Eze Collins’ road to football stardom may not be your typical footballer story, however the Nigeria-born striker has made a name for himself across Asia, turning out for clubs in India, Bhutan, and now Nepal.
Collins is a talented frontman who has banged in the goals in virtually every place he has played. Now at Macchindra FC in Nepal, Collins is hoping to lead his current team to the top of the Martyrs League.
How long Collins stays in Nepal remains to be seen, though he doesn’t hide his affection for Machhindra FC. A move to Europe represents the player’s ultimate dream along with playing for Mozambique, the national team he selected to play for thanks to his mother’s citizenship. Collins ability can be detected while watching him in action and it’s no surprise that he was a former Nigerian U-17 National Team member.
One Game, One World was delighted that Collins was interested in answering a couple of questions and we became even more excited about the responses he gave us. How does a foreigner fit in Nepal? How did it feel being the first black man to play the sport in Bhutan? And how does he feel about the World Cup coming to Africa?
What follows are the views of a player who has grown up around the game, motivated by his parents and family. Read on for the inspiring tale of a footballer who has taken the road less travelled and, who at only 22, has most of his career ahead of him.
Describe how much you played football in your youth? Did you have dreams of becoming a footballer?
Yeah I played a lot like every young footballer. I started playing football when I was 6 years old because I grew up watching my uncles who were very good footballers and played in big teams in Nigeria and Germany. I enjoyed seeing them and they were heroes to me so I dreamt of becoming a footballer like them.
How did you make it to the professional level? What was your first team?
I played in an academy in Nigeria called FC Robo Lagos, and graduated from there into senior teams like L.S.D.P.C and Stationery Stores FC in Lagos, Nigeria as well. I got my first breakthrough when one manager saw me playing for Stores, his name was Mr. Tope Fuja.
You were born in Nigeria. Describe the love for football that Nigerians have.
For me football in Nigeria is like a religion as people really worship football! Even when there are ethnic conflicts in Nigeria or political problems, if Nigeria has a game everybody forgets the problems and come together as one to support the national team. It’s really interesting to see such atmosphere and love in the air.
Some of your siblings play football. Can you tell us who and where they play?
Yeah two of my older brothers played. Ebitimi Collins popularly known as ‘Barbed wire” played for Stationery Store too. He was feared by strikers all over for his tough tackles. And my other brother, Ebidimor Collins, who played in Germany. They are now both retired but they’re my heroes any day, any time.
What do you think of the current state of football in Nigeria?
Football is the number one sport in Nigeria though the football level has declined a little bit over the last few years, but Nigeria is still a giant of African football. Now it’s entering a new period with new leaders and I think it will claim its rightful position at the top of the world rankings.
What clubs did you support in your youth? Do you still support the same?
I used to support Barcelona because my favorite players played in that team then such as Romario and Ronaldo as well as De La Pena. I loved that team so much then, but now I’m a supporter of Liverpool, I love the club.
What made you decide to move to Asia, India specifically to play football?
I wanted to play professional football though I didn’t have the chance to go to Europe. It was difficult to move to Europe from Africa, I needed a stepping stone so when the offer came to me to move to Asia, I didn’t think twice, I just moved.
Describe your time in India. What clubs did you play for? Was it enjoyable for you?
I came to India on invitation to play for Salgocars Football Club and after a trial they said I was too small so they loaned me to a Division Two team named Tripura. I enjoyed my season with the team, scoring 15 goals it was a moment to remember.
How would rate the quality of football in India?
Indian football is growing over the years and there a is love for football now more than before especially in cities like Goa and Kolkata. But one problem with football in India is that football is not the number one game compared to countries like Bhutan and Nepal. These countries are growing fast because football is the number one sport for them.
You also played in Bhutan. Was that a good experience?
I moved from India to Bhuatn to play for Bhutan champions Transport United Football Club. Well in my opinion Bhutan football was more professional than the team I played with India because in Bhutan they take care of the player’s welfare and all their needs.
It was a very good experience for me as I scored a total of 20 goals in all competitions and also was the first black man to play in Bhutan. Being the first black man to play football in Bhutan was very big for me and I left a mark that the fans will always remember by scoring goals for my team.
Back for a second time with Machhindra FC, what are your goals with the club?
Machhindra is in my heart, a club that I really love and would give my 100% any time, any day because of the way they treated me the first time I was here. I was very young but couldn’t play the first time because of paperwork problems then, but they still they took care of me giving me money and food and they paid for my ticket back. MFC is my family, especially Mr. Anil and Nabin, they’ve always looked out for me and followed my career wherever I played.
Compared to the other leagues you have played in, how does Nepal’s Martyrs League compare?
For me things are improving well in the league, but first they have to maintain the stadium turf. This to me is one of the most important things now because the ground has no comparison with any of the leagues I’ve played in and I mean that in a negative way.
Most of the foreign players can’t show off what they’re made of due to the bad pitch as it’s too hard to play football. If they can’t maintain a good grass field, I think ANFA or whoever is in charge of football in Nepal should get an Astroturf, like in Singapore where most of the teams have Astroturf and it makes the game looks really nice when you watch it on TV and most important makes all the difference playing on it as well.
On our field you can hardly control a ball, it’s difficult to play on it though I try my best to deal with it. My teammate Daniel Baroni has so much skill but he can’t do all that he wants to on this pitch.
How long do you plan on playing for Machhindra FC?
Well for Machhindra I don’t really know, time will tell. I’m a professional footballer and I’m always on the move it seems, but anytime I’m free and if I’m called upon to play for Machhindra I will come and give my best for them. Even when I’m in Europe or anywhere I love this team, they’re my family.
You have decided to play for Mozambique instead of Nigeria. Why?
It was difficult to take that decision because I love Nigeria and I grew up in Nigeria and all my friends are from Nigeria, but I think it’s best for me and my young career because I’ve got a better chance to play for Mozambique.
Playing in Asia compared to Europe it would have been tougher to get picked for Nigeria. Someday I hope to play in Europe and be able to represent my country on the world stage.
I’m happy I made this choice to play for Mozambique and I don’t think I will regret it in the future. I’m happy, though it took lots of thinking and advice from my brothers and family.
What are your goals for the rest of your football career?
Try to make it in Europe, constantly be playing top level football, and being selected for my national team.
How excited are you for the upcoming World Cup?
Honestly I’m overwhelmed because the World Cup will finally be hosted in Africa and African countries will have a fair shot at winning the World Cup as it’s on home soil and this will really help.
Can Africa’s teams perform well this summer? How about Nigeria’s chances?
I think Nigeria will spring a surprise at the World Cup and I want to see Ghana and Ivory Coast do better too and I think they will. It’s going to be awesome and there is, in my opinion, a big chance for an African country to be World Cup champion.
What has been your worst experience playing football?
My first year in Nepal. It was a time I really don’t want to think about now. Because of just one little paper called an I.T.C I couldn’t play and though I did everything right I couldn’t get clearance to play so I just watched every game from the stands. But it’s all in the past now, my paperwork is clear and I can play anywhere!
What motivates you when you are playing football?
My mum. She has always been my number one fan and supported me through hard times. She is so special. Then my father. I wish he could see me play because he always wanted me to play like his favorite player Roger Milla, but he never had the chance because he died when I was very young. My mum did the rest for me so you can see why I choose my mum.
What does football mean to you?
It’s simple, football is my life.