Nsiala is more than just a footballer... his time in Vietnam offered a new perspective on life
PUBLISHED: 06:00 16 November 2018
© Copyright Stephen Waller
Toto Nsiala may currently find himself on the fringes of the Ipswich Town first-team but the central defender continues to make an impact off the field each and every week.
The 26-year-old followed former Ipswich boss Paul Hurst from Shrewsbury in the summer but, after a promising start, has not featured since his former boss’s departure.
While he’s not able to make an impact on the field, his contribution off it is arguably more significant as he gives a percentage of his income to an orphanage in his home country of DR Congo.
Nsiala is not your average footballer. He’s not a fan of the spotlight that comes with the professional game and, if he had it his way, his voice would not be heard in the media even though he has plenty to say and stories to tell.
He’s certainly not had a conventional career, either. Nsiala was born in Congo but was raised in Paris and then in Liverpool, where he picked up the game of football aged 15 and made rapid progress through Everton’s academy.
His release from Goodison hit him hard and he was soon travelling the world, with a stop in Vietnam opening his eyes and changing his outlook on life.
“At that time, I didn’t have a job, I had no money coming in and I was getting depressed,” he said.
“But when I looked around and saw the poverty around me over there, yet the people were still happy about life. It put things into perspective for me. It made me realise what I did have in life and made me more humble, definitely.
“We are so privileged in this country, with things we get for free.
“When I came back to England, every bit of money I earned I was grateful for. Everything I have earned now, I’m grateful for and now I give a lot back to the people who were there for me. That is an unbelievable feeling.
“My mum’s outlook on life has always been, ‘Whatever you earn, at least 10 per cent of that goes back to people who don’t have what you have’. “That is what I have always followed. Some of the money I get from playing football goes back to an orphanage in Congo.
“It may not be as much as famous people contribute to other places and charities but at least it’s helping 15, 20 people and that’s a blessing.
“I send some back to my mum and dad as well. My dad is paralysed. He doesn’t work and he and my mum have always been there for me.
“My dad was paralysed at the same time as I was released by Everton. That was a tough time but his outlook on life is so positive. I’m like that now.
“I’ll ring him up when we have lost or been on a disappointing run, like we have been here, and he’ll say, ‘You’re healthy, you’re doing what you love. Block out the negatives and concentrate on the positives’.” If it wasn’t for that spell in Vietnam in 2013-14, where he played briefly for Dong Thap, the defender knows his career and life may have turned out very differently.
“After leaving Everton I felt I had let people down,” he said. “My mates would say ‘this lad’s playing for Everton and is doing well’ and then I wasn’t there anymore.
“I felt all eyes were on me after that and I just needed to get away where no one knew me so I could find myself. I couldn’t have gone to a better place than Vietnam but I travelled a bit before ending up there.
“One of my friends was playing in Sweden and I had a trial there but I turned up at the airport in a t-shirt and jacket but didn’t realise how cold it was out there. I stepped off the plane and it was freezing, the coldest I’ve ever been in my life. I got to training and the other lads turned up in coats and warmers so I had to put my jacket on under my training top. That was ridiculous.
“I went into a restaurant one night and saw the prices, they were far too expensive for me so I caught a flight home the next day.
“I went with a second or third division team in Belgium and they messed me about a bit before I went to Vietnam. I saw it as a bit of a free holiday. After that I came home to get a ‘normal’ job.
“I had an interview and was given the job but the next day I got a call from Port Vale. Then Paul Hurst called and I ended up signing with him at Grimsby Town.”
And what does life after football hold for Nsiala?
“I won’t be staying in football,” the defender said.
“There are different things for me to do after football that can benefit people more than me staying in the game. Also, I can’t be dealing with the stress of it.”