By Johnny Edward.
Excelling as an African footballer in Europe is no easy task.
Many players show true potential and promise in their early careers but fade away over time.
However, reaching the summit of the game is even more difficult, when players have to deal with major setbacks like career-threatening injuries, family issues, depression or even mere distractions.
Some footballers were overwhelmed by these challenges, while others overcame these tragedies.
One of them is Victor Boniface.
The Nigerian striker will be aiming to make history with Belgian club, Union Saint-Gilloise, when they take on Union Berlin in a crucial Europa League second leg round of 16 clash at the Lotto Park in Belgium.
The Belgians are aiming to reach the quarter-finals of the competition for the second time in their history and will be banking on the striker, who has scored six times in his last seven games for the 11-time Belgian champions, to get past the Germans.
His brace in a 3-3 draw against Union Berlin last Thursday makes him the joint-top scorer in this season’s UEFA Europa League with five goals, level with Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, but not many know that his fledging career would have ended just before it started.
Boniface began his career at Lagos-based outfit Real Sapphire FC, who are famed for grooming and exporting talented players, before joining Norwegian club Bodo/Glimit in 2019.
But he suffered a major setback two weeks after joining his new club, with the then 18-year-old damaging his cruciate ligament in a pre-season friendly against SK Brann.
He landed awkwardly after an aerial challenge during the game and his foot gave way.
That injury did not only see him miss the 2019 U-20 World Cup in Poland, he spent six months on the sidelines.
But he bounced back in 2020 to help Bodo/Glimt win their first-ever league championship in their 104-year history.
He scored six goals and three assists in 24 games.
He was looking forward to establishing himself in Norway in his second season, before he suffered a second cruciate ligament injury in a team bus accident.
He knew, outrightly, that he would be on the sidelines again for a lengthy spell.
At that time, he was at his lowest ebb and things got worse as he lost his mother as well and missed out on a lucrative move to Club Brugge.
His passion for the game diminished and thoughts of quitting was next on his mind.
“I gave up at that time, as I was no longer interested in playing football,” Boniface told OJB sports.
“There was a period when I lost my mum, I also had a bad injury that was going to keep me out for six to eight months, and I lost a good offer from Club Brugge.
“I lost interest in football, I forgot about my diets, I began to eat everything, I started living a normal life, I just wanted to be happy, I started partying and drinking.
“I don’t drink normally, but I started it because I was depressed.”
But since completing his move to Union Saints Gilliose las summer for €2m, Boniface has not had a serious injury since 2021, and his career is on the upward trajectory again.
So far, he has notched 12 goals and made six assists in 33 games for Union Saints Gilliose
Having scored five goals in the Europa League this season, Boniface is on the verge of equaling the number of goals scored by a player playing in Belgium in the competition.
The last player to score more for a Belgian club in a season in the competition was Lior Refaelov, who scored six times for Club Brugge in the competition during the 2014/15 season.