Former Super Eagles player, Femi Opabunmi, who has fallen from grace to grass. The Oyo state born player who was a member of the Super Eagles squad to the Japan 2002 World Cup under Coach Adegboye Onigbinde is now penniless and gradually going blind.
According to Saturday SUN,Opabunmi last played for Shooting Stars of Ibadan in the local scene. He played for a few clubs abroad, including Grasshoppers Zurich (Switzerland) and Chamois Niortais in France.
He was in fact the 3rd youngest player to ever play in the World Cup finals after Norman Whiteside and Samuel Eto’o. At the 2001 FIFA U-17 World Championship, Trindad and Tobago, Opabunmi scored a hat-trick against Australia and won himself the Silver Shoe as second highest goal scorer and also the Bronze Ball as third best player in the tournament.
In 2008, he went on an eye surgery and has not played professional football since then.
In December 2006, as he was training one day, he suddenly felt a sharp pain in his eyes. And he could not see the ball again.His vision became blurred and he decided to see an optician. He was told that in a few days he could be blind if he did not have surgery. He went for it and the surgeon said it was a success.
He was expecting to see again, but there was no improvement. He visited the doctor and other hospitals in Paris without a solution. And they told him that his problem was a complex case.
That began Opabunmi’s journey to partial blindness and financial misery. Today, the player who was one of the large hearted players in the Eagles says he cant even afford N5,000 of his own, unlike when in his playing days, he bought cars for some people out of charity.
Although he admitted things are tough for him now, he insisted that he does not beg on the streets of Ibadan, his hometown.
Enjoy the Excerpts of this exclusive interview the SUN had with him…
Are you still playing football now?
No I am not playing any longer because of my sight problem.
When I was experiencing an eye problem, I reported to a Doctor who diagnosed it and said I had to go for an operation.
After the operation I noticed that I have lost one of my eyes. And I started going for medical check-up. I was told that the problem was becoming complicated.
Right now, you can only see with one eye?
Yes, I can now see with only one eye. The other one has gone totally blind.
What are you doing at the moment?
I must tell you I am not doing anything at the moment. I want to gather my self back, now I do one or two things to put body and soul together.
I also want to finish my coaching course so that I get back on my feet.
It was once reported that Femi Opabunmi was seen on Ibadan streets begging; how true is this?
It is not true that I go about Ibadan streets begging. I don’t go out, I normally stay indoors, so those who said they had seen me begging are making a mole out of the mountain. It is not true to be honest with you. But I always go to my friends, we sit together, we laugh and talk things over.
And I don’t know where they have seen me begging on the street. I have a brother, sister and my mum is there also. At least they are doing something. If I have course to beg for anything, I can go to them. They can ‘raise me up’ if they have. I don’t know where people got the story they are writing that Opabunmi turns to beggar. I think it is tarnishing one’s image.
But Femi is it true that things are very tough for you at the moment?
Yes things are tough for me at the moment, but not for people to say Opabunmi turns to a beggar. God forbid, Opabunmi is not a beggar. I reject that in Jesus name. Things are hard for me but not up to that extent.
You can imagine someone who was dashing people money before, buying cars for people and now I can hardly count five Thousand Naira of my own. It’s that bad for me now.
What is your advise to football administrators concerning those who are still playing and those who have retired from the game?
They should be honest and truthful with players, especially in the area of players’ bonus. If it is 10 Pounds they are giving them, they should stick to it and not say one thing and do another.
If they promise any remuneration for players they should ensure these players get it. I also want players to learn from my mistake. I had money.
I was borrowing people money. Friends were always around me, but today, it is past tense.