Slavia Prague and Nigeria international forward Peter Olayinka has described as “incredibly surreal” his rise to football stardom following a stormy start to his professional career.
Now playing in the Champions League with Slavia Prague and facing Barcelona, Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund in Group F, Olayinka is surprised at his own transformation after starting in Albania where he earned a low salary of $100.
Passing through Northern Cyprus and Belgium, the Ibadan-born player does not believe where his career has landed him now.
“Six years ago I was still watching Lionel Messi, Romelu Lukaku, Gerard Pique and Axel Witsel on television in Nigeria, and it’s been incredibly surreal playing against them in the Champions League,” Olayinka told BBC Sport.
He once failed to impress during trials at Turkish sides Antalyaspor and Denizlispor.
The unsuccessful trials followed the end of his contract with Albanian side Bylis Ballsh where he had arrived as a 17-year-old.
“I had arrived in Albania with my playing boots, hopes and dreams,” said Olayinka.
“It was very difficult but my desire to make it in football and Europe kept me warm in my heart because I didn’t want to return to Nigeria a failure.
“At the time I landed in Albania I was playing for the youth side and getting like $100 monthly and it was not even consistent.
“Payments [were] delayed and sometimes it takes some weeks to get it. I was not happy and wanted to earn more. I kept pushing myself because I know Europe was where I wanted to be and I was dedicated and passionate to get my career on track.
“I had expectations from family and friends, but I couldn’t meet up to their demands because this $100 was all I had until another payment.
“Life was crazy financially and football wise. But why moan and who do you even complain to? I just wanted to make it outside of Nigeria.”
But following a stint at Northern Cypriot side Yenicami SK and another spell in Albania at Skenderbeu Korce, his career took a major turn for the good when he signed for Belgian side Gent.
Loan stints at Dukla Prague and Zulte Waregem opened doors for him for a move to Slavia Prague last year and he is now rubbing shoulders with Europe’s best players.
“I can look back now and count the shirts I got from Kwadwo Asamoah in San Siro, at Barcelona and other games,” Olayinka said.
“These are signs of my involvement in the competition but I still thirst for more success with Slavia Prague.”