As a young talented kid growing up in Abagana in Njikoka Area of Anambra State, all that Chukwuemeka Ikezu wanted was to show to the world how gifted and talented he was if given a chance to explore his potentials. His strong will to succeed, made him to go through the Desert and Hard way to make sure his dreams were realized. In this interview, Coach Ikezu justifies why young people make careless decisions and the need to stop the growing trend which has really eaten deep into our youths. Ikezu who left his country in his early 20s to follow the Desert route into Europe just like many other Nigerians, who are suffering in Libya, tells the tales of his experiences and his growing vision in Football. I hope you find this interesting and educating.
Coach Ikezu was named Chukwuemeka by his parents and his name, Golden, is a special name he gave to himself. Coach Chukwuemeka Golden Ikezu was born on 8th July in Abagana of Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State. He is a Nigeria Switzerland Dual citizen and presently the Managing Director of Golden Child Football Academy in Eziowelle in Idemili North Local Government of Anambra State.
His sports life started like every other Nigerian child in the street who kicked any round objects they found on the floor. Although growing up in Anambra State was a nightmare for him because he grew up believing that young talented individuals should be given the opportunity to develop their talents. And when such opportunity wasn’t available, he felt void. Born in a family of six, Ikezu attended St. Peter’s Primary School, Abagana and he finished in Agbani Primary School, Enugu. He attended Army Day Secondary School, Awkunanaw in Enugu State. Ikezu occupies the last position in the family.
During his Primary school, he was the Goalkeeper of the school team before he was later made a player. He plays very well in the mid field but does better in the attacking position. He represented his school in U-13 competition where his team won the cup in the Enugu State U-13 competition in 2000.
Well, he didn’t really play in the East because of less chances and opportunities he had. Shortly before he travelled to Europe, he went to Lagos to play for Lagos FA between 2001- 2002. So, in 2003, he left for Europe and spent close to 2 months in the desert route. As a young lad in the desert, most of the people he met from Nigeria and Africa he met in the desert, had similar problem with him in the area of marginalization and in ability to be given the opportunity to explore their talents.
At last, when he arrived Europe, it was difficult for him to begin a life because he had to fight for his immigration papers if not he could be deported back to his country if sighted by the authorities. Then it will mean his 2 months and endless pains were all in vain. To his best of luck, Ikezu was able to get his immigration papers successfully through marriage and started building his sports career gradually in Switzerland.
Although, he didn’t play for the highest league in Switzerland but he played in the 3rd highest league which was an experience for him. He played for FC Alstetten, Zurich in 3rd league and then FC Schlieren. He also played for Inter club Zurich which was like an Inter Regional Club. While playing, he was injured on his knee during a training and it refused to heal. As his age grew older, he wanted to still keep his football life active and alive, so he went into coaching in 2008. He started by attending Coaching courses under the Swiss Football Association. He also engaged in Refereeing courses and trainings under Swiss Football Association. Ikezu participated in many Youth Development Programmes that built him to what he has become. When he felt, it was time to give back to his home country, Nigeria, he decided to leave Switzerland and returned to Nigeria in 2013 when he began nurturing his Football vision called ‘Golden Child Football Academy’
His first training as a Coach started with FC Turicum Industry, a Community Club, Zurich, Switzerland. He was also attached to SC YF Juventus and to the U-15boys.
Let’s look at the Big Fish, Golden Child Academy Dreams…
Golden Child Football Academy started as result of Ikezu’s experiences and motivation in helping the youths. Feeling so bad about being marginalized, he took the hard way where he experienced a lot. By this, he wants to preach to the whole world especially to the youths about the hard way and the need for them to build their talents in their home country.
