and I said to myself that I would get a club in less than a month of my arrival.
“Immediately it dawned on me that I was not where I wanted to be, I called home and told my mum I wanted to return home. My mother encouraged me to focus on my studies and I summoned the courage to face it head-on”
Playing in the Nigerian Professional Football League, his country’s top division never appealed to him due to his perception of the league, so his eyes were fixed on better climes.
“I told myself I won’t play in the NPFL, my friends always argue with me because some of the players we grew up together were already in the league system. I told them it’s my decision, and that’s what I want for myself.
“I’ve always seen myself at a high level in the game of football. After my secondary school in Warri, I spoke with my parents about my football career, so we came up with getting admission, and then I can pursue my football. It was the best option I could come up with at the time since I did not want to wait for an agent. I got the opportunity and then I left.
“I got an admission into Eastern Mediterranean University (EMU), and I started playing in the school team where I became popular in the entire Famagusta. I represented the Nigeran team in EMU Cup of Nations, and my goals earned me the highest scorer for my side. One of the coaches at Magusa saw me and spoke with the team to give me a trial at the club, and that was the beginning of my journey into professional football”
“After the trial, the club invited me back to start training with the team until the end of the season so I can join the squad for next season. My first season with the club I scored 22 goals with the U21, and we won the league for the first time in 8-10 years.”
“I played with the U21 team for two seasons after which I was promoted to the senior squad. We won the Super League in my first year with the team in 2016. I was the youngest player at the time. I constantly made the Team of the Week, and it was published in the newspaper.”
Lawrence has enjoyed more than seven years of experience in Northern Cyprus with Magusa but is currently out on loan at Genclik Gucu Turk Spor Kulubu.
Looking for the big break, Lawrence believes he has developed quite well, and that he is ready for the next phase of his career, possibly an actual “greener” pasture in Europe this time.
“If you are coming from an academy in Nigeria to play North Cyprus, you need to be extremely good. The demand for foreigners here is very high because you are expected to be better than what they have here which I think is fair enough. The clubs here like versatile players, your experience, where you have played, and all,” he advises Nigerian youngsters.
“That is why you see most players who come here return to Nigeria. Either they didn’t come in the proper way or through a good agent who can speak on their behalf.
“The challenge most of us have is that the League here is not recognized by FIFA, so you need to have a good agent who will help you get better opportunities.”