FOOTBALL IS A FICKLE GAME. For every promising youngster that makes the grade, there are twenty who fail to make the grade. For these almost men, the chances of regaining a chance to make a career out of the game often appears non-existent. There are always exceptions, however. There are always the few men whom fortune smiles upon. Harvey Esajas was one such man.

Born in Amsterdam in 1973, Esajas’s footballing career began at an early age when he was invited to train in the prestigious Ajax youth academy. There, the promising defender rubbed shoulders with arguably Ajax’s greatest youth team in the club’s history. Each day Esajas faced off against players like Kanu, Clarence Seedorf and Patrick Kluivert. He trained every day with a crop of players who would help the Dutch giants win the European Champions League in 1995. Hopes were high that Esajas would graduate through the ranks, but coaches at the club soon began to question whether or not Harvey was of an Ajax standard. Soon the tough decision was made to let Esajas leave the club.

Prior to 1993-94 Eredivisie season, Esajas made the switch from the Ajax to Feyenoord. Whilst he hadn’t made the cut at Ajax, initially it seemed as if Ajax’s loss was Feyenoord’s gain. On his debut that year, Esajas scored for Feyenoord against his former club. It was a fairy-tale beginning in De Klassieker, one of the fiercest derbies in the Dutch League. Sadly, fortunes soon began to wane for the young defender. First Esajas was relegated to the bench for games, next he was left out of the match squad altogether. Finally Esajas was told he was surplus to requirements.

By the time Esajas left the club in 1998, he had only played five competitive matches for the side, having spent the majority of his time cushioned on the bench or watching from the stands. After his exit from Rotterdam, Esajas moved to FC Groningen but matters hardly improved. Nine games with Groningen and Esajas was told that he was no longer needed. A familiar pattern was beginning to emerge in his career but, nevertheless, Harvey continued to search for a career in one of the toughest industries out there. SC Cambuur from the Dutch Second Division was his next destination. There, Esajas didn’t play a single match. Unperturbed, Esajas left Holland for pastures new.

Trials abroad at Fiorentina and Torino in Italy proved to be a dead end for the Dutchman. Spain was his next port of call, but short-term spells at Real Madrid Castilla, Zamora CF and CD Móstoles proved of little use to Esajas. Teams weren’t offering him long-term contracts and his travels around Europe were taking their toll. Sensing that he didn’t belong to football, Harvey took the decision to retire from the game in 2001. According to legend, he even took up a job in a Spanish circus to pay the bills.

For the next three years, Harvey Esajas tried to live a normal life. He worked jobs, travelled and socialized, but he could never forget the beautiful game. Football hadn’t been kind to Harvey but he was willing to give her one more chance. In 2004, that chance came through a meeting with Clarence Seedorf, his old Ajax teammate. Between reminiscing about their times together at the Ajax Jeugdopleiding, Esajas talked to Seedorf about his desire to return to football. Seedorf had followed a very different career path to his former friend and was, at that time, the member of an AC Milan side feared both domestically and in Europe.

You would have forgiven Seedorf for ignoring his friend’s requests. By then Esajas weighed 100kg and hadn’t kicked a football in over three years. Nevertheless, as a favour to his old friend, Seedorf promised to see if he could help his old friend. Living up to his promise, Seedorf went to Milan’s manager at the time, Carlo Ancelotti, and joked that he could get Milan a defender for free. Ancelotti was intrigued but sceptical.

It was agreed that Esajas could train at Milanello to re-gain his fitness. No promises were made of a contract but it hardly mattered to Harvey. He took the opportunity with both hands. Within three months of training at Milanello he had lost an impressive 15 kg and by June 2004, Esajas was in footballing shape again. Impressed by his dedication, work-ethic and good humour, Ancelotti offered Esajas a contract. Five years previously, Esajas’ had been struggling to find a club in Spain’s Segunda División. Now he was training alongside some of the greatest players in world football. At last the football Gods had smiled on the Dutch defender.

When the 2004–05 Serie A season began, Esajas found himself on the Milan bench, a place where he spent the majority of the season. His greatest moment for the Rossoneri that year came in January 2005 when Esajas replaced Massimo Ambrosini three minutes before full time in an Italian Cup match against Palermo. For the Dutchman it was a sweet reward for all his hard work. As the seconds ticked down, Esajas managed to create a goal scoring opportunity for Jon Dahl Tomasson who sadly headed the ball over the bar.

He was also part of the 2005 Champions League squad that lost to Liverpool in the final in Istanbul. Esajas’s Milan career may have been short – the Dutchman only played one competitive match for the Red and Black – but that hardly mattered. In the course of the year, the player who no one wanted lined out for one of Europe’s biggest clubs. A fairytale story doesn’t begin to do justice.

After Milan, Esajas turned out for Serie C team A.C. Legnano and subsequently Calcio Lecco 1912 in the 2005-06 season before ending his career for the second time. This time his retirement was permanent.

By Conor Heffernan. Follow @PhsyCstudy