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Showtime! It’s Ezekiel Terrones!

We used to have, as if you did not know, this tradition in my teams of giving new players nicknames. There was, four years ago, this new player from an obscure little community on the outskirts of the city of Tanauan – the last place, you would think, where anyone would be interested in the beautiful game.

Ezekiel Terrones – that was his name. Maybe it was just my eyes; but I thought he looked the spitting image of a certain Hollywood comedian by the name of Eddie Murphy. So I thought that, within the team, his new nick would be Eddie.

“Do you know who Eddie Murphy is?” I asked the boy one afternoon after training.

Blank stare. Have I gotten so old that the names of my favourite comedians drew blank stares from youngsters? This was something I inevitably had to ask myself.

“Beverly Hills Cop… Showtime…” I coaxed the lad. Still a blank stare.

So I had to Google a picture that night so I could post it on his Facebook wall. He could not, however, see the resemblance. He told me so right the next day. Maybe it was really just my eyes; or maybe, it was his.

Often, I could tell just by looking at a newcomer if a boy was going to make a fine player or not. One glance and I instinctively knew that this one had it. He was slim but had sinews in all the right places. He was also fleetfooted; and although he was a tad small, I kind of knew even in the early days that it would not really matter because he would be perfect on the flanks. He had winger written all over him.

Above all, he was an eager and enthusiastic learner. As a coach, I had two classic turn-offs regarding new try-outs. First, the one who knew everything; and second, the one who was scared to try anything new. Either was difficult to teach; and fortunately, Eddie was the exact opposite. He was eager and willing to learn the game.

In many ways, he was a coach’s player. He was the sort who listened intently when instructions for drills were given; and kept his focus till he picked up the skills. He was also a fast learner; and was a credible right winger in less than a year. In fact, by the time he was a senior, he was delivering crosses from the right wing that they paid David Beckham millions of pounds at Man United to deliver in years gone by.

Don’t take my word for it! Go ask JV Medina and Enzo Gherardelli, who flourished because of the countless dangerous crosses delivered from the right.

As a player, Eddie was fiercely competitive. As happens with any player who pours his everything into matches, he so hated losing. When things were not going as planned on the pitch, he could be counted on to scream encouragement at his team-mates for them to pick their games up.

He also had a tremendous engine and ran like a horse. Believe me, the job of the wing-half is probably the hardest of all. He was expected to make himself available on the right flank to stretch the forward play; and sprint back to support the rightback every time we lost possession.

He could always be counted on to give 150% effort into every match. Let me correct myself. That last bit probably had a bit of an embellishment in it. It is probably more accurate to say that he could be counted on to give 150% effort into three-fourths of every match.

The lungs were never the problem. As I said, he ran like a horse. The legs were, instead. With a quarter of every game remaining, I would find myself almost instinctively looking his way to check for tell-tale signs of leg cramps. More often than not, the cramps came right on schedule; not unlike a cell phone’s battery getting drained.

I even encouraged him to bring fruits to matches for the potassium.

Off the field, he was – and continues to be – a jolly character of the sort one never sees wearing a frown on his face. Over the years, I have had moody players with negative personalities who often acted as though they carried the problems of the world on their shoulders. These players, unfortunately, also tended to infect their team-mates with their negativity.

Eddie, in comparison, was always bubbly. I would always know something was not right if he was not wearing his signature grin on his happy face. He was always like a breath of fresh air.

I still call him Eddie, by the way. I have never liked calling people by their surnames. That said, I cannot make myself call him by his first name. Yeah, yeah; I know. It’s the prophet. A bit of an anachronism, perhaps; besides, it’s so much easier to just say Eddie. Also, he always knows who I’m talking to.

Can’t say the same about his team-mates. To the boys, the name always was Terrones. As it was to a loyal band of female classmates-cum-fans who invariably lined the edges of the football field whenever we played home games shrieking in eardrum shattering pitches, “Terrones!!!!!!!!! Terrones!!!!!!!!!”

The girls inevitably became known, within the confines of the team, as the “Terrones Girls.” Nobody else in the team had such a following. Maybe it was his deodorant or mouthwash. Or maybe he just bribed the girls with kwek-kwek during Recess, who knows?

All I know is that, dressed up in the green and white, whenever Eddie stepped on the football field for a match, then it was… Showtime!!!

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