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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 March 2007, 16:19 GMT
Stephen's Latin love
By Oluwashina Okeleji,
BBC Sport, Lagos

Sunday Stephen
Spain's latest addition to their under-19 squad - Sunday Stephen

When Spanish national television profiled Sunday Stephen in May 2006, his face was relatively unknown, but how much longer will this remain?

Real Madrid, Real Betis, Deportivo La Coruna and Liverpool are just some of the glamorous clubs attracted by the creative midfielder's brilliance in the colours of Club Polideportivo Ejido in the Spanish second division.

He cut his teeth with Nigerian amateur sides FC Ebedei and Jegede Babes in Lagos , where he showed a talent over and above his age.

In 2003, Stephen departed Lagos for a youth championship in Sweden with Jegede Babes and from there to another youth tournament in Spain.

Arriving in Madrid as a 15-year-old, he participated in the third edition of the Annual Immigrants Mundial in Spain and dazzled in the tournament.

Sunday Stephen
It was a dream come true for me to be playing in front of over 20,000 fans; it was quite awesome
Sunday Stephen

Impressed Poli Ejido's general director Juan Josť Melero, promptly recruited him into Ejido's B team where he displayed form good enough to earn himself a five-year deal with the club.

His long wait was rewarded at the start of 2005/06 season, as he made his debut, coming on as a substitute against Elche at the tender age of 17, and behold a new star was born in the city of Almeria.

"It was a dream come true for me to be playing in front of over 20,000 fans; it was quite awesome.

"I remember playing in front of stands with no-one in them in Lagos, now I am being hailed by the fans in Ejido!"

After two more substitute appearances, he won a place in the first team and in the scouts' notebooks.

At first, it was city rivals Real Madrid and Athletico that openly expressed their desires to nurture him into their main team.

Real Madrid offered his club a packaged deal of US$400,000 plus a friendly game for his services, which was rejected by Poli Ejido.

"It was quite overwhelming when I read it in the papers," Stephen told BBC Sport of the Madrid offer.

"My manager - Rodrigo Fernandez - told me the Madrid wanted me for their B team but that if I do well, Valencia, Celta Vigo and Real Betis were keen to go a step further."

Week-in week-out he made waves within his team, with his superb right foot, his uncanny awareness of space and angles, and the ability to mark, mix up the play with his perky dribbles and right-foot passes over long and short range.

So it came as no surprise when he was profiled in authoritative Spanish soccer magazine Don Balon in May 2006.

Sunday Stephen
My manager - Rodrigo Fernandez - told me the Madrid wanted me for their B team but that if I do well, Valencia, Celta Vigo and Real Betis were keen to go a step further
Sunday Stephen

Then Spanish National Television showed a one-hour documentary on the rising star.

Officials of the Spanish under-19 side were impressed and few days after he was issued his Spanish passport, he was called up to their youth side for a tour of Portugal.

"It's such an amazing feeling. It was a matter of whoever called me first, either Nigeria or Spain.

"Spain has called me and it's too emotional for me to turn down", said Stephen.

Fifa regulations allow players with dual nationality to change their international allegiance before the age of 21 if they have not won a full international cap.

But the youngster is not thinking in the Nigerian direction just yet.

"My international career is just starting and I am so elated.

"Spain gave me a life and career when I was nothing, even when the Nigerian youth coaches never considered me good enough; I was shown a Spanish love."

'Don Balon' compares him to Chelsea's Claude Makelele and his prospect of knocking on the Frenchman's status is being eased by his environment and fans of Ejido.

If Stephen can continue his good form and development, there still might be time for him yet to play at the Bernabeu like Makelele.

Three years ago Stephen was wandering around the deserted street pitches of Madrid and hoping for a football miracle - now he is the new kid on the block attracting interest from La Liga's top sides.



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