From Akure barracks to Bundesliga glory: The story of Victor Boniface

From the modest surroundings of a military barracks in Akure, Ondo state, to the grand stages of European football, Victor Boniface’s journey is nothing short of inspirational.

The Bayer Leverkusen star forward’s rise to prominence has been a tale of talent, tenacity, and triumph, even in the face of many challenges.

During a recent interview with Deutsche Welle DW, Boniface recalled his early career in football, living with his grandparents in a military barracks in Akure.

“I lived in the barracks because I lived with my grandparents. My granddad was in the military then,” he shared.

Bayer Leverkusen star striker Victor Boniface – Getty image

It was there that his passion for football was ignited, thanks to the influence of a football-loving soldier neighbour, who introduced him to the game at a very early age.

According to Boniface, this soldier neighbour played a crucial role in his early development, tagging him along, whenever he was going to play the round leather game with his colleagues.

“A soldier, my neighbour who was a fantastic football player, maybe unfortunately he didn’t make it to football, then decided to join the military.

“So when the soldiers go out to play, he will take me sometimes to watch them play.

“He is a fantastic player, so during evening at home, we play one touch, two touches. I learnt a lot from him before I grew and started doing my thing,” he added.

As Boniface’s skills flourished, he began to attract attention outside the barracks. At T-Chris International School in Akure, his talent was nurtured even better by his first youth coach, Johnson Blessing, who reckoned he was “special”.

“I schooled outside the military base, so I remember sometimes, juniors will play against the seniors and when I played the game, I was selected by a coach [Johnson Blessing], from there, I joined the Academy.”

Blessing, who was also Boniface’s coach at Royal Gold Soccer Academy learned his voice about those early days.

“He was highly talented and was not playing the way others were playing. He was different, that attracted me to him, that this guy is going to go far.”

He added that Boniface stood out in inter-class competitions, winning the most valuable player award, proving himself against older players.

In 2019, Boniface’s journey took a major leap when he moved to Lagos to join Real Sapphire FC.

This move, 200 kilometers from his home in Akure, although challenging, marked the beginning of his many career successes.

At Sapphire, the 23-year-old made his first European move, transferring to Norwegian club Bodo/Glimt, just within months of his arrival.

His three-year stint in Norway honed his abilities, paving the way for a move to Belgian side Union Saint-Gilloise in 2022.

There, Boniface’s performances were electrifying, especially in the Europa League, where he scored six goals, including a memorable brace against Union Berlin.

His stellar form caught the eye of Bayer Leverkusen’s boss Xabi Alonso, and in 2023, Boniface made a high-profile move to the German giants.

The transfer, worth €20 million with additional clauses, marked the most expensive sale in Union SG’s history.

Alonso praised the Nigerian striker, calling him a “terrific player and a serious threat to opposition defences.”

Boniface did not disappoint, scoring 14 Bundesliga goals and 21 in all competitions in his debut season, despite an adductor muscle injury that sidelined him for four months, between December 2023 to April 2024.

From Akure barracks to Bundesliga glory: The story of Victor Boniface
Boniface with his Bundesliga Rookie of the Season award – Getty image

His impact was undeniable, helping Leverkusen to their first-ever Bundesliga title, a historic achievement made even more remarkable by the team’s unbeaten run.

Boniface’s contributions were recognized with the 2023/24 Bundesliga Rookie of the Season award.

As Leverkusen prepare for the Europa League final against Atalanta and the DFB-Pokal final against Kaiserslautern, Boniface stands on the brink of adding more silverware to his illustrious career.


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