Former Ajax prodigy, Jeffrey Sarpong – “I am a child of God”

Ollie Baines spoke with former Ajax starlet, Jeffrey Sarpong on his journey through football as well as his journey to finding faith.

So Jeffrey, tell us what it was like joining a huge club like Ajax at such a young age?

“Yeah it was a young boys dream. I signed when I was 7-years-old and played all through my youth. I finally made my debut when I was seventeen and I played until I was twenty-two when I eventually moved to Spain. I had a great time there and played alongside some great players and it will always be a club close to my heart.

Why did you decide to move away from Ajax and join the Spanish league?

“Why I decided to move from Ajax was because in my last season there, I wasn’t playing much. I either had to stay at Ajax to try and play or move somewhere else, so that’s what I decided to choose. I had a lot of offers but I ended up playing in Spain.”

Tell us what it’s like to play in the Spanish league?

“It’s obviously one of the best league in the world, it’s a very strong league with the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona.

However, I managed to play with some very good players and against some great players too. It’s a very technical league and quite fast so it was a great experience for me.”

Is it true you had a trial with Stoke City at one point? 

“Yes, it was back in January 2013 and I had a trial at Stoke City who are in the Premier League. Stoke is a massive club, one with a lot of players and I went there to see if I could make a move happen. I wasn’t playing much at the time at my current club and I was keen for first team football, but they had a lot of players so it meant I would have to compete with a lot of team-mates. I wanted more of a guarantee, obviously coaches can’t always guarantee you a starting place but I needed something, but it never quite happened.”

Since then, you made a move to New Zealand, how did that come about?

“I was a free agent in the summer of 2014, I had a lot of options but the manager at Wellington Pheonix contacted me and said that he wanted to sign me. It was positive and he spoke with a lot of confidence.

I did have to think about it because it’s the other side of the world and I’d never seen Australian football before, but eventually I decided to make the move.”

Who would you say is the best player you’ve ever played with?

“That’s a tough question! I’ve played with a lot of very good players.

I think the best I’ve played with is probably Urby Emmanuelson, because of his great technique, vision and ability on the ball.”

On the flip side, who is the best player you’ve ever played against?

“Messi. He’s by far the best!

What you see on TV is what you get. He’s so fast, so smart and just an incredible player.”

If you weren’t a footballer, what would you be?

“When I was young, my Dad asked me what I wanted to be, I had to choose between a dancer and a footballer. So I would probably say a dancer I guess.”

Moving on to the faith side of things, tell us how you became a Christian?

“I grew up in a Christian home, my parents  brought our family up in a Christian way, we would always go to Church. I became acquainted with the word, the bible and church but I would say I had no personal relationship with Jesus. For me, it was more a case of it being a Sunday thing where we went along with it all.

I’m a sensitive person and my mother would always tell me that God had a plan for my life so those were the seeds that were growing at a young age. When I was fourteen I started to read my bible but it was the King James Version and it was pretty tough because it had words like “thy” and “thee”, it was pretty hard! So as a young guy I didn’t get it. I asked my mum for a teenage bible and she brought me one. That’s when I started reading it so I understood the word more, I understood who Jesus was, why he died for me and that he could take my sins away.

For me, I was carrying burdens on my shoulders and I knew Jesus could forgive me for the things I had done wrong, so I simply went on my knees one day near my fifteenth birthday and prayed a prayer to ask God into my life. From that day I accepted Jesus as my lord and saviour, invited the holy spirit inside me and that was the day I was saved, in that moment alone in my room. It’s a mixture of things that lead to that point; the seeds that were sown by my parents helped and studying the word of God. Since then, I’ve been a follower of Jesus.”

How open are you about your faith in the world of football?

“I would say I am a footballer, but I am also a Christian. I believe that’s just who I am. I don’t force it on people, most of the time they can see that I’m quite different by the way I talk and live my life. That has already opened doors about my faith and started conversations. Any time people ask me about my faith I will always speak up.”

How hard is it to be a footballer and a Christian and keep your eyes fixed on God?

“To be honest, it’s not too hard because you don’t try and be a Christian. It’s who I am, I am a child of God. He died for me and rose again, that’s my faith. In the world of football, of course you are a celebrity and in the limelight; but as my mother told me once – He must increase and I must decrease. At the end of the day, it’s all about Jesus. Obviously I love football and my job but I am a Christian first.”

Do you have a chance to meet and connect with other Christian footballers?

“Yes! I’m sure you have heard of B.I.G (Ballers in God) run by John Bostock.

We skype a lot together where we share, pray and connect. I always speak with the guys at B.I.G about our faith.”

Finally, do you have a favourite bible verse that encourages you?

“Personally, I really like Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”  but in terms of the world, it has to be John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him, shall not die but have eternal life.” That’s the core and that’s what the world needs to know!”

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