Harvey Esajas is a name not many of us know, but he has a story that needs to be told, writes Conor Heffernan.
Born in Amsterdam in 1973, Esajas’ footballing career began at an early age when he was snapped up by the famed Ajax youth academy. There the promising defender rubbed shoulders with some of Ajax’s greatest ever players, then of course in their infancy. Clarence Seedorf, Kanu and Patrick Kluivert were just some of the players that Esajas played with on a daily basis.
Shipped out by Ajax to Feyenoord for the 1993-1994 Eredivisie season. Initially it appeared that Ajax’s loss was Feyenoord’s gain. Esajas scored on his début for Feyenoord against his former club that year. No mean feat. It was a fairy-tale beginning in one of the fiercest matches in the Dutch League. Unfortunately, things only went downhill from there. Esajas soon fell out of favour with his new side, and was often left out of match day squads.
When Feyenoord finally decided to move Esajas on in 1998, he had only played for the club in five competitive matches. After his exit from Rotterdam, Esajas moved to FC Groningen but his fortunes didn’t change. Nine games with Groningen saw Esajas on the move once move. SC Cambuur from the Dutch Second Division was his next destination. There, Esajas didn’t play a single match.
Esajas thus began his long journey into football’s wilderness.
Trials abroad at ACF Fiorentina and Torino F.C. in Italy proved to be a dead end for the Dutchman. Spain was his next port of call but short-term spells at Real Madrid Castilla, Zamora CF and CD Móstoles proved of little use to Esajas. Teams weren’t offering him long-term contracts and his travels around Europe were taking their toll. By 2001 Esajas decided to hang up his boots. Legend has it, he even took up a job at a Spanish circus.
The next three years saw Esajas disappear from football altogether. It was not until 2004 that the footballing Gods finally smiled on Harvey Esajas. Hope came in the form of Clarence Seedorf.
Upon visiting his old Ajax teammate in 2004, Esajas spoke to Seedorf about his desire to return to football. Seedorf had followed a very different career path to his former friend and was, at that time, part of a feared AC Milan side.
Esajas then weighed 100kg and hadn’t touched a football in three years. It didn’t look like things would improve but as a favour to his old friend, Seedorf did what he could. Seedorf went to Milan’s manager at the time, Carlo Ancelotti and joked that he could get Milan a defender for free. Ancelotti was intrigued but sceptical.
Esajas was allowed to train at Milanello but no promises of a contract were made. Esajas took the opportunity with both hands. Within three months of training at Milanello he had lost 15 kg and by June 2004, Esajas was in footballing shape again. Impressed by his dedication, Ancelotti offered Esajas a contract.
When the 2004–05 Serie A began, Esajas found himself on the Milan bench. Within the space of a year he had gone from a footballer no one wanted to sign to being a Milan player. His greatest moment for the Rossoneri came in January 2005 when Esajas came off the bench three minutes before full time in a Italian Cup match against U.S. Città di Palermo, for Massimo Ambrosini. It was a great reward for all his hard work and it was so close to being a perfect moment. As the seconds ticked down, Esajas managed to create a goalscoring opportunity for Jon Dahl Tomasson who sadly headed the ball over the bar.
Esajas’ Milan career was short and sweet with the Dutchman only playing one competitive match for the Red and Black. He was however part of the Milan 2005 squad that lost the Champions League Final to Liverpool in Istanbul. He nearly went out with a Champions League medal.
After Milan, Esajas turned out for Serie C team A.C. Legnano and subsequently Calcio Lecco 1912 in the 2005-2006 season before ending his career for the second time. This time his retirement was permanent.
The final words go to Esajas himself who described his career as:
“The incredible story of the man who made the impossible thing possible.”
Incredible is right.
Conor Heffernan, Pundit Arena