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KNOWN FOR HIS STRING OF ACROBATIC SOMERSAULTS, often resembling Faustino Aspilla’s, Victor Obinna found himself one day doing a different type of somersault – one which scarily involved him, his car, and a ditch. It was an accident which came close to killing him if it hadn’t been for a miracle. Ten years on, though, the Nigerian is around to tell the tale.

After trials with Juventus, Perugia and even Brazilian side Internacional, a young and naive teenager from the city of Jos in Nigeria arrived on the Italian peninsula back in 2005 ready to turn out in the famous yellow and blue strip of Chievo Verona. Despite what the club nickname suggested, the Flying Donkeys were far from airborne. Instead, that year they spent the majority of the season fighting relegation, with the last matchday of the season sentencing them to their dreaded fate.

One man who had started to win over the hearts of the Gialloblu faithful was Obinna, a striker who had scored six goals in 23 appearances in his debut season with the club. His charismatic celebrations coupled with his ability to take on defenders, drift wide to the left flank and fire goals from inside and outside the box left many fans impressed with his ability. Their admiration only grew when he opted to remain at Chievo the following season to help the club in their fight to return to the top flight.

It was the ultimate display of loyalty from Obinna, who warmly recalls the family atmosphere at the club and how the management and his teammates affectionately took in a young African living in a foreign land. “For me, it was the best time in my career. As a young player, it was the best moment in my career,” he happily tells These Football Times. “I was young and I was stupid. I used to see myself as if no-one could stop me.

“I saw a lot of platforms opening up for me, including the first time I played for the senior national team. I had a fantastic three years playing for that club. [They were] the best moments of my football career. As a young player playing in a foreign land where I had no family, they took me in and they made me one of theirs. I am still thankful to the president Luca Campedelli for all the things they did for me. It is pretty difficult for a young player, who comes from Africa, to adapt in such environment. I thank God for everything – that was a stepping-stone to conquering the next step in my career.”

That next step, which saw him form part of José Mourinho’s Inter side, almost never came, though, as tragedy almost struck one crisp autumn afternoon in October 2007. What should have been a normal day of training under head coach Giuseppe Iachini instead turned out to be one of the most haunting experiences for the Nigerian.

How do I say, it’s an unforgettable memory I have within me. I was very young when it happened. I was 18.” Obinna’s warm demeanour changes ever so slightly and an eerie silence lingers. “I was new to driving and it happened barely three or four months after I had got my driver’s licence in Italy. I was comfortable and everything was going fine … I had an Audi A1 and as a young 18-year-old, you know what that means,” he recalls, as he lets out a slight giggle.

“I was driving like an old man. Easy. Without wanting to scratch the car or anything. Unfortunately, there are certain things that happen and you are there at the wrong time … I thank God that I survived that accident.” Obinna pauses and looks out of the window before recollecting his thoughts to say: “It was a terrible, terrible accident and a horrible feeling and situation, because I had never experienced that.”

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The location of the accident took place on Via Pastrengo – an area notorious for such calamities, which Chievo knew all too well. Only 100 meters away from where Obinna narrowly cheated death lies the harrowing memory of Jason Mayélé – a Chievo player who tragically lost his life along with Luigina Recchia, a 61-year-old woman whose car struck that of the Congolese midfielder.

“In Italian, they call it maledetta strada (cursed street). I don’t know if there is something in that street or what, but that is the superstition that everyone has been saying,” recalls the Cape Town City striker. “There is a very dangerous curve around that area where you cannot see the car that is coming from the other side. It is on top of a little hill, where the wind is always blowing. You need to have a lot of attention.”

Obinna shuffles in his seat before continuing on with his haunting memory, visually describing the incident and its surroundings with his hands, all the while evoking frightening visuals while he talks. “I was going around the curve and unfortunately for me, there was a guy in a Mini Cooper who was overtaking on a curve. On a curve! He was coming into a front-on collision with me. In a split second, my life flashed before my eyes and voom, I went out.

“In the space of one, two, three seconds, if you don’t go out, it goes boom! I had to get away. Fortunately for me, God saved my life. I went down into a deep pit. I wasn’t going at a high speed, and then I heard boom, boom, boom,” as he indicates the car doing somersault-like flips down the embankment. “I had my seatbelt on. That was the only thing that was in my head when I heard all these booms. Then, the next thing I know, the car was upside down and I was looking around. I wasn’t thinking properly.

“I tried to take off the seat belt and it was stuck. So I was kicking and it came out. So then, I hit the door and it wasn’t opening – it was stuck. I was hitting, hitting, hitting and, fortunately for me, some of my teammates take the same road. They stopped and they saw my car. They came and helped me out the car.”

Fellow Mussi Volanti teammate Aleandro Rosi was the first on the scene, helping Obinna out of the car before he was taken to hospital at Bussolengo. “They thought I had a serious trauma. Fortunately,” he says before taking a sigh of relief. “I was not hurt. I don’t know if you can still see.”

Obinna then raises his arm and takes off his cap to display the battle wounds left behind on that infamous day, most of them barely visible, unlike the memory of that traumatic incident. “That was it. No fracture or anything. I was able to overcome that with just scratches on my head and my elbows. That was it. It was a miracle.”

Luckily for Obinna, his life was spared, and while he has moved on from ramifications of what could have happened that day, there is one thing that still haunts him. “The thing that still gets me, though, is that the guy drove away. He then went to the newspaper the next day and said it was my fault, that I was trying to hit him,” he adds with an understandable look of frustration and disappointment. “At the end of the day, God has the final say. It is his decision to do that. I am glad I am alive. I am alive to even it explain now.”

By Rossella Marrai-Ricco