By Joel Wass
The Ryerson men’s soccer team was eliminated by the best team in Canada this year, but it could be adding the best player in the country next year — just ask him.
“I think I am the best player I’ve ever seen,” says Emmanuel Fagbemi, a first-year public health student. “I’ve watched all the [pro] divisions and I’m not convinced they’re better than me. I’m sorry, I’m sounding too cocky.”
Fagbemi is yet to compete on the varsity level, but is convinced he’s equipped with the skills for the Rams to avenge October’s first-round playoff loss to Brock University — the eventual national champions.
The confident 24-year-old spent the past year fine-tuning his soccer skills playing pick-up soccer in the RAC and is eager to kick it with Ryerson’s soccer superior next fall.
He compares his soccer savvy to that of Argentinian star Hernan Crespo, of the Inter Milan soccer club.
“[Crespo] known how to get open and so do I,” says Fagbemi. “Some people can pass the ball, but you can’t pass the ball if nobody can get open.”
Fagbemi cites World Cup legends, Romario and Roberto Baggio as two other players he’s emulated his game around.
“I just want to help [the men’s soccer] team because I know they struggled last year.”
The Ryerson men’s soccer team finished the 2002-03 season with a 2-9-1 record, yet still qualified for the Ontario University Athletics playoffs for the first time in the school’s history.
Fagbemi thinks he could provide the soccer program with enough kick to advance far into the OUA playoffs.
“Winning is what I care about,” says Fagbemi, who plays at both the striker and mid-fielder positions. “I don’t care how many goals I score. I’m not a fancy player, but I’m a good player. I’m a guy who makes everyone around him better.”
Fagbemi attended varsity soccer practises in mid-September of this year, but left the team after making a few mistakes in drills.
“When I tried out, the season had already begun,” says Fagbemi. “[Coach Tony La Ferrara] didn’t really know me … Now I know what he actually wants. Now I just have to show him what I can do.”
La Ferrara was unable to comment on the story, but Fagbemi says he is prepared to fill any role the coach wants him to play.
“I can fit in anywhere,” says Fagbemi. “I’ve played for two different coaches that coached completely different styles. I adjusted to the styles of both.”
Fagbemi began playing soccer as a kid growing up in Nigeria.
He moved to Toronto in 1995 to live with his father. He attended Monarch Park High School, but one game on his school’s senior team during his final year of high school.
“I was 21 years old in OAC and the league said I was too old to compete.”
Fagbemi was older than his classmates because his Nigerian high school credits did not carry over into the Ontario educational system.
He’s spent the last few years participating in a various recreational leagues around the Toronto area.
Although he does not consider himself as a “goal scorer,’ Fagbemi says he recorded 20 goals in 22 games recently in the Scarborough Soccer Centre League.
Ryerson sports and recreation director David Dubois says he is glad to hear Fagbemi is confident in his play, but doubts he’s the next Pele.
“Some people that are playing in soccer leagues or in intramurals may think they’re good, but they’re not,” says Dubois. “Playing university or at an elite soccer level takes more than just skill. It’s also conditioning, mental and how committed they are.”
Fagbemi is currently committing three days a week training for the upcoming university soccer season.
“It’s going to take me time to get to know me teammates,” says Fagbemi. “But for me soccer is natural. I should fit in about a month.”
If Fagbemi elevates to elite athletic status, he will not be the first Ram to do so without being formally recruited prior to enrolling at Ryerson.
Men’s volleyball player, Sasha Simic, is a former male athlete of the year, but did not hear from coaches when he arrived at Ryerson until after he was accepted into the business management program.
Simic says it’s rare for walk-on athletes to shine on varsity scene, but encourages any aspiring Ryerson athletes to attend team tryouts.
“People should come out to find out what university sports is all about,” says the fourth-year power.” [Athletes] should get in touch with a coach and do something in the summer to improve their game.”
Dubois says there is information regarding varsity tryouts on Ryerson athletics’ Website. He also suggests that those interested drop by the RAC to pick-up information forms.
Fagbemi is spending this summer competing in the North East Toronto Soccer League and hopes the extra field work will not only land him a spot at Ryerson, but ream Canada.
“My goal is to one day play on Canada’s national team,” says Fagbemi. “I don’t care how long it takes — that is my goal.”
With files from Adam Button