The Englishman who spent 10 years at Bayern & is still in the Bundesliga
You probably don’t realise it, but there’s a half-Englishman currently in the Bundesliga who spent 10 years on the books at Bayern Munich.
Everyone knows the story of Owen Hargreaves, who played for the England national team before he had even lived – let alone played – in the UK.
Then there is Eric Dier, who grew up in Portugal and started his career with Sporting, representing England at under-age level before joining Tottenham in 2015 and progressing to the senior team.
But you probably haven’t even heard of Chima Okoroji – despite the fact he’s come through the youth system of one of the biggest clubs in world football.
The 21-year-old’s mother is English and moved to Germany after meeting the youngster’s father, a Nigerian, while on holiday. Okoroji went on to join Bayern aged seven and rose up the ranks, but his path to the first team was ultimately blocked by the likes of Philipp Lahm and David Alaba, a duo who would stop many promising careers in their path.
He moved to Augsburg in 2015 and is now at Freiburg – and though he is yet to make his senior debut, Okoroji has already enjoyed plenty of highlights during his fledgling career.
“My mum is from Liverpool,” Okoroji says. “She met my dad when she was on holiday and my dad didn’t want to go over to England as he had problems with work so they decided to stay in Germany.
“When I was seven-and-half they came and asked if I wanted to play for Bayern Munich. I just said yes because it’s such a big club.
“From then it was not that easy for me because in the first team they have a lot of great players. I played there for 10 years and then I had to choose if I wanted to stay there.
“The problem was that to get in the first team was not that easy so I said to myself I had to go to another team. But it was a great experience and they gave me a lot.
“The biggest highlight there was when I was playing in the UEFA Youth League. We played against Roma and Manchester City, which was great because we had not played against teams like that before.”
Looking for a breakthrough
Okoroji moved on to Augsburg in the hope he would be able to progress to the Bundesliga more quickly by proving himself with the club’s second team, but unfortunately things did not go to plan during his two and a half years in Bavaria.
“The club is so big and they can’t take care of every player, and I did not have a contract there,” he says.
“I was one of the players who had been there a long time and I don’t really think they noticed I was there so I just had to change club.”
Having joined Freiburg in the summer of 2017, Okoroji is finally having the impact he hoped, giving him the confidence once again that he can make it in one of Europe’s biggest leagues.
He has been a regular for the club’s second team this season and has spent a considerable amount of the campaign training with the first team, even making the bench for a Bundesliga game against Borussia Dortmund in January.
“I am really getting close and train a lot with the first team,” he says. “They give me the feeling that I will make it here.
“It was the right decision to join Freiburg; I am really sure I will make it here. I was on the bench when we played Dortmund and I hope I will make my debut soon.”
— SC Freiburg (@scfreiburg) January 6, 2018
Several English youngers have headed to Germany to further their development, with Jadon Sancho, Ademola Lookman and Reece Oxford among six to appear in the Bundesliga this season, and Okoroji believes more are likely to follow.
“Here in Germany they like English players, like Sancho, who like dribbling,” Okoroji says. “In the Bundesliga there are not many players like that.
“Players like Sancho like to have fun in the game; here in Germany that is rare or they are not playing anymore.
“Also, in England the chance to play first-team football is not great, whereas here there are more opportunities.
“But in England they like players from Germany because they have a different education. It is always interesting to see the contrast in the leagues.”
With half of his family based in Merseyside, Liverpool fan Okoroji is open to a move to England in the future, becoming one of those Germans in England he talks of, but first he needs to make an impact in the country where he has learned his football.
With English footballers suddenly in demand in Germany, Okoroji hopes he’ll be the next to make a name for himself.
By Will Unwin