Nigerian striker, Victor Anichebe turned his back on the Super Eagles last week. It was a direct consequence of his long suffering, which also almost made him to quit football all together.
A succession of injuries had conspired to slow his progress to a standstill, his club’s supporters had turned on him and the desire to make the most of his talents was repeatedly called into question.
“I will be honest, I won’t say I never thought that. It was such a dark place and I felt like I didn’t really want to be here because the whole situation can eat you up. I thought, ‘Seriously, is this all really worth it? All this negativity’? Now there is no darkness, only light.”
Anichbe will be in the tick of today’s derby between Liverpool and Everton and the Olympics 2008 silver medalist with the Nigerian under-23 team wants to see his transformation flourishing.
“People have always said that if my mind is right I could do well,” he said. “The manager has said it. I saw Mikel Arteta say it in the Arsenal programme when we played them recently. Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines have said, ‘You don’t understand what you could be, what you could have’.
Anichebe is thoughtful and reflective about a journey that has taken him down many cul-de-sacs. He acknowledges he has wasted part of his career and accepts another club and a manager less supportive than David Moyes, below, might have given up on him before addressing the accusations he lacked desire.
“I’m by no means where I should be. Far from it. I need to score more goals and I still hope to get into double figures this season. I haven’t heard it said that I didn’t want to play. I don’t know how to answer that. But from my performances now and how I am working, hopefully you can see how much I do want it, how much fight there is.
A key moment for Anichebe came in a home match against Wigan in December 2010, on the day it emerged he had turned down a new deal. He came on as a substitute and was greeted with a chorus of boos.
“That was a big thing for me, to get that kind of response wasn’t nice,” he said. “It was crazy because I didn’t know anything about rejecting a contract. Maybe my agent and the club had something going on. That whole situation drained the energy inside me and made me hate a lot of things. But I have learned to forget and get on with my life.”
Underpinning that outlook is his faith. “It has always been in my life but in those dark times you do try and put blame on things,” he said. “There were times when I said to my mum, ‘This God thing – forget this’. I would use having a game on a Saturday as an excuse not to go to church on a Sunday; but I’m making more of an effort now.
“I go to a small African church in Manchester – I find the English ones a bit too boring – where a lot of Nigerians sing and dance. For me, though, it’s not just about going there to pray. It is also supposed to be fun.”