Ikezu shares his experiences about the hard way…
The hard way and only way as Ikezu called it was really an adventure for him. It has become a normal situation for people to travel outside the country and never return to their home country anymore. Some feel there is a greener pasture that needs to be tapped while those who may be so unfortunate strive hard and harder to make sure they are able to put food on their table daily. Now, let’s hear the side of Ikezu and why he returned to his home country
‘I wasn’t given the opportunity, so now I want to use my time to develop the youths in a very good environment which started since 2013 with Golden Child Academy’
Ikezu advises youths to make good use of their youthful age.
‘It is important to show good example to our young people who want to play Football. Our young people should avoid the desert way and I am encouraging them to start their future by playing in the Nigeria League First. Also, Europe is not what people usually visualize it is. In Europe, you have to work very hard to earn a living. People who we watch on our Television daily, playing Football, worked extra time to be where they are now. I left Nigeria in 2003 and that’s where the real story started. I didn’t travel directly to Switzerland, I travelled through the desert and it was a horrible experience. It was really tough on me. Since I returned in 2013, I have the great dream of giving back (Think Home Philosophy). During the period I stayed in the desert through the Mediterranean Sea, it was really tough for me and so, I made a promise to start up a Football Academy that will help young people here in the East. By doing so, it will help reduce juvenile delinquency.
When you come to Europe and you don’t have a name in your country of origin, nobody will want to engage you. It will be very difficult to break into the main League of Europe. Even when you travel for trials, you must have gone through some Professional League games in your country or be a born citizen of any European country. This is why our youths are being advised to build their profile here with clubs here by getting their action pictures and video. This could easily facilitate recommendation for the person to clubs in Europe or Asia
While growing up, Ikezu had so much love for three things; Sports, Music and Cultural Dance and even nurtured the idea of studying Theatre Arts once he gets to the University. Because of his strong love for sports, he left for Europe in 2003 in his early 20s
How did your sports life begin?
It all started in the street and I was motivated by friends who believed in my capabilities and skills.
What has been your challenge so far in sports as a player or as a coach?
My challenging moment is about Golden Child Academy project especially in the area of sponsorship. The motivation came as a result of my experience and this is why I want to give back to the youths. This has been a big problem here and this is why we see most of our youths moving away to other countries or states to play for them to showcase what they have.
You left for Europe in 2003 and came back in 2013, can you summarizes your life experiences in relations to sports?
During my time in the desert, most of the people I met there were young talented Nigerians and some others from Africa. They were running away from home because they felt neglected and marginalized, so they decided to take the hard way and only way. I said to myself, with what people like us have seen in the desert, it is important for us to come back and show good example to our young people who want to play football so as to avoid the desert way and to encourage them to start their future in the Nigeria League. Also Europe is not what people usually visualize it is. In Europe, you have to work very hard to earn a living. People who we see daily in our Television, work extra time to be where they are now.
I played football in Europe but I didn’t play in the highest league but in the 3rd highest league which was an experience for me. I played for FC Alstetten, Zurich in 3rd league and then FC Schlieren and then I came back to FC Alstetten and then from there, I played for Inter Club Zurich which is an inter regional club. While playing, I picked up an injury in my knee during the training in 2007/ 2008. The injury refused to go and as age drew nearer, I didn’t want to keep my football life dead, so I went to coaching and attending courses under the Swiss Football Association. I also did Refereeing under Swiss Football Association and engaged in other youth development programmes that enhanced me. When I felt I had gotten enough training, I decided to come back to help my country.
As a player and coach, what gives you fulfillment?
One was when I saw myself in Europe, especially when I remember where I came from. Also, I feel fulfilled when I remember I played for a good club in Europe in a good field. I feel good when I remember that I was treated as a professional and the every Saturday Football Match makes me feel great. Sometimes, I lose games and sometimes I win the game.
What are your challenging moments?
Presently, I do the coaching, driving and other miscellaneous to sustain the Academy and to save cost. It is sometimes challenging. During the time I was struggling with my immigration, it was quite tough and difficult for me. Not having the residential permit made it more difficult for me. It wasn’t a good experience at all because I kept hiding and couldn’t move from one place to the other. Also, when it was clear that I couldn’t move further because of my injury, I was so worried because my survival was dependent on the football games. I became worried knowing that I didn’t have any other option except football nor did I have a higher degree certificate that I could use to seek for employment. I stopped active football in 2010. So I went into coaching and refereeing.
