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Emeka Ogbonna: One-time AC Milan prospect who made World Player of the Year shortlist

09:38 EAT 05/10/2022
Emeka Ogbonna
Injury marred his dreams to play for AC Milan, but he is turning heads on the sand

Emeka Ogbonna is one of the two Nigerians nominated for the 2022 Beach Soccer World Player of the Year award.

Before injury disfigured his ambitions to represent Serie A giants AC Milan, the Super Sand Eagle goal machine had played professional football in Ghana, Seychelles and India.

Who is he and what informed his decision to play on the sand?  GOAL brings you everything you need to know.

Who is Emeka Ogbonna?

Born in Nsukka, Enugu State Nigeria – Emeka is a professional footballer who enjoyed a nomadic career before moving to beach football.

He signed his first professional contract with Seychelles topflight side St. Louis before heading to Avrankou Omnisports in the Republic of Benin.

Having impressed in the West African country, he was signed by 20-time Moldovan champions FC Sheriff Tiraspol.

Due to work permit issues, he returned to Africa – and then teamed up with Ghanaian Premier League side Liberty before moving to Indian side Pune FC.

There, he signed a pre-contract with AC Milan and a few months to joining the Italian side, injury struck and that cut his career short.

What type of player is Emeka Ogbonna?

Though an attacking midfielder, Emeka uses both legs and can play anywhere in the midfield and attack.

Strong, quick and tall, he is a threat to opponents on his day as his dribbling and ball control skills can wreak havoc against any team.

“I can play anywhere upfront and, in the middle, but I don’t fancy playing in the defence. Although, I occasionally come to the back to help my team defend set pieces,” he told GOAL.

How did Emeka Ogbonna switch to beach soccer?

Notwithstanding his failed expedition in the 11-aside game, the goal poacher is considered one of the greatest beach soccer players in Africa.

“After my injury nightmare – that kept me out of football for over three years, I was on my way to recovery and the chance to play in the Nigeria beach soccer team beckoned,” he continued.

“I started playing the game in 2010 when I was invited by coach Adamu Ejor of blessed memory.

“I impressed him greatly during a friendly match and that guaranteed my place in the Super Sand Eagles and I never looked back.”

After several man-of-the-match performances at the 2016 Beach Soccer Africa Cup of Nations, he was named as tournament’s Most Valuable Player ahead of Senegal’s Babacar Fall – who scored 10 goals.

His contributions to the game saw him make the best 50 Beach Soccer Worldwide goals list in 2016.

Which Africans are on the list with Emeka Ogbonna?

Emeka – whose idol is Switzerland beach soccer legend Dejan Stankovic -  is one of the 12 Africans who made the 100 players shortlist alongside compatriot Abu Azeez.

Others who made the cut are Ahmed Elshahat (Egypt), Al Seyni Ndiaye (Senegal), Antonio Jose Namape (Mozambique), and Emmanuel Wasswa (Uganda).

The rest are Mammadou Sylla (Senegal), Mohamed El-Sayed (Egypt), Nelson Joao Manuel (Mozambique), Ninou Diatta (Senegal), Rabi Abdoutalbi (Morocco), and Raoul Mendy (Senegal).

How Emeka Ogbonna react to his nomination?

“This nomination is a push for me to do more and also an encouragement to all young players hoping to walk on the grounds that I walked in beach soccer,” he added.

Although he must negotiate his way past national teammate Azeez, Ogbonna sees the former Enyimba player as an inspiration rather than his rival.

He continued: “Abu is an inspiration to me, he is always pushing me to win all the time.

“Our pairing has always been a great threat to great oppositions in beach soccer. Isiaka Olawale – our cool-headed captain- and Isa Abdul are great too because they kept encouraging me and making me believe I can do it despite all that I have been through.