How Utaka missed Nollywood actions
A possible career in acting may have seen Super Eagles and Portsmouth striker, John Utaka, displaying his talent in some of the major films in Nigeria and abroad. And that may have earned him some megabucks than what he has amassed in football.
Utaka, in an exclusive interview with Daily Mail of London, revealed how football took away his first dream - drama.
The player, who has read many literature books, said his first impressions of England were formed by the words of Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare, which perhaps, was a bad way to prepare for life with Portsmouth manager, Harry Redknapp.
Redknapp is colourful enough to have sprung straight from the pages of Dickens' or Shakespearean books into football. He also spins a decent tale himself.
Utaka was gripped by English literature as a boy in Nigeria. He enjoyed Macbeth and The Tempest at school and named Oliver Twist and Great Expectations among his favourite books.
"I love literature books because they enlighten you, said Utaka. "The more you read, the more knowledgeable you become, the more you understand about life and the more you also understand how you live your life."
The Nigerian player confessed that a career in drama appealed to him before he accepted that his talents were better suited for football, and that it was his personal journey that brought him to Portsmouth, the town where Dickens was born in 1812.
Although Utaka has yet to visit Dickens' birthplace, now preserved as a museum, it is on the list of the things he will do. He was back in the classroom to share his thoughts on education at St Catherine's, a school for children with speech and language difficulties on the Isle of Wight.
Utaka joined the pupils for bricklaying and design classes, posed for photographs with students and generally encouraged the rampant FA Cup fever on the South Coast.
"You learn a lot of things when you go to school, but education is also about learning to tolerate others," said Utaka, a sentiment that was not aimed at Redknapp, but easily could have been.
After a blistering start to his first season in England, the goals have dried up for the 27-year-old, a £7million signing from Rennes of France.
He is playing wide on the right of a five-man midfield rather than his preferred role through the middle and has not scored since New Year's Day. Redknapp is clearly frustrated by Utaka's relaxed approach to life.
"John is a laid-back lad. He has fantastic ability, but it's up to him to put it to good use," said Redknapp recently. "He could learn from Lassana Diarra, nothing is going to stop him from improving. He has a great attitude like most great players."
Utaka is aware of this perception shared by some Pompey fans, but said: "I cannot change what I am. If someone who knows me sees me behaving in a different way, it would be disaster. I will not change what I am.
"If he says I'm a laid-back, it's his opinion, that's the way he sees me, but that doesn't stop me from playing, it doesn't stop me from running. I put in my best. That's the most important thing.
"Everyone has a different character. Some are quiet, some are aggressive, but who you are matters. Try to be yourself and do not try to copy. You can't change a person's character. It would be like telling David James to be quiet!" Utaka has Shakespeare on his side here. 'To thine own self be true and it must follow as the night, the day, thou canst not then be false to any man,' is from Hamlet, as Polonius prepares his son, Laertes, for a journey to Paris.
Modern times have changed the intended meaning slightly, but Utaka was forced to rely heavily on his own self-belief and his faith in God when he left his family as a teenager to play professional football in Egypt.
"I left my home and my family at 16 and went to work in a country where I could barely hear a word they said, because they spoke Arabic," he said.
"It made me to understand that you have to trust in God. You believe he will always be there for you. Without God, I wouldn't be where I am today. That is the bottom line. I believe in fate," he said.