MUMBAI: Before Amine Chermiti had signed a big-League football contract, he had entered a pact with his father. Chermiti had to complete an education, with decent grades, if his academically inclined family (father is an engineer and mother a teacher) were to allow him to continue playing football.
“My father said football is for people, who let’s say, are not well to do. I was allowed to play football only if I made sure I had a degree. It was a tough life because I couldn’t afford a dip in performance either in the game or academics,, says the 31-year-old forward from Kairouan, Tunisia, who has signed up for Indian Super League club Mumbai City FC this season.
A major in mathematics is more than a fall-back option for the Tunisian, who has also lived his football dream. Even as he has gone on to play in Europe and top continental tournaments like the Champions League and Europa League, both with FC Zurich, he hasn’t faced the same roadblocks that some of the young players from Africa are subject to. Ghana’s Nii Lamptey has emerged as the biggest cautionary tale for aspiring African players, who are exploited by bent agents, penning exorbitant commissions in fine print.
"When you have a level of intelligence, know how to speak, and you know what is good for your career, you make good decisions," Chermiti, who has also played for German club Hertha Berlin. "If you are not educated, you cannot understand anything. A lot of African players have big problems when it comes to signing the right contract. Joining a football club is not just about the game, there are things like taxes and insurance to take care of. Thankfully, I could deal with all of that," he added.
While Chermiti broke through into Europe and his fellow North African, Mohamed Salah has reached dizzy heights with Liverpool, the Tunisian believes getting into a European club will still be just as difficult for people from his part of the world.
"To excel in Europe, it takes more than talent. The conditions matter a lot more. Clubs look into your history and see how you will be able to adapt to their setup. Not all of them want to take a risk on an African player, when they could just sign a European with a solid background instead," says Chermiti, the first Tunisian to score a hat-trick in the Europa League.
“It’s great what Salah has done for Africans,” he continues. “But you have to see where he came from, what all difficulties he went through; he’s not an overnight success. I played with him in Switzerland, when he was in Basel, and he has had to work hard in Europe itself for bigger clubs to take notice.”
Having played on three continents — Africa, Europe, and Asia (with two Saudi Arabia clubs) — Chermiti now finds himself at Mumbai City FC under the helmsmanship of Portuguese coach Jorge Costa. “This coach understands the value of integration,” he says.
One of the more experienced players in the side, Chermiti knows that the team has to be greater than the sum of all its parts.