Zambian footballer’s American dream ends in tragedy

Many athletes in Africa dream of playing professional sports in Europe or the United States, where salaries are big and opportunities await.

DXC3QB3XcAELAmfAaron Simutowe of Zambia was no different. He was a defender for Zambia’s Under 20 national team that played in the 1999 FIFA U20 World Cup. He then moved to the United States and played one season for the Jacksonville Cyclones of the A-League, which later became the USL First Division.

That seemed like a promising start, but Simutowe was killed in a hit-and-run accident Saturday, Feb. 24, in the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut _ a long way from both Zambia and Jacksonville, Florida. He was struck by two cars while walking on a city street at night.

News reports of the fatal accident described Simutowe, 38, as homeless. How a once-promising professional soccer player ended up homeless is unknown. There’s no public information available about Simutowe’s life after the season in Jacksonville.

The Jacksonville Cyclones were managed by David Viollet, a former striker for Manchester United and England’s national team.

Simutowe was the son of the late Boniface Simutowe, a well-known Zambian midfielder who went on to coach for many years. Aaron’s cousin is Amon Simutowe, who is a chess Grandmaster.

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Super Eagles fans seethe as Tammy Abraham chooses England over Nigeria

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Tammy Abraham in training. (Photo property of England Football Association)

Nigerians are venting their anger at Tammy Abraham for choosing England over Nigeria.

The 20-year-old Chelsea striker, on loan at Swansea City, made his senior debut Nov. 10 in a friendly against Germany. Abraham started and played 60 minutes in the scoreless draw.

Super Eagles fans got excited when Nigerian Football Federation president Amaju Pinnick, who is a longtime friend of Abraham’s Nigerian-born father, said in September that Abraham “has agreed to play for Nigeria.”

Abraham, who has four goals in 10 appearances for Swansea, immediately disputed Pinnick’s claim. Soon after, he was named to the squad for friendlies against Germany and Brazil (Nov. 14)

“I see myself as being a long-term England player. I’m 100 percent focused here,” Abraham said at his news conference after the promotion.

Nigerians have been venting their anger, saying England promoted Abraham only to block him from playing for Nigeria, and that Abraham is missing a chance at international glory. One angry fan tweeted: “Even my grandma knows you won’t play a single match for England at the World Cup.”

I agree that he should have chosen Nigeria because he would have a better chance of playing in the World Cup. But I also think it’s unfair to criticize a 20-year-old for making a tough decision.

Abraham was born and raised in England. Plus, don’t underestimate the disorganization factor. For one, there’s Pinnick’s seemingly premature claim that Abraham had switched allegiances. And the Super Eagles were stranded in Atlanta before the 2016 Rio Olympics after Nigerian officials botched flight plans. Schoolchildren don’t want to deal with these types of headaches, much less elite professionals.

Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi, 21, opted for Nigeria over England. His goal in a 1-0 win over Zambia on Oct. 7 sealed Nigeria’s qualification for the World Cup in Russia next summer. Iwobi was born in Lagos and his uncle his Nigerian football legend Jay-Jay Okocha.

To play for England in Russia, Abraham will have to compete with the likes of Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Daniel Sturridge, and Jaimie Vardy.

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