‘My journey to Europe through the Desert as an Illegal migrant was very difficult for me. Before now, some of my friends use to think that once you get to Europe even when you play in the lowest league, you will make your money easily. My experience in Europe showed that it was a big lie. These are result of ignorance and this is why our youths need to be educated. This is why I have decided to educate the young people about the life in Europe as an Amateur Footballer or as a Professional Footballer. You may not have enough money that will sustain you when you play Amateur league but it is the opposite if you play in the Professional League.
What year did you get married?
I got married in 2005 and we have two kids. My girl is 11 and my boy is 7. We speak on phone and I go back to Switzerland to spend some time with them twice in a year.
How do you intend to take Golden Child to the next level?
Everything depends on hard work and determination. I tell my boys that you can’t eat without working hard. I give Golden Child my all. I derive so much joy especially when I see myself training with the boys. I have to live by example just like in Europe I also worked hard to pay my bills. I tell my players that the future of Golden Child Academy depends on their hardwork because by the time they will start playing for clubs and perform well, it could make the national team to invite them. The most important thing is to develop these boys well and to encourage them to take their education serious. This means to have a plan B so that if football doesn’t work, another thing could work for them like education, skill acquisition. Football is like ‘many are called, few are chosen’. They become perfect if they have education, skill acquisition and football. By these, they have solely secured their future.
How do you feel being with players?
Well, I feel so great. They are my source of inspiration. I recruited some of them when they were at the age of 10 and 11 years. Whenever I see them, I see maturity and growth in them. It gives me joy to see them grow in the examples I have laid for them.
How many players do you have in the Academy?
In total, we have 25 players
What is your dream about Golden Child Academy in five years to come?
My dream is to see it as an International Football School. A residential Football Academy where every talented child will be given full opportunity to reach his academic and sports potentials irrespective of their background. We hope in five years to come, we would have our own building.
You have seen sports here and sports in Switzerland. How do you think Nigeria can borrow a leaf from Switzerland and vice versa?
Both sides need each other. When it comes to youth development, there is nothing to compare about because Switzerland is very far away. They are very advanced and they have facilities on ground. Switzerland have so many fields and training equipment which enables kids in an area to train regularly but that is not the same here in Nigeria. By building a synergy, we could also learn a lot from them. This synergy is currently being built by Golden Child Academy and our Partners in Switzerland to see if there are ways we could bring down their coaches to impact some knowledge by training our local trainers so that they would be able to give back what they have leant to their respective local communities. Also, by sending some of our best players to live the life of a Football Academy Student and experience the difference between what they have here and what they have in Europe that makes the European Football very attractive.
So, what is your advice generally to Nigeria Government on sports?
They should know that they can’t achieve a lot without infrastructural /sports facilities. The country cannot grow if they don’t invest in their youths and in sports. I advise them to start today to invest in sports and invest wisely in empowering the youths and by this, they take the youths off the streets of crime, running from home or attempting to migrate to Europe through the desert. My advice to the government is for them to invest wisely on the youth
So, what is your advice generally to the youth?
Ignorance is a big problem we have. The youths are adamant and unwilling to learn. This is why we are trying to organise seminars as an avenue to talk to our youths about their life, passion and aspiration. Personally, I want them to believe that ‘charity begins from home’. They could achieve success in their country through hard work. Also, let them map out what they want to achieve in life and start pursing it immediately
What are your favourite colour?
Yellow and black
What are your favourite food?
I love rice and plantain as my Nigeria Meal while in Switzerland, I love pizza
Apart from Football, what are your other hobbies?
I love to go for swimming; I love interacting and making friends
Do you have any other type of job you do?
I am into car business. I import cars from Switzerland and sell.