With each move in his career so far, Sadik Balarabe has become more adventurous. Starting with the well-trodden path of a soccer scholarship in the States, the forward has been carving a trail of his own since. Spells in Greece, Portugal, Turkey and now Northern Cyprus have followed and his latest move might be his biggest step into the unknown so far.
“To be honest, I don’t know too much about the KTFF Super League,” he says talking about the top flight of Northern Cyprus football.
“I then had a positive chat with the club president and head coach, after which I was fully convinced this was the right place for me to sign at this point.
“I did do my research to get some background information but at the end of the day it’s all the same to me. I’m here to do a job and give my best. To assist my team to the best of my ability and win trophies along the way. Hopefully I can do that.”
Mağusa Türk Gücü are the 26-year-old’s latest employers. Based in Famagusta, the city is the capital of Northern Cyprus, an area recognised by Turkey as a sovereign state but internationally is known as part of Cyprus.
Northern Cyprus has its own football league and surprisingly, Balarabe is not the first Englishman to play in the league. Former St Mirren forward Billy Mehmet has also recently played in the division and JJ Adjeman-Pamboe played in the country last year.
Balarabe joins 15 matches into the season, exactly halfway through the campaign and his side currently sit top of the table, two points clear of their nearest rival. He has made a good start to life in the country, scoring on his debut in a 4-0 cup win.
Northern Cyprus is a long way from being a kid with a dream in London. Having not been given his professional chance in England, the closest he came was a spell with Reading’s academy, he decided to head to the States to study and play.
Starting off at Jackson Community College in Michigan, the forward finished his studies at Saginaw Valley State, spending his summer holidays playing in the PDL, now known as USL League Two, for Chicago Inferno which sees the best college prospects playing senior fourth-tier football. It was a time he still looks back on fondly.
“I’d have to say the USA has been my favourite country so far. It was not the best playing level I have been at but it was the game changer for me. I’m basing this answer on the fact that it was the start of something different, the first time I had ever lived alone away from home and experienced truly what it meant to be a full-time athlete.
“It will always be the first step to everywhere I have now played and still yet to play and also the American lifestyle wasn’t too bad either.”
After that, his professional dream finally became a reality as having racked up over sixty goals during his time in the States at college and PDL level combined, he had a proven track record and secured a deal back in Europe.
His first destination was Greece, where he joined second-tier Greek side Iraklis Psachna, scoring once in 13 games. He then spent time with third-tier club Niki Volou, where he saw his role continue to vary under different management.
“I would describe my playing style to be very physical and direct. I always find it hard comparing myself to other players, especially when some coaches prefer to play me as a centre forward, where I do enjoy good movement and getting in behind the last man.
“But on the other hand some coaches prefer playing me as a winger purely because I am very quick, I think. I’m also pretty good in one v one situations so maybe that’s a factor as well.”
After his spell in Greece, Balarabe spent time in Portugal with Gil Vicente before moving to Turkey where he played for clubs in the second and fourth tiers, keeping up his prolific scoring record. Having moved around so much, Northern Cyprus is his sixth country, the forward has had his fair share of new environments to settle in and as he gets older, he has had other priorities to consider too.
“For me, I am always looking for better opportunities based on my life situation and goals. I also like to take in the advice and opinions of close friends, family and my agent.
“Since I got married and my daughter was born my family always make the move with me, it’s very important to us to be close.
“However It’s never easy making a move and settling because each country is different in a lot of ways. Different rules, lifestyle, food, language, time zones – the list can go on.
“At the end of the day football speaks the same language and when I get started things become easier and people along the way tend to help out with the adaptation process, especially teammates and coaches.”
The forward, who lists Didier Drogba and Ryan Giggs as ahis idols, has mentions his goals and he has them clearly set out for the rest of his career and at only 26, he has plenty of time to complete them.
“My ambition is just to keep going strong and unlocking more doors to opportunity along the way. I want to play at the highest level, for as long as possible, making as much money as possible and to enjoy it as much as I can.”
With those clear goals in mind and also his family in focus, his move to Northern Cyprus exposes him to another new market and could potentially open up the aforementioned opportunities he is after. With each move he earns more life experience and now can pass on his advice to those who may be considering following in his path.
“I feel that if the opportunities you are looking for don’t come up in England, it’s a good idea to seek other options abroad. You never know, it could be the right choice and at the end of the day, there is nothing really to lose. If it works out then great and if not, at least you will never have the feeling of not having tried.”
Balarabe will return to action this weekend as the Northern Cyprus league returns after its month winter break and as he takes to the field to make his debut in yet another league, he will have one simple message in mind.
“I love what I do and it’s all that I really know how to do. It makes a living for me and my family and makes us happy, which that is the most important thing of all.”
If his cup debut is anything to go off, he might well be making Mağusa Türk Gücü fans, as well as his family, very happy indeed.