By David Hytner
Victor Moses poses at Chelsea’s training ground
The Nigerian winger was 11 when his parents were killed in religious riots in Kaduna. He reflects on his journey from the depths of personal tragedy to his pride at joining Chelsea.
To Victor Moses, the images have a dream-like quality. The Nigeria winger had prayed since the beginning of July for the completion of his transfer from Wigan Athletic to Chelsea and there had come a point when he feared that it would not happen.
But, in a whirlwind week at the end of August he signed for £9m, was introduced to the Stamford Bridge crowd before the Newcastle United game, felt his eyes widen and his stomach flip during his first training session and then, the finale, watched the European Super Cup against Atlético Madrid as an unused substitute.
Moses speaks in shy, hushed tones but they do not disguise the awe and excitement that he feels. His arrival at Chelsea marks a significant staging post in his quest to reach the game’s summit, even if it pales in comparison to his broader journey from the depths of personal tragedy. His parents were murdered in Nigeria and Moses fled to England as an 11-year-old asylum seeker. He feels that they look down on him with pride.
Moses’s focus is on the future and the opportunities that he intends to grasp. He hopes to make his debut at some stage of the grudge fixture at Queens Park Rangers on Saturday, although to give it such billing feels crass in the light of what he has lived through.
The 21-year-old bristles with quiet determination. He was Chelsea’s final attack-minded signing of the summer, following Eden Hazard, Marko Marin and Oscar, who joined at a total cost of £60m, and with Juan Mata and Ramires also vying for prominence in Roberto Di Matteo’s line of three behind the main striker, the competition for places is ferocious.
It is reasonable to wonder whether Moses, who was Wigan’s main man last season and is becoming something similar for Nigeria, will enjoy the minutes that a talent like his wants and needs. He had no hesitation, though, in signing up for the challenge.
“I don’t really know if it was Di Matteo or if it was the chairman or whoever but I knew that Chelsea were interested in me and that was it, really,” Moses says. “For a club to come and get you, they are going to use you at some stage. I know that there are a lot of players at Chelsea but if I do get my chance, I just have to grab it.”
Moses already has Chelsea stories to tell. He smiles when he recalls standing on a chair in Monaco, in the build-up to the Super Cup final, and being ordered to sing and dance for the amusement of his team-mates. The initiation routine for new recruits has become a feature at many clubs. “I was nervous,” Moses says. “I thought: ‘What am I going to sing?’ because when I stood there, I literally didn’t know what to sing.”
For the record and the grime fans out there, Moses “kind of sang a Skepta song”. “It’s a little bit embarrassing,” he says, “… everyone watching me, thinking: ‘What is he singing?’ But it was all right.”
Moses has needed more than the occasional superlative of late. “The first training session was unbelievable … seeing JT, Ashley Cole, Torres and people like that, it was incredible, kind of crazy,” he says. “And the Super Cup, when I was watching it, I was thinking to myself: ‘I can’t actually believe that I’m here.’ I didn’t get on but I still got a [runners-up] medal.”
Moses’s appetite for precious metal, though, has been fired by a different encounter. “I saw the Champions League trophy the other day, it was at the training ground,” he says. “Everyone was having their picture taken with it but not me. It was the players that played in the Champions League. I just walked away, although I did touch it. I thought to myself: ‘Hopefully, we will win it again this year.'”
Moses’s single-mindedness and strength of character is evident and it is easy to connect it with the manner in which he has coped with his childhood trauma. His father, Austin, was a Christian pastor in Kaduna, and his mother, Josephine, helped with his work.
Violence, though, was depressingly familiar between the Muslim majority and the Christian minority and when riots erupted in 2002, Moses’s parents, who were obvious but unflinching targets, were attacked in their home and killed. Moses was given the news as he played football in the street.
He became a target, too, and, after being hidden by friends for a week, he was sent to England, where he was placed with foster parents in south London. Upon his arrival in the country, he knew nobody.
“Definitely, wherever they are at the moment, they should be proud of me, looking down being proud,” Moses says of his parents. He is not ready to open up publicly about the bereavement and the gamut of emotions that he has run, but he does reflect on the work ethic that has guided him and been in place from the outset.
“It has been a long journey [from Nigeria] and I just want to keep strong and work hard for myself, whether it’s football or not football,” Moses says. “I have to thank God for being where I am, it’s like a dream come true and, if I keep working hard, who knows, I’ll probably end up in Barcelona one day.”
Moses has fond memories of the street-football days in Nigeria – “No boots, just in your bare feet, a little ball got chucked in and we started playing” – and, also, the English after-school equivalent. He always wanted to be a professional footballer and he was spotted by Crystal Palace as he kicked a ball about in Norbury Park.
They brought him into their academy and recommended him to Whitgift, the fee-paying school in Croydon where he could benefit from the superb facilities.
He was a prodigy, utterly prolific in front of goal, a man among boys. He led the Whitgift under-14 team to the FA Youth Cup in 2005; they beat Grimsby school 5-0 in the final, with Moses scoring all five. Grimsby played in red shirts, which prompted the Grimsby Evening Telegraph into the first of many bible-based headlines for the player: “Holy Moses – wonder player parts red sea.”
He made his Palace debut at 16 and was called up by England at every youth level. He won the Golden Boot at the European Under-17 Championship in 2007, in which England lost to Spain in the final, but his momentum was checked at Under-21 level.
Stuart Pearce fielded him only once, against Uzbekistan in 2010, and the manager substituted him at half-time. Moses was not called up for the next game. “I played for England Under-16s, 17s, 18s, 19s, 20s and then 21s … then … I just decided to make the decision to play for Nigeria,” he says.
Moses based the decision, in part, on where he felt full international opportunity would knock. He was conscious, he says, of the “great players” that England produce. “Every year,” he adds, “you can see young players coming up and doing really well.”
His declaration for Nigeria has thrilled fans across Africa, where the Premier League is revered, although it did prompt Pearce into a hurried phone call to ask him what he was doing.
Moses has his eyes on the Africa Cup of Nations that takes place in South Africa from 19 January-10 February next year, at which Nigeria will compete if they can see off Liberia in the second leg of the final qualifying round. They drew the first leg 2-2 in Liberia last Saturday, with Moses setting up both of his team’s goals. The return is in Calabar on 12 October.
“When I got to Nigeria [last week], everyone seemed to support Chelsea,” Moses says. “It was a good experience to see Chelsea fans in Nigeria, screaming my name and stuff. When I got to Liberia as well, it was the same thing. They watch the Premier League everywhere in Africa.”
The topsy-turvy nature of Moses’s recent existence is epitomised by his having played more matches this season against his current employer than for them. He completed the 90 minutes for Wigan against Chelsea on the opening weekend, which was a test of his professionalism, particularly as he says he knew Chelsea had made a bid for him before the kick-off. “Wigan must have rejected it,” he says. They rejected four bids in total, starting with £3.5m in early July.
Moses is desperate to impress and he says that he has no preference about where he plays. “I feel comfortable anywhere up front,” he says. “Left wing, right wing, behind the striker. I thought that the transfer wasn’t going to happen because it did drag on a bit but I’m delighted that everything is sorted. I just want to enjoy myself and play football.”
Victor Moses spoke at the launch of Battlefield 3 Premium Edition, which is out now in the UK for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.
Source: The Guardian, UK (14 September 2012).