Onyekachi Akakem, a former Nigerian professional footballer who retired due to injury in 2021, is once again looking forward to re-entering the industry as a football agent, after graduating from the Online Postgraduate Diploma in Football Business thanks to a scholarship from The Cruyff Athlete Fund
The Nigerian Onyekachi Akakem was a promising professional football player, until an injury ended his playing career in 2021. His dream was always to be involved in football, and that didn’t change after his forced retirement. He recently graduated from the Online Postgraduate Diploma in Football Business, which he was able to study with a scholarship from The Cruyff Athlete Fund. He now lives in the Netherlands, where he collaborates with the KLABU Foundation, giving football training to refugees.
His goal for the longer term is to become a football agent. “I want to help young football players achieve their goals, making sure they get the most out of their talent and that they make the right choices,” he says. Here we talk with Onyekachi about his life, all that football has given him and what’s to come.
Where does your passion for football come from?
I was born and raised in the city of Warri, in Delta State in Nigeria, where street football is highly competitive. That’s where the inspiration for choosing a career in football originated from. My professional journey started in the 2010-11 season with Ocean Boys FC in Yenagoa, where I was one of the few revelations of the football season, thereby earning myself several call-ups for the national team. After playing for several teams in Nigeria and abroad, and winning the Federation Cup and CAF Confederation Cup, in 2019 I signed for second division club Vandrezzer FC, to help them win promotion to the premier league, but I got injured in 2021. I was diagnosed with spondylosis, which limited my performance and forced me into considering retirement.
“When I got the opportunity to play in the league, I knew it was time to make my dream of becoming a professional footballer come true and I never looked back”
What do you think your life would have been like without football?
To be honest, I don’t know. Football is my life, it made me who I am today and has given me so many good and bad memories that I appreciate as a human. Football also challenged me in all spheres and made me come in contact with people I never thought I would meet in life. It has also given me fulfilment and stability.
Making a name for yourself in football in Nigeria can’t have been easy. How do you remember the start of your career, and the opportunity to leave your country and have experiences abroad?
I grew up in the streets of Warri where an average Wafarian is either a comedian or a football player. We played in street competitions, school competitions and had every opportunity to showcase our talents. I was scouted playing in a secondary school tournament and back then, I already dreamed of playing in the top league as I watched older players sweat it out on match day. When I got the opportunity to play in the league, I knew it was time to make my dream come true and I never looked back. Having over a decade of experience in professional football is the result of hard work, dedication, determination and the will to achieve success.
You successfully applied for a scholarship from the Cruyff Athlete Fund of Johan Cruyff Institute, which helps professional athletes to transition to the world of management through academic training. Can you tell us about that?
I am very grateful that I was to obtain academic training through The Cruyff Athlete Fund, and that I could study the Online Postgraduate Diploma in Football Business program at Johan Cruyff Institute. I didn’t encounter any difficulties to progress in the program; it was more of an interesting journey and eye opener for me. The best part of the program for me will always be that I’m now equipped with the necessary tools and empowered with the required knowledge, to navigate through the football industry, knowing how the football business works.
“The postgraduate diploma gave me the necessary tools and empowered with the required knowledge, to navigate through the football industry, knowing how the football business works”
I am very proud to have participated and completed the program and will highly recommend it to fellow footballers who are still active, to get involved with educating themselves, to become leaders in the sports industry. Also noting the commitment of the lecturers to help you be your best and Johan Cruyff Institute, giving you the resources to learn at your own pace.
How did you know about us?
I already followed Johan Cruyff Institute since, in 2015 when I was searching for a sport management course, I could apply for while I was still active. I found them on social media, LinkedIn to be precise, and they checked out as what I was looking for.
You currently live in the Netherlands, and you offer football training to young refugees. How is that experience?
It’s one of the best things in my life. I know for myself that it’s hard to come to a country where you don’t know anyone. It’s quite a challenge. You have to get used to a new environment. That can sometimes be depressing.
KLABU offers an opportunity to people like us to serve humanity by putting smiles on the faces of young refugees through sport. I came across them on LinkedIn and was immediately blown away by how much they are able to achieve with their humanitarian services. It gives me so much joy and fulfilment giving football lessons to unaccompanied minors in refugee camps, while passionately expressing my desire to serve and offer value, making their lives more fun and interesting. It is very fulfilling to see people happy, regardless of the situation or conditions they find themselves in.
How did the opportunity arise and what fulfills you most about your job?
The opportunity came via their social media platform and I love what they do by bringing sport to the doorsteps of refugees, which helps them relax and see life from a different perspective. And I also feel fulfilled that I might be able to contribute meaningfully to the lives of these young people who are trying to build their lives again. It gives me joy seeing them enjoy football with me and for themselves too.
How has the transition been from being a professional footballer to what you could call ‘street football’ in a complicated environment like a refugee camp?
I’m literally in transit, and in the end, my work here is not forever, but I love what I do in the refugee camp with the young people because I come from the street and I know how it feels to be in their situation. It is not their making that they find themselves in these situations. Lots of talented young footballers have fled their countries to start a new life away from their homes and only a few of them were/are lucky enough to achieve their goals. Real Madrid and France national team player Eduardo Camavinga is a case study and also a role model for some of these youngsters. If he can do it, why not them?
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“My work here is not forever, I want to become a football agent, but I love what I do in the refugee camp with the young people because I come from the street and I know how it feels to be in their situation”
Going back to the postgraduate at Johan Cruyff Institute, what is the best thing it has given you, and how do you hope to benefit from this going forward?
Johan Cruyff Institute has equipped and influenced me going into the football industry and I’m gradually exploring and putting to use all I have learned. I am launching the Football X Education initiative, which is aimed at encouraging young footballers to combine football and education while still in active service. This will help them make right decisions and propel them further for an easy transition after a successful football career.
“I am very proud to have participated and completed the program and I highly recommend it to fellow footballers who are still active, to get involved with educating themselves, to become leaders in the sports industry”
What are your next professional goals?
I have always been determined to become a football agent. I want to be able to help young and talented footballers attain the heights of professionalism, thereby reaching and exploring their full potential. And guide them through the Football X Education initiative. I would also love to do a master’s degree in coaching.
Have you felt well advised in your career? What has been your experience thus far in that aspect, to want to dedicate yourself to helping other players?
The idea of becoming a football/sports agent has been a lifetime aspiration. My experiences during my active years on and off the playing field further fueled my passion to help younger players so they can make the right choices in their career path and life in general. I’m still learning the ropes, laying a solid foundation for a possible transition, networking and making the right contacts because I cannot do it alone.