Simon Zenke has told SCORENigeria how he missed out on a transfer to top Premier League clubs Manchester United and Chelsea as well as the intrigues surrounding his omission from the 2007 U20 World Cup in Canada even after he was one of the top players at the Africa U20 championship.
He also talked about his career, what attracted him to Turkey and his plans after retirement.
The full Interview:
SCORENIGERIA: Hello Zenke
ZENKE: Hello, it has been ages.
How did your career start?
Right from my last year in secondary school, I started receiving offers from Ranchers Bees of Kaduna, but I was hell bent on finishing my secondary school before I will go fully into the game. So after my final exams in secondary school, I joined Niger Tornadoes.
I was invited to the U17 national team and the rest was history.
How was it when you finally traveled to France?
It was mixed feeling, I was happy with the move, but it was not easy as a young boy going out to Europe, though that has been my dream since the first day I decided to play the game. I saw as my dream became a reality. But it was tough at start.
You are from an English speaking country, how did you cope with the French language to communicate with your coaches and teammates?
It was not easy initially, but I got help from a South African player who was there before me. I learnt from him and also attended language classes. In fact, I proceeded further to take course in French.
There were offers from other countries, why did you choose Strasbourg?
You are right. I got offers from Manchester United, even Chelsea technical director called me the day I signed for Strasbourg, but I decided to choose French team because there I can get chance as they have a better youth development programme compared to teams in England. And the foreign quota system would also have affected me. I think the decision was the best.
How did Turkey came into picture?
Strasbourg got relegated to the third division, so I needed to move. I wanted something like an adventure and Turkey came right on time. It was a risk I took and at the end it was worth it.
I can say that’s was the best decision taken in my career because the name Zenke was made in Turkey.
How did Nancy came into the picture?
Monaco and Nancy came for me, I could have gone for Monaco, but they had financial difficulties. I chose Nancy basically because they are close to Strasbourg, where my family live.
Zenke, you did well at U20 African championship in 2007 and you were looking forward to the U20 World Cup the same year, but injury set in, how did you take it?
That was a big lie. I was not injured. I came a bit late to camp and I explained the reasons to coach Ladan Bosso. As I landed in Abuja, I sent my older brother to go and submit passport to the coach and team officials in Lagos, so I can settle some things and meet them the following day. All this was to show how serious I am with the team.
On getting to Lagos the following day, I noticed some strange behaviour from the officials, but my teammates were happy to see me in camp.
Coach Bosso said I am fat and I told him this is how I am. I was surprised to hear that from him, how will he say that when I was just coming from my club, where I am playing regularly, not from holiday, everybody knows that I am a bulky player.
They had their plan.
We had a friendly game, Ideye played and scored, the way he celebrated the goal with the coach, I knew something was going on.
I was introduced to the game and I scored a goal too, it was against Union Bank FC. When they called the list the following day, my name and that of Emma Sarki were missing.
I asked for the reason why I was dropped, but the coaches and team officials avoided me because they had no reasons only for me to read in the news the following day that I have ankle injury.
This cooked-up story was to cover their act, they had their players they wanted to take. I cried after watching their first game at the World Cup because I know I would have made an impact, but God knows best.
Do you think if you had played at the 2007 FIFA U20 World Cup in Canada you would have made your way to big leagues and big clubs?
Yes sure. FIFA-organised competitions are where clubs, scouts and agents look for players. In fact I had some clubs that made plans to go watch me at the World Cup. I believe if I had played at the World Cup, it would have opened the door to play with top teams and top leagues, but to God be the glory. I never have God father that took me to national teams, it was my performances.
Where will you pick as the best place you have played so far?
No doubt Turkey. It gave me the name I have today. The fans in Turkey are different, they are passionate, they adore you when playing well for them. They know how to tell you when you are not doing what they want. I keep going back to Turkey whenever I remember how the fans treat me.
Who was your role model?
Julius Aghahowa. I love his spirit and the way he gave his all for Nigeria when he was playing. The zeal and determination is what I emulate from him. Even I copy his back flip goal celebration. Outside Nigeria it is Wayne Rooney. I love his character and style.
What are your plan after you quit football?
At first I don’t want to have anything to do with the game after I quit because of past experiences, but I gave it a second thought. This is what I love, so I may go into scouting, but I can’t be a coach.
What will you say to the fans and aspiring footballers?
I thank them for their support, they should keep doing that, I won’t disappoint them.
To all youngsters aspiring to be footballers, dedicate your time and be determined that you want to be great and seek God’s guidance.
Thank you for your time.
Thank you for having me.