ROAD TO GREATNESS: TELLING AFRICAN STORIES
Full time, MFM FC have secured a victory in the league against Dakkada, The Ibom boys away invincibility, ending in Lagos.
“This na Lagos” rings through the stadium after this emphatic win, everyone congratulating the side. Standing arms akimbo is the big number 4, exhausted in elation.
He is soon serenaded by a bunch of kids, Uncle! Uncle! “Van Dijk niyi” loosely translated as “This is Van Dijk” and like Liverpool’s Dutchman, Joshua Akpudje, is commanding, intimidating, quick and calm.
His similarity to the Dutch captain stretches beyond the field of play, Both from humble beginnings as well.Super Eagles Coach Gernot Rohr singled him out for praise after seeing him play once in the local league.
Oworo, Selling Sachet Water and The Lagos Heat
“I am Iyana Oworo born and bred, I can’t forget there,” Joshua said.
Born in to a family of five, Joshua grew up in a crammed apartment where they all could barely fit.
“Iyana Oworo is a difficult place to emerge from, everyone is hustling,” he explained.
Football is his life, as early as age 6, he was a player with his primary school team.His mother would only begin to support his football prospects when he clocked 10, seeing the persistence with which her son kept going at football.
“Every morning, my mum will tell me to kneel down and pray for me, sometimes with tears in her eyes,” He recounts.
He’d only go to train after selling bags of sachet water and groundnuts in the searing heat of Lagos traffic, chasing yellow buses and exotic cars, his own contribution to daily survival.
He would purchase his first pair of boots from those earnings.
Joshua joined Femmak Football Academy, a popular football development center in Ikeja at 16, fresh out of secondary school, training under Ifeanyi Emeghara.
“I chose football over going to an institution of higher learning, It wasn’t easy making that journey everyday for three years but it was a decision I had to come to peace with.”
He had always wanted to be a Centre Back because of its coordinating nature and the authority the position commanded.
Thrice previously rejected in Europe, Joshua has never known the easy way. His minority status meant he couldn’t sign a contract in Slovenia at 16, before getting turned down by Croatian giants Hadjuk Split at 19.
“People began to talk, saying all sorts of things. It’s the way of men, to say things,” He said.
Joshua would bounce back strongly and earn a third trial in Europe with Czech side 1. FC Slovacko, staying there for two weeks; convinced by his talents, but not his experience.
The arduousness of the Czech top flight seen as too much for a kid without prior league experience.Another difficult trip home.
“I wasn’t going to let it define me, So I started again.”
Joshua’s move to MFM was the game changer. Joining the Olukoya Boys in the 2018/2019 season under the tutelage of a man dubbed “the working one”, Fidelis Ilechukwu.
“I’ll forever remain grateful to him,” he quipped.
Ilechukwu saw what the enlightened Europeans didn’t see; A boy with a big desire to do nothing but play football, A diamond out of the rough who needed just a little polish.
His league debut against Wikki Tourists was in Defensive Midfield, playing the last twelve minutes as his side saw out a narrow win at the Agege stadium.
A week later, he made his full debut away against Remo Stars standing tall at Centre Back in an away win.
He had also caught the eye of the Nigerian Dream Team trainers, Kennedy Boboye and Imama Amapakabo, a development he wouldn’t be aware of until a month later.
“Everything so far has been God. My mom’s prayers too”.
“Playing against Libya in that Qualifier counts as one of his highest moments so far, sharing the same locker room with Osimhen, Chukwueze and Dennis Bonaventure meant a whole lot to me,” the Center back recalls.
27 matches, an interesting “hat-trick”, that saw him score an own goal and then net a brace, countless Team of the Week performances, two big domestic offers and a divine intervention later, Europe calls, in Latvia, BFC Daugavpils.
The kids see Joshua as van Dijk, but his mentor is actually Nigerian, the Leganes Centre Back and veteran of two World Cups, Kenneth Omeruo.
Picking a mentor, you can easily relate with is important for Joshua. When he isn’t watching and analyzing Omeruo’s clips, he is watching his own videos, analyzing the parts of his game that need improvement.
“I want to play alongside Kenneth Omeruo in the Super Eagles. He is my mentor”, he muses with nostalgia.
“Everyone mentions Ajegunle to the World, soon it will be Oworo to the World”.
Joshua is en route being a symbol of hope for thousands of kids in another difficult part of Lagos. He hopes he has become a torch that shines brighter on the area. The promised land is the goal.Till then, this journey has only just begun.