Michael Essien I Want to Play As You…
Artist. Ahil Ratnamohan
This football-inspired theatre performance followed the experience of six young, Nigerian men who had migrated to Europe to pursue professional football careers. Michael Essien I want to play as you… explored, not just the training and politics that go into playing football professionally, but the complicated nature of visas, contracts, hopes, desperation and dreams.
The work intimately portrayed the complex journey these young men had undertaken – including arriving in Europe as 15 year-olds, encountering visa problems in airports and broken promises from agents. The work also explored a not well known and controversial side of professional football in Europe, that of human trafficking or what has been dubbed the football slave trade.
The increase in footballers’ salaries and the success of African players in Europe have led many young Africans to see football as a way out of poverty. Ahil Ratnamohan’s work takes successful Ghana football star, Michael Essien’s name in its title. This was Ratnamohan’s first production as choreographer and director, presenting a unique theatrical form which encompassed the performers’ football skills and physicality to create a dance-like, movement sequence. Raw and powerful, the players’ sweat and breath is palpable during the performance, the story never seeking the audience’s sympathy, the dynamic movement of the performers transports the audience to a surreal playing field.
Michael Essien I want to play as you… was originally developed through the support of Urban Theatre Projects in Australia. It premiered in February 2013 as part of the Opening Ceremony for Antwerp European Capital of Sports 2013 in Antwerp, Belgium. The Keir Foundation is delighted to have been commissioning partner of this work.