Femi Orenuga was just 15 when Premier League side Everton came calling. He had just written his name into the record books as the youngest player in Southend United’s history when he appeared as a substitute in the Shrimpers’ FA Cup win over Luton Town in the FA Cup in 2008. He reportedly rejected Manchester United to join the Merseyside-based club for an initial fee of £30,000 with a further £50,000 due on his first team debut.
Southend never did receive that additional payment. The midfielder failed to make a first team appearance in his three years with the Toffees and fast forward nearly a decade from the transfer and Orenuga has just two Football League appearances to his name.
“Yeah I was really excited at the time [of the transfer],” he says. “I remember around that age I was still in school so there was a lot of attention on me, which also came with pressure but I enjoyed it. I believe things happen for a reason, I’m not a fan of excuses so I won’t blame anything but myself. I really enjoyed my time at Everton.”
Despite being a regular for the Toffees youth sides and playing for Notts County on loan, he could not break into the first team.
Yet even though it didn’t work out in Merseyside, the now 25-year-old has still enjoyed a career which has so far taken him to three new countries.
The first of those moves came in 2012 when the Lewisham-born midfielder joined third tier Swedish club AFC Eskilstuna, then known as AFC United.
The club which were only eight years old at the time of Orenuga’s arrival have since been renamed and played in the top flight of Swedish football but at the time, they were just looking to stay up in the third tier.
“That move [to Sweden] came from my agent at the time who proposed the move to me. I was excited about it as I wanted to start afresh in a different country.
“I settled well. There were other English boys there which helped a lot. The quality wasn’t bad at all, a bit erratic at times in certain areas of the pitch but a decent level altogether.”
Orenuga played alongside compatriot and former Boreham Wood midfielder Jordan Hibbert and Welsh defender Matthew Whatley as his side successfully avoided relegation, eventually finishing tenth. The former Southend midfielder made eight appearances in his debut season abroad.
AFC Eskilstuna have since had English players such as Liam Molesworth, Jernade Meade and Andrew Fox play for them.
After his time in Sweden, the midfielder returned to England to have a brief spell with Brighton-based National League South side Whitehawk before embarking on another Scandinavian adventure, this time with Norwegian side Raufoss.
At the time, the club were in the third tier and also had a reserve side playing in the division below. He was also joined at the club by English defender Aaron Jones and went on to play four times for the first team and three times for the second side, having had no problems with moving to a new country.
“To be honest, it was very similar [to Sweden], they are both Scandinavian countries so you can you understand why they are similar in quality.
“I’m never worried about what country I play in. I know a lot of English players don’t travel as much abroad but I was always a fan. Young players now are starting to do it which is good to see.”
On his return to the UK from Norway, Orenuga established himself at National League North side Gloucester City were he spent two years with the Tigers, making 23 appearances and scoring three times. He also went on to play for Wealdstone, Farnborough and Bedford Town.
Eventually, with a bug for travelling, the former Everton man made another move abroad, four years on from his last adventure and it was to a much sunnier climate.
“Australia was interesting,” he says. “Melbourne was a good city to live in. The football out there was different.
“There were a lot of interest for me out there which is always nice but I had to come back home early due to family problems.
“I’d definitely say Melbourne is my favourite country to live in though.”
Orenuga’s time in Australia was with Victorian State League side Penisula Strikers, roughly the fifth tier of Australian football. He scored a couple of goals in five appearances before having to return home.
The 25-year-old has spread his footballing career so far across the UK and the world and he is keen to encourage young players to do the same.
“I think [moving abroad] makes you grow quicker as a player. Having to adapt to the language, being away from family, having to make your own meals all adds up to maturity and it will show on the pitch. Many players are afraid to leave their comfort zone but I encourage it.”
After passing on his advice, what about his own ambitions for the future?
“I would love to play at the highest level as possible in whatever country that may be. Preferably, it would be in England because nothing compares to the Premier League.”
Orenuga has set his sights high and he will be doing everything he can to deliver on the potential which he showed at such a young age.