Those who love him, love him with so much passion. Those who hate him, also do so with the same gusto. If a book on ‘The most hated footballers’ were ever to be written, several chapters would be dedicated to him.
He fanned an already scorching hot rivalry between Kenya’s biggest clubs - AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia- when he made a transfer that shook the Kenyan football world. No player in recent years in Kenya has left a more sour taste at his former club.
One of the most promising defenders at his time, his football career has been laced with not one, not two but numerous controversies that have seen his ascendancy to the top slowed down. He has made rounds around the country and across the border over the last couple of years, and he is finally back to Kenya to resuscitate his career.
Kenyanstar caught up with defender Eric Masika for an exclusive, candid and no-holds-barred interview where the defender for the first time opens up on his move from Gor Mahia to AFC Leopards, family, injuries, education, alcoholism and just why he is not giving up.
Kenyanstar: Kindly tell us about your early football days.
Eric Masika: My journey started in Langata playing with Langata United under the helm of Jacktone Ojera and Francis Aballa. That was in 2000 while I was still studying. After that I moved to Tusker Youth in 2004 under the tutelage of coach George Maina the now assistant coach of Posta Rangers. I stayed there until 2006 when I joined Kenya Poly FC now TUK. It was during a friendly match that Gor Mahia spotted me and I made the move.
KS: You were part of a highly talented squad at gor Mahia, and you made a big name for yourself there. What specifically worked for you at Gor Mahia?
EM: Yes we had a very good team while at Gor Mahia, and what worked for me at that moment was hard work and not to forget a good friend and focused coach in Zedekiah ‘Zico’ Otieno. He was a father figure and he always inspired us. He brought the best out of us.
KS: You are one of few Kenyan players who made that big and controversial switch from Gor Mahia to rivals AFC Leopards. What prompted this move?
EM: (Laughs and pauses). You see, until now people are still saying that it is money that led me to making that move. That is not true. I just wanted a new experience and a different atmosphere. My mother never wanted me to leave Gor Mahia. So certainly the decision was not down to money or any tribal affairs as it is falsely said. No one pushed me to join AFC Leopards.
KS: To date, Gor Mahia fans still haven't forgiven you. Do you have any regrets. Also, has this move ever affected you?
EM: Yes I know some of the fans have never forgiven me to date. I do not blame them since I left at a time when I was a darling to them. I understand when they castigate me or say nasty things, since this is a game of emotions and feelings.
KS: You made the move to AFC Leopards. How do you describe your time there?
EM: My first season at afc was really good. The management ,fans,technical bench plus the players really received me well and positively. I had a sense of belonging and the club became my second family. It was a great time and that’s why to date I am always grateful to the AFC Leopards family.
KS: Things didn't blossom as much while at Leopards. Why?
EM: While at AFC Leopards, fame got to my head and I got lazy too. Then I suffered a terrible knee injury that slowed me down big time. I lacked playtime and there was much inconsistency in my season. I could play at times while under injections or painkillers but this wasn't really working. That dealt my career a big blow.
KS: You recently had a stint in Uganda. You however, did not stay long. How was it playing there?
EM: I left AFC Leopards after we had differences with the coach. I got an offer from Express FC in Uganda. I arrived in Kampala and met the patron/chairlady who introduced me to the team. Unfortunately while training in the second week in August I injured my knee which really made life difficult. The Express FC management saw that it was really expensive for them catering for me. In December, we parted ways on mutual consent. It was a great experience while I was there and I can say they are a good team and were very friendly.
KS: Alcoholism and high life have been said to be the two things that slowed down your career. How true is this?
EM: On alcoholism; Yes it came to a point in my career when I was stressed and depressed about my dip in form and the nasty words that people said about me. I would get abusive calls and messages that really affected me. I was depressed and wrongly sought consolation in alcohol. This worsened matters and it only helped in me missing training, not playing and eventually being a little too careless. It is something I regret to date. I however, learnt from my mistakes and I have to be thankful to my family and parents for being supportive. Allan Wanga, a close friend, also counseled me a lot on the need to focus. On money, I cannot say that it caused my career to slow down. Nonetheless, I am now mature, more focused and settled.
KS: Do you at times feel that you are judged harshly and misunderstood?
EM: Sometimes critics are there to either open your eyes or make you stronger. People talk, criticize, judge but I always say that people wouldn't care to talk about you if you are nothing. What people say at times may come out harshly because they misunderstand you. The criticism however, just makes me stronger.
KS: Kindly tell us about your education journey. How much is it to a footballer’s career? Do you plan to focus on education again later in life?
EM: I would advice Kenyan footballers to really consider education and use any slight opportunities to study or get training in particular courses. The career on the pitch is quite short and quite harsh. After my football career, I would wish to be a banker or human resource manager.
KS: Critics say it is a step down for you to move to Ligi Ndogo. What necessitated this move? Are you also looking to start building again from the bottom?
EM: When I recovered from my knee injury, the transfer window was already shut. The coach of Ligi Ndogo met my at my business premise and offered me a chance to train with Ligi Ndogo until the next transfer window. I do not think it's a step down since the coach is a great tactician, the club is good in its own right and there are lots of young and talented players there. I respect the game of football, and I don't consider any club ‘small.’
KS: Have you considered retirement?
EM: Retirement has never crossed my mind I love football and I feel I still have lot to offer.
KS: What’s next for Eric Masika?
EM: I just want to be focussed on where I am playing now and also on personal business. I am a family man so I also want to dedicate more time and create more happiness there. I am looking ahead to a positive 2017. I wish to thank the critics for always pushing me and keeping Eric on his feet. To my fans, I am always thankful for their prayers, support and always believing in me.
KS: Thanks Eric! All the best ahead.