By Kayode Ogundare @kaybaba99
Having an accomplished older sibling could pave the way for you if you’re in the same line of business but, like a double-edged sword, it could also serve as a glass ceiling with people perpetually putting you in the shadow of your sibling no matter how much you’ve achieved.
This is the story of Peter Utaka. Younger brother of ex-Super Eagles winger John Utaka who donned the national jersey from 2001 to 2012, scoring six times in 49 games for Nigeria.
The younger Utaka, also an ex-Nigerian international, is a predator with an amazing scoring record but he’s had to contend with the shadow of his older brother.
Leaving home as a 16-year old to try out in Ismaily FC of Egypt, where John already had cult followership, Peter was soon on his way to Europe and settled in Croatia with Dinamo Zagreb.
“John helped and pushed me a lot to be the best version of myself and of course he’s got a big name and an amazing career and is also a fantastic player so I knew I had to create my own path,” Peter told www.naijagistland.com in an exclusive interview.
Big brother’s name did help to get his foot in the door but then it was left for Peter to show that he deserved a sit in the room and this he’s done over the course of a career which has seen him play in seven countries from Africa to Europe and now Asia.
He said: “I knew I had to work twice as hard to come close to his level and create my own name and legacy than being just John Utaka’s younger brother. As soon as I did that the door was open for me.”
And Peter grabbed his chances with both hands. While John was making a name for himself with the Super Eagles and winning club laurels, Peter was quietly making his own mark too.
He moved to Belgium and, after a stint at KVC Westerlo, joined Royal Antwerp in 2007 where he announced his arrival on the big stage.
He became league top scorer with 22 goals, scooped more than eight MVP award in the season and capped this with the Best Striker’s Award to become one of the most fearsome players in Belgium.
“I left Belgium and moved to Denmark to get new challenges. I joined OB Odense and spent three and a half memorable years there. I was league topscorer again even though we finished second. I also scored nine goals in 22 games in Europe for OB,” he reminisced.
Asia was soon to beckon to Utaka and he moved to Dalian Aerbin in the Chinese Super League where he scored 20 goals in 28 games in his first season. He also eatablished a new league record after scoring in 11 consecutive games.
Soon The Land of the Rising Sun called and Utaka made the move to the Japanese league to join Shimizu S-Pulse in 2015 but was soon loaned to defending champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima with whom he won the Japanese Super Cup, scoring in the 3-1 win over Gambo Osaka. He ended up winning the topscorer award in 2016.
“Without boasting, I think I have had a wonderful career so far. Don’t forget I’m still the only player that has won the topscorer award in every country I’ve played in. Belgium, Denmark, China and Japan. So that should count for something that I’m my own man and I’m proud to carry the Utaka name bravely,” he said.
Now on the books of promotion-chasing Ventforet Kofu in the second division, Utaka scored twice in a 3-2 win on Sunday to brighten the club’s chances of getting to the elite league with just seven games to the end of the season.
Ventforet sit in sixth place, one of four play-off spots, and Utaka reckons getting promoted will mean much for him, the club and their fans.
He said: “It (promotion) will mean a lot not only to me and the club but to the supporters as well. They have been very supportive so a promotion ticket will be a perfect reward for them.”
Utaka is on a rich scoring form and also eyeing the topscorers’ title after scoring 18 goals so far, just six short of Albirex Nagata’s Leonardo who’s on 24.
He said: “Everything is possible in football so I chose to stay positive and optimistic about the chase for topscorer award. I will keep doing what I’m doing and if I get it that will be nice. But the most important thing is to help this club get to the J-league. The topscorer award will just be an icing on the cake.”
Promotion will mean a return to the first division from where Ventforet were relegated in 2017 before finishing 9th in J2 last season.
Ventforet is Utaka’s eigtht club since coming to the Far East but the former OB Odense of Denmark is reluctant to pick any of the clubs as his best so far.
“I can’t really chose any of the clubs as my best because I had fun and enjoyed myself with all of them. I’m still enjoying myself here so I can only say I have special memories with each one of them while I played there,” he said.
Now, at 35, Utaka insists he’s not slowing down just yet and has not decided on his next move even as his current deal with Ventforet will end at the end of the season.
He said: “I don’t know my next move yet. You know it goes real quick in football and my contract runs out at the end of this season. So let’s keep our fingers crossed and see what happens at the end of the season.”
Utaka, who scored three goals in seven games for the Super Eagles, was in Nigeria’s preliminary squad but narrowly missed being picked for the 2010 World Cup.