Dreams of a Midfielder

photo: Yan Brice Eteki / ALYSSA MORALES 

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The love of soccer has been in Yan’s heart since he was a child playing in the streets of Cameroon. He didn’t know then that this love would bring him to Europe to play for Sevilla FC junior, while building a very promising future for himself.

“GOD PROTECTS ME AND PROVIDES FOR ME,” the phrase tattooed onto Yan Brice Eteki’s left arm.

WHEN THERE IS AN IMPORTANT GAME, Yan, the first captain of his team, takes a moment in his room to sit down and grab the bible next to his bed. After praying, he leaves his room on the fourth floor and walks down the stairs of the residency. All of the boys, dressed in official uniform take their places on the bus that brings them to the field where they will represent Sevilla FC Juvenil. Yan maintains a quiet and concentrated composure. When the moment arrives to step onto the field, with nerves increasing, he looks up to the sky, crosses his body, and utters some words in a low voice before pouring his heart and soul into the game. “God watch over me and protect me throughout the game.”

Yan Brice Eteki has played soccer since he was a little boy. It all began in the streets of Yaounde, Cameroon, a country with an overflowing love for soccer. There, he grew up with his sister, Michelle, father, Moise, mother, Pauline, and friends who he considers brothers. “I played in the street just for fun and one day I realized it could be my life,” he remembers.

However, despite the lack of high-level opportunities to have a future in soccer in Cameroon, the sport was not the initial reason that Yan came to Spain. In November of 2011, he and his father left everything behind, including their loved ones. In search of a better life, they arrived in Madrid to give Yan access to a good education and a better job in the future, all without the slightest knowledge of how to speak or understand Spanish. “I was nervous because I did not know what I was going to find here, in a new country. My friends told me, ‘go to France because at the least they speak French,’ but I decided that I had to go to Spain because the soccer is better.”

With time, it became clear to Yan that soccer would lead his life path. His father told him that if he wanted to play, he could count on his support. Knowing his dad was on his side, Yan pursued a career. He contacted a soccer player, Amelie, who was a friend of his father’s that had contacts with one of the leading clubs in Madrid, the Club Deportivo Leganés, who’s top team competes in the league of the Second Division. Timidly yet excitedly, he began to play for the team and create friendships with his teammates, all the while overcoming the language barrier. “At first it affected me more, but with time, I was able to adapt. But it was not, and has not been easy,” Yan recounts.

After one year of playing for Club Deportivo Leganés, taking Spanish language classes, and living with his father, everything changed. Victor Orta, one of the scouts for Sevilla FC Juvenil discovered Yan’s talent as a midfielder and decided that he could be a strong asset for the team. In December of 2012, Yan said goodbye to his new friends and his father, who now lives in Paris and works as an IT specialist, packed his bags and moved to Seville to start yet again another life for himself.

The younger players for Sevilla FC live in shared residencies. During his first year in Seville, Yan stayed in the club’s residency in the center of the city, but due to excessive noise, a party environment, and a long commute to the practice fields, Yan moved to Colegio Mayor Rectora Rosario Valpuesta in the Montequinto neighborhood. With 142 rooms, singles and doubles, the residency is home to students who attend the nearby university, Universidad Pablo de Olavide, as well as to the thirty-two Sevilla FC Juvenil players who all share double rooms.

Yan and his teammate, Miguel Martin, share a room with the beds pushed closer together to allow for more space on both sides. Yan’s side of the room is lined with a variety of brightly colored shoes and soccer cleats, all Nike. His closet and dresser are filled to the brim with clothes spilling out over the top, showing his apparent care for style. “I am always stylish,” he declares sassily, donned in a perfectly coordinated outfit.

As professional athletes, the boys do not have much free time in general. Yan, however, has more time to himself than the others because he is the only one that does not attend the university, but instead takes English language classes three times a week. While not in class and not playing soccer, he spends time with the others who live in the residency, hits the town to shop, listens to music from his home-country, and plays video games. A large flat screen television fully equipped with a PlayStation sits in the middle of his room. Video games, most in relation to soccer are piled up on either side. His favorite is FIFA ’16, the most recent edition. And what team does Yan play with? “Well, I play with Sevilla, of course,” Yan retorts with pride.

His team is very important to him. They spend most of their time together and go through similar experiences. In the residency, they have limited responsibilities; their food is prepared and their clothes are cleaned. Yet, with this lack of responsibility does not come an abundance of freedom. You cannot do whatever you want whenever you want. There are rules imposed by the residency and by the team. One of the most important rules is that all the players need to be in their respective rooms by eleven o’clock at night.

Yan is different than the others. Almost all the other players are from Seville or somewhere in the south of Spain and can return to their homes to visit their families and friends on the weekends. Meanwhile, Yan stays back by myself given that the trip to Cameroon is costly and takes a significant amount of time; seven hours by plane. He is only able to visit his family two times a year, during December and June.

“In November, before the time comes to return to Cameroon, there are moments when I feel lonely and sad because the days are longer and I am constantly thinking about my country and my family. I know it is what it is; I am here to help my family,” Yan remarks honestly.

Without his family nearby, he seeks the comfort of others in the residency, such as the tutors, who are there to help with any issues he has. He also counts on the team psychologist, the trainers, and the rest of the team for support.

“As a team, we try, before anything else, to be a family and help each other on and off the field. They are my family”, says Yan with emphasis.


03photo: Yan during a match in the UEFA Youth League 2015/16 against Borussia Mönchengladbach. Photo: Sevilla FC

Soccer is his job and his life. Especially being a captain and a leader of the team, Yan has a lot of pressure placed on him. His goal is to perform well and to gain a spot on a team in the first division league, “La Liga.” Yan is eighteen years old, the oldest you can be to play on the juvenile team, so the time has now arrived for him to move up to a first division team and accomplish his dream of playing in the big leagues. “There are games when there’s a lot of pressure because people have come to watch you play and you have to perform well. In soccer there are good times, bad times, and moments of incredible pressure. You need to be mentally sound and attempt to regulate the pressure,” explains Yan.

He and his team have learned how to deal with stress and overcome obstacles in order to achieve success. In 2014, his team participated in the Copa del Rey and beat Real Madrid. Unfortunately, Yan suffered a knee injury during the semi-finals against FC Barcelona and could not play in the final match. Nonetheless, he hangs the championship medal from his wall with pride.

As a Cameroonian, he seeks inspiration from players who grew up in his country and have achieved fame such as Stephane Mbia, Yaya Toure, Alex Song, and Samuel Eto’o, the most famous from Cameroon.

If Yan could play for any team in the world, he would be a midfielder for FC Barcelona, a team for which some of his idols, like Eto’o and Song, have played. At this moment, Yan already has a couple things in common with Eto’o. They both started their European soccer careers playing for Leganés and Eto’o also won the Copa del Rey in 2003 with FC Barcelona. Now, Yan just needs to win the UEFA Champions League playing for FC Barcelona, like his Cameroonian idol did in 2009.

Nevertheless, in the long run, when his time playing soccer is up, Yan wants to return to his country and create a business. In the mean time, he tries to have fun and endure the hard times in order to provide his family the chance to live without worries.

“For me, it’s like a dream, because a year ago I never would have imagined that I would be in Sevilla. It was a dream then and it continues to be now,” smiles Yan. •