Many young African footballers are being tempted to Equatorial Guinea with the hope of one day playing for the Nzalang Nacional, the country’s national football team. For those foreign players who managed to play for this host country in the 2012 African Cup of Nations (AFCON 2012) it’s been a positive experience, but for many others it’s been harsh.
By Noël Tadégnon, Malabo
“We came here in search of a better life, through soccer,” says Richard Ambassa, a Cameroonian national living in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea. The young man, who is passionate about soccer, came to Equatorial Guinea three years ago to “try his luck”. His dream is to play in the local premier league and be part of the country’s national team.
But reality proved totally different. The dream of success and fame has not yet come true for the 22-year-old. “Because I cannot survive on football, I have to work as a gardener in the morning at hotels. I work until three in the afternoon to go train at four,” explains Richard, who played for premier league club Deportivo Unidad last year. This year, he joined Ateneo, a first division club that has a dozen foreign players in its ranks.
In addition to the expensive residence permit, Richard Ambassa must also deal with the high cost of living, in a country where the monthly salaries of soccer players vary between 50,000 CFA francs (approximately 75 euros) and 200,000 CFA francs (approximately 300 euros), depending on the club.
“I have to pay rent, feed myself and I have a family back home that is relying on me,” explains Richard who needs at least 200,000 CFA francs every month to cover his living expenses.
Yet, some footballers who came in the same circumstances as Richard Ambassa have had better success. Thierry Fidjeu Tazemata currently plays as a striker for the Nzalang Nacional. At the age of 30, this former captain of the famous Union Sportive de Douala, in Cameroon, changed his nationality to compete at AFCON 2012 with Equatorial Guinea.
“Teams everywhere in the world do it, including the French and the Germans. In our team, we have ten players of foreign origin, of whom two or three have been born here. It happens everywhere,” says Fidjeu.
A foreign legion
In addition to Fidjeu, the Equatoguinean national team has four other Cameroon-born players: Ellong, Ndongo, Pensy and Ekanga. The team also includes goalkeeper Sylva Emmanuel Danillo from Brazil, Rolan de la Cruz from Columbia, Lawrence Doe from Liberia, Ekedo Chigorizim from Nigeria and Da Garcia Rui Fernando from Cape Verde.
The defensive midfielder Ben Essono Konate is from Ivory Coast and has a dual citizenship. He used to play in the Ivorian premier league, but then took up Guinean citizenship because he believed he did not have a chance at ever playing for the Elephants, the Ivorian national team.
These success stories give Richard Ambassa enough hope to continue the pursuit of his dream – for now.