Recently converted fans of the Canadian national team may not have heard of Tam Nsaliwa, but if it was up to him, they would.
Nsaliwa has taken an enforced hiatus from the international game after representing Canada numerous times over the span of nearly a decade. Since 2008, he hasn't been able to don the Maple Leaf due to legal issues, but that may have been the least of his footballing struggles over the past five years.
The 31-year-old has, after establishing himself as a solid professional in his late teens and early 20's, bounced around from club to club in recent years.
In a series of e-mails to Goal.com, the Edmontonian laid out his professional ordeal in detail.
"I'd say it has been the toughest part of my life," Nsaliwa said of his club situations over the past half-decade. "Both personally and professionally given that the two usually go hand in hand. My situation with Betis literally crushed me, but there were countless other things that happened before I even got to Betis that were tearing at me as a soccer player and a person."
The "situation with Betis" refers to a brief, tumultuous time he spent at Spanish outfit Real Betis. It was just one of the many stops the midfielder has made on his eye-opening journey through European football.
But for Nsaliwa, it was the culmination of a long, frustrating road that started during what was arguably his most successful stint as a pro footballer. He was at Greek side AEK Athens for three years starting in 2007, with memorable performances both in Europe and domestically highlighting his time there.
His play had earned him another contract with AEK, but Nsaliwa decided against committing to another term in the increasingly unstable world of Greek football, and he says it was a decision that set off the roller-coaster of events that would define the next several years of his life.
"The team asked me to sign a contract extension at the end of the prior season [2008-09] which I refused based on the continued instability at the club," he said, referring to financial problems and executive turnover that plagued the team at the time. "So I was already aware that I would have to work extra to get playing time.
"I had accomplished to force myself into the starting line up barring a couple lengthy injuries, and started the last [three] competitive games of that half of the season before the [Christmas] break. But, from the first day back after the [Christmas] break, I was no longer even training with the team - rather, alone with 1-2 other players and a conditioning coach for the next [two] months."
Nsaliwa says he found out through a representative why he was no longer in AEK's plans despite earning an earlier offer for a contract extension, although he wouldn't go into further detail.
"Honesty I don't think you would believe me if I told you the reason in the first place, but I lived with it," he said. "Fact being, it was a political choice that had little or nothing to do with me, but I was the scapegoat.
"Still, I went to work every day, and did what I had to do because I knew I had no choice."
Frustrated, Nsaliwa looked to go on loan, and he had arranged a deal with a Norwegian club when he says he was informed by AEK that the move would not happen.
You can also check out his videos at his YouTube channel.
- Sports & Recreation
- Real Betis