“Philip Osondu, ogba bolu (footballer)” this is the adjectives that my mother used to qualify me with when I came home from a football game then. The memories came back with these words when I heard the news that Philip Osondu is dead. He was the hero of my childhood and alas, a victim of eventuality.
It was reported that Osondu was feeling unwell at work and went to the hospital for a checkup, he was pronounced dead shortly after. At 48, Philip Osondu was such a life cut short.
In 1987, Osondu became a sensation through his performance in the Under 16 FIFA World Cup in Canada. Though Nigeria lost to the Soviet Union on penalties, he wowed the world with his skills and won the Golden Ball as best player of the tournament. What followed was a professional career that his well won fans considered below expectations.
In 1989, he helped Nigeria to get to the final of the under 20 world championship – Saudi 89.
Born Philip Osondu Mast, on November 28, 1971, in Aba, Abia State, he started his youth career in 1988 with El Kanemi Warriors, his brilliance with the ball saw him being touted by Anderletch.
In 1989, Osondu joined Royal Sporting Club Anderlecht, a Belgium professional football club based in Anderlecht, Brussels. But his spell in Anderlecht, didn’t last long.
In 1990, he joined RWD Molebeek, another Belgian side. Osondu’s stay in RWD Molebeek lasted for two years, a period of time that only afforded him 41 match appearances and seven goals.
Two years later, in 1994, he was plying his trade in another Belgium club called R.A.A Louvieroise. But his stay there lasted only for one year, a situation that kept him on the move once more.
In 1996, he was in Union SG, a Belgian club located in the municipality of Saint-Gilles, in Brussels. Osondu only made 13 appearances for the club throughout his time there, scoring only one goal.
In 1999, Osondu joined K Diegem Sport, a Belgian club based in Diegem, Flemish Brabant. It was a three years spell, and he made 43 appearances and scored only two goals.
In 2003, Osondu joined FC Merchtem 2000, the Belgian club was the last in his professional career. Until 1996, he was still an Anderlecht player hoping to improve his game through other clubs where he was playing as a loanee.
The age controversy
When Philip Osondu was snapped up as an under 16 player by Anderlecht after the 1987 World Youth Championship, he was given the opportunity to grow in career and also in height. Both didn’t happen. His inability to grow in height like every other youth player became suspicious to the club authorities who opined that he was way older than he claimed, and that has come to impact his career negatively.
When Anderlecht finally let go of him at the age of 25, in 1996, he could only manage to secure some contracts with some low-key clubs in Belgium, he never made it big. Some of his national team mates in 1989, like Mutiu Adepoju moved to bigger clubs and had a call up to the national team. But Philip Osondu, the once brilliant star gradually receded to a player formerly known. He started doing odd jobs in Belgium to survive, a situation his past didn’t give a hint of.
But such is life, good and bad happen, even stars fall from the sky. For those whose childhood fell on the late 80s and early 90s, Osondu is a memory worth relishing. Our ancestors who don’t care about football today still remember the name Philip Osondu, not as a failed footballer, but as one who dazzled in the field and put his name in the mouth of everyone.
Though misfortune ended a would-be great career, Philip Osondu did not go ahead to play for the biggest clubs in the world, nor did he become the world’s best player at a point, he left one thing that matters to many – a good memory.
And although he couldn’t live long enough to tell his grandchildren his story, they will read it and hear it from those whose childhood was blessed by the skills of their grandfather.