How an orphan from Nigeria became one of England’s hottest prospects…
By Alex Dimond
Sometimes in the modern game, professional footballers need reminding that there is more to life than the game they are paid so handsomely to play. Not Victor Moses, however.
The former Crystal Palace prodigy, who today sealed a £2.5 million move to Premier League side Wigan Athletic, has experienced more tragedy in his 19 years than most English footballers could begin to imagine.
Growing up in Nigeria, in the volatile city of Kaduna, he was just another 11-year-old playing football on the streets when he heard the news that his parents, both Christian preachers, had been brutally murdered by Muslim rioters. Fearing he would be targeted next, his remaining relatives took him into hiding.
“It was a week after they were killed I came to England,” says Moses.
“They got me out as quickly as they could for my safety.”
Such was the danger, he didn’t have time to bring any pictures of his parents — let alone properly mourn their loss.
An asylum seeker taken in by foster parents in Croydon, having never previously been outside Nigeria, Moses understandably struggled to adapt. But football was to provide an unlikely helping hand, and after having finally plucked up the courage to join a junior team his outstanding potential was soon spotted by enthusiastic Palace scouts.
They helped him gain admission to the highly regarded Whitgift private school, where he received first-rate coaching from former Palace boss Steve Kember and ex-Arsenal and Chelsea player Colin Pates.
Of equal importance, however, he was also helped to get a solid education — despite the increasing national attention his footballing talent was getting.
“When I went away with England, the school wanted me to still study, so they did a deal with England that I had a tutor,” Moses recalled when speaking to FourFourTwo magazine.
“English was my favourite subject: I got a B in that at GCSE. I took nine and passed them all except maths. I couldn’t do maths.”
His coaches were the ones who needed a calculator to record his goal tallies, however (he scored 50 in one year in Palace’s U14 side, and then won the Golden Boot with England at the 2007 U17 European Championships), and by the time he was 16 the Eagles’ manager, Neil Warnock, had no hesitation in putting him into the first-team squad.
After an initial period of adjustment, where the rough and tumble of the Championship sometimes proved too much for him, Moses soon adapted to the challenge — and quickly drew high praise from those around him.
“I don’t want him to get a big head but it is frightening some of the things he can do,” former Palace team-mate Paul Ifil said after Moses’ shot from an acute angle saw Palace beat Watford in April 2008.
“Vic can be as as good as he wants. He reminds me of [George] Weah in the way he moves the ball around.
“When he scored his goal I was expecting a cross like everyone else, but he ends up putting the ball in the net. I was left feeling stupid, so who knows what the defenders felt like?”
That form has continued in recent times, as Moses scored six goals (including an outrageous over-head kick against Barnsley) and added an assist in an eight-game run that has finally seen a wider audience sit up and take notice.
With the ability to play equally efficiently as a winger, second striker or out-and-out forward, the pick of top clubs — including Arsenal, Real Madrid and Barcelona — were reported to be chasing after the youngster’s signature.
Wigan have finally won that race, with Roberto Martinez taking the plunge and completing a deal he had considered making over the summer. With Palace’s well-documented financial problems cutting the fee down to half what Moses’ agent, Tony Finnigan, had speculated would be required, the Spaniard is delighted at a bargain addition to his forward line:
“He is a special talent,” Martinez told Wigan’s official website.
“You can see that straightaway. He has been a big hit for Crystal Palace, and now he has the chance to grow and mature in the Premier League.
“Victor is a real player in the making, and he now needs to show the right character and dedication to match his undoubted talent and I think he can make a terrific impact at Wigan Athletic over the coming months and years.”
No doubt Warnock will tell him not to have any worries on that front. The outspoken Eagles manager also had a few choice words for those other clubs who eventually decided against making a bid:
“A lot of managers, who have ummed and ahhed, are going to eat their words,” the 61-year-old warned.
Grateful for everything he has received, Moses is nonetheless ready to embark on the next stage of his development.
“To play in the Premier League is a dream and I want to thank Roberto Martinez and Wigan for giving me the chance to do that,” he said.
“I’m sad to leave Palace because they’re a great club and gave me my chance in football and I want to say thanks to everyone there.
“But I need to prove myself now at Wigan and I’m going to focus on getting in the team and doing well for my new club.”
Memories of past traumas will spur him on. With both a great natural talent and the desire to make the most of it, the Latics look set to reap the rewards of believing in a footballer who knows more than most how lucky he is.
“When I look back, it makes me want to do everything I can for myself and make sure I am in the right place,” he reflected.
“I am a deeply religious boy and a day doesn’t pass when I don’t consider how fortunate I am.
“I want to live well and do the right things. I never want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time like [my parents] were.”