It is often said that the world of football is like a jungle and nothing is ever done for free. Nigerian midfielder Ibrahim Rabiu is one player who can testify that this is indeed the truth. A rising star at just 16, Rabiu has just signed for PSV Eindhoven, but the path to the Eredivisie club was a long and winding one, leaving critics warning that the now-20-year-old could be a talented but troubled starlet. However, this is far from the truth.
Rabiu left Nigeria with the words “the new Jay-Jay Okocha” ringing in his ears. Sure of his talent, and destined to for the top, the youngster had no reason to expect anything other than a bright future. But an unfortunate series of events left his career in trouble, and for Rabiu, the culprit was easy to spot. “My former agent is the one to blame”, said the Nigerian, taking time out of a training session with Telstar, a club in the Dutch second tier. “He has always thought how to make money for himself instead of protecting my career and my future. He told me a lot of lies too.”
Born in Nigeria on 15th March, 1991, Rabiu was scouted by agent Bertram Ekenwa while he was playing in the Mambilla Barracks in Abuja, and quickly enrolled in a boarding school. Later, Rabiu joined FC Sports Academy before signing Gateway FC, a professional side from the town of Abeokuta. 2007 was the player’s breakthrough year, with plaudits aplenty handed out for Rabiu’s role in Nigeria’s victories in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup and the African Under-17 Championship. Observing Rabiu’s technical skills, dribbling ability and vision, it was taken as a given that a future at the top of the game lay ahead.
In the summer of that same year Rabiu signed a youth contract with Sporting Lisbon, despite strong interest from the English quartet Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool. “A move to a top Premier League club would probably have ruined Ibrahim’s career”, said his agent Ekenwa. “He needs to develop step-by-step, and Sporting’s youth academy is one of the best in the world. I am sure Rabiu can become a top class player.”
And the Nigerian did flourish, enjoying two years of success, particularly impressing at the Under-19 International Bellinzona Tournament. In 2008, Sporting picked up the trophy and Rabiu, deployed as a classic number 10 in a 4-2-3-1 system, was voted the tournament’s best player. One year later the talented attacking midfielder again led the Portuguese giants to the final, however Tottenham Hotspur proved too strong.
In 2010, Rabiu left Sporting as a free agent, having turned down two offers to sign a professional contract with the Liga Sagres outfit. “Ekenwa told me not to sign”, remembered the Nigerian. “He said that Sporting’s economic offer was not good enough for a player like me. There are many European clubs – he said – that can put a better offer on the table. Celtic, for example. Ekenwa told me the deal was done with them. Lies. I spent my last months in Lisbon in my hotel room. I was not injured, nor did I have any problems with the coach. The people at Sporting were very angry. However, I trusted my agent and didn’t sign. Those were really bad days for me.”
Alone, without a club and an agent, the thought of quitting football and returning to his homeland ran across Rabiu’s mind. Another agent though, Tony Harris, made the youngster change his mind, and the 19-year-old spent the second half of 2010 looking for a club, though he could not find the right fit for various reasons. Rabiu had a trial with VVV-Venlo in Holland and then across the border with Belgian side Club Brugge. “VVV told me I was not the kind of player they were looking for”, explained Rabiu, “though they considered me as very good. In Brugge I could not perform at my best. I lacked match fitness and a good physical condition because I’ve played very few games in 2010.”
In January 2011, former Dutch international Jan Poortvliet brought Rabiu back to Holland for a trial with his side Telstar. “He is surely not an Eerste Divisie player”, said Poortvliet. “In my opinion, the Nigerian is even too good for the Eredivisie. We played a friendly match against PSV Eindhoven, we lost the game 2-1, but he was indisputably the best player on the pitch.”
Rabiu however, did not manage a single minute on the pitch in Holland’s second division. “According to Royal Dutch Football Association rules, a non-EU player should be given a contract of at least €264,000 a year. It’s too much for a small club like Telstar”, bemoaned Poortvliet. “Without an investor to cover his salary, we cannot sign him.” Once again, financial reasons stopped the African talent from getting his career back on track.
The next stop on the Nigerian’s journey was with Finnish top flight club FC Haka. However, in the technically poor Veikkausliiga, the chances of Rabiu breaking his downward spiral seemed slim, and turning out in front of crowds of just a few thousand was ill-deserving of such a special talent. And then PSV came to the rescue.
“Ibrahim Rabiu has the potential to reach the heights of top stars like Lionel Messi”, said former Nigeria head coach Shaibu Amodu. Now, having signed at PSV, Nigerians everywhere hope Rabiu can find his way out of football’s jungle.
Fonte: Inside Futbol