Switzerland international striker Innocent Emeghara has long been tipped for big things and showcased his promise for the country’s Under-21 side, which reached the final of the 2011 Under-21 European Championship, only losing out to Spain. Emeghara’s career stalled upon moving to French side Lorient, but is now back on track following a January switch to Serie A outfit Siena, where he has already begun to terrorise Italian defences.
Inside Futbol caught up with Emeghara to discuss his route into the game, impact so far and hopes for the future.
Inside Futbol (IF): Having arrived in Serie A in January you’ve made almost exactly the same impact on the pitch for Siena as Mario Balotelli for AC Milan. What do you think about that?
Innocent Emeghara (IE): Of course, I don’t dare to compare myself with Balotelli, however I am glad I am doing so well. Siena was the chance I expected. I consider myself a real hard worker and I looked forward to getting back to playing on a regular basis after a disappointing experience with Lorient.
IF: What happened?
IE: The club didn’t want me to go to the Olympic Games, but for me it was very important to be there in London with Switzerland. It was the first time the Swiss had qualified for the Olympics since 1928 and I was part of the team that reached the final of the Under-21 European Championship. I had to be with them, but Lorient weren’t happy at all. When I returned, there was no place for me anymore.
IF: Why did you wait until January to leave?
IE: First I wanted to fight to get my place back, because I did quite well in my first season in Ligue 1, scoring seven times. Then I thought Lorient was a good intermediate step in the development of my career; they have a reputation for developing young players. However, when in my first Ligue 1 game of the season the referee showed me a red card after four minutes on the pitch, I understood it was over with them. However, I do not regret having signed for Lorient.
IF: Did you mind joining a club battling relegation like Siena?
IE: No, I chose to play for a club at the bottom of Serie A – that’s where Siena was when I joined, not the Chinese Super League. I had an offer from Shanghai Shenhua, but at 23 I consider myself too young to go to play in China. In Italy I have discovered a country completely mad about football and Siena is a wonderful city.
IF: What are the main differences between Ligue 1 and Serie A?
IE: In Italy football is more tactical and more defensively minded, and a striker will never have many chances to score.
IF: But in four months you scored more goals (seven) than in 18 months with Lorient (five).
IE: I like to say that when I want something, I go for it. I know it doesn’t always work in this way, but I was so determined to put my career back on track that I simply couldn’t fail. And despite being relegation candidates, Siena are a good team that always try to play football. I had a good feeling when I came to Tuscany for the first time. And now I am happy because I am scoring goals, but above all because my goals are useful for the team.
IF: How much chance do Siena have of avoiding relegation?
IE: With five games to go we are currently 17th out of 20 teams, despite having six points deducted at the start of the season. Some tough games are waiting for us over the coming weeks, but I am sure that in the end there will still be three teams below us.
IF: What has been your best moment in Italy so far?
IE: When I scored my first goal. It was against Inter, a top club that I respect so much because one of my idols, Ronaldo, played there.
IF: You have Nigerian roots, but you chose to play for Switzerland. Why?
IE: Because Switzerland gave me everything I needed to develop as a professional player. I went there when I was 13, following my mother, who married a Swiss man she met when he was working in Nigeria. I have never met my father. He died when my mother was pregnant with me. My family was very poor. Every time I woke up in the morning I got up to see if there was something to eat on the table – nine times out of ten it was empty. Then I went out to school: it took one hour to walk there and another hour to walk back, and maybe sometimes in the evening on that table I would find some food.
IF: How hard was it to settle in Switzerland?
IE: I cannot say it was easy. The discovery of a new language and the cold weather were a surprise to me. However, I quickly understood that people are looking for the same thing everywhere, it doesn’t matter if they live in Nigeria or Switzerland. They want a quiet life, a home and a good job. Of course, the Alpine country gave me chances that Nigeria couldn’t.
IF: Where did you take your first steps in professional football?
IE: With FC Toss in 2002. Then I moved to Winterthur and Zurich, and with the first I had my breakthrough season in 2009/10, scoring 17 goals in the Challenge League (Switzerland’s second tier,ed.). The next year I joined Grasshoppers.
IF: You were a key player in the Switzerland team that was defeated by Spain in the final of the 2011 Under-21 European Championship in Denmark. What do you remember of that experience?
IE: It was great. We began as underdogs, but reached the final with four wins out of four and no goals conceded. We had a superb squad – look at where some of my former team-mates are now. Xherdan Shaqiri plays with Bayern Munich, Granit Xhaka with Borussia Monchengladbach, while Yann Sommer and Fabian Frei are Basel’s key players and they are doing great things in Europe.
IF: They are all internationals – you became one too once again after Ottmar Hitzfeld picked you for the game against Cyprus in March.
IE: It was my first call-up since August 2012 and I missed the national team so much. When I went to Siena I received a message from coach Hitzfeld, who said he was very happy for me to be on loan at a team in which I could play regularly. That message was very important for me.
IF: However, you don’t look like a player who needs motivation to give his best?
IE: Everybody needs motivations. They are the fuel that can take you beyond your limits.