Up next in our One V One series, we catch up with Zito Madu, better known to some by his Twitter handle - @_Zeets. Zito is a former professional soccer player who turned his passion of the game into a career away from the pitch. You can find him writing for SBNation and he is a must follow on Twitter. Here is his story:
Tell us about the early years of Zito.
I was born in Imo State, Nigeria and moved to the west side of Detroit in 1988, due to my parents winning the VISA lottery. I've been in Detroit most of my life, though I travel quite a bit these days. I probably started playing soccer the day after I was born, soccer is practically a religion in Nigeria so as far back as I can remember, I was always playing with friends and family members on the fields in front of our house or by the church. When I came to the States, I played a lot in the youth leagues and tournaments in Michigan and won a bunch of top scorer awards, even though I was a central midfielder at that time. Then as I got older and started playing in mens leagues, I was moved up to a striker and eventually settled as a winger. I walked on in college and after playing for a few pointless teams after, I got a trial in Turkey and did well there. At that time though, I had started freelancing for SBNation, and actually worked full-time as a writer while playing professional soccer. I left Turkey because the athletic life demands that you only focus on the sport, and I wouldn't be comfortable short-changing myself, and now I'm here.
Can you talk a little bit more about your time in Turkey?
Turkey was fun. I was in Antalya in a nice resort next to the Mediterranean that felt like paradise. I ate a lot Nutella and pancakes. But by the end of my trial when I was offered a contract, I had realized how the athletic life was a prison of its own. You're trapped in a life or training, eating, training, reviewing tactics and just living the soccer player life, that there's little time for the world beyond. And I wanted to do more things than kick a ball everyday and then rest so I can kick the ball later. I love soccer and I want to keep that love. But I also love being creative and those things are hard to do at the same time.
You mentioned you write for SBNation, what does that entail?
I'm just a staff writer for SBNation. I'm supposed to be a features writer but I refuse to do features simply because they take too much time and are too stressful. Most of my written stuff is either a reaction to something happening or some wild idea that I've been thinking about for some time. I'm also in charge of our Snapchat, and these days moving into more videos in general.
What was your path in terms of playing professional soccer to writing about it?
I used to browse a lot of the early soccer blogs when I was in college. I was a lurker at Kicker, ONTD_Football, Run of Play, Twisted Blood, Unprofessional Foul, Surreal Football, The Offside, Futfanatico and a few more. I think it was Andi Thomas from Twisted Blood that asked me to write a guest piece when I actually started communicating and then I did some stuff for Futfanatico. I followed them into Twitter and was just a part of that ecosystem for a long time and I was always writing stuff before then. I wrote short stories, poems and essays. It was Graham MacAree, the former head of soccer for SBN, who messaged me one day out of the blue asking me if I wanted to contribute to the site. I actually declined because I didn't think I could write about sports that much or that well, but he persisted.
SBN is my first full-time writing job, but I used to freelance for Eurosport, Paste Soccer, Squawka and I've done a few non-sports things for other sites as well. Vice was the first place that offered me a full-time position. Then Fox Sports a few years later.
What are your favorite things to write about in the sport?
My favorite thing to write about is the players themselves. The way they move, their habits and their human qualities. I like to appreciate them as they are in the present. That includes talking about the social impact of the sport and how it affects them individually as well. I think if you start off with the mission to express all the great things about the player, it inevitably bleeds into their position in the grander scheme of things.
There is a lot going on with soccer in America right now, what do you think is the biggest issue that needs to be addressed at the moment?
I think the biggest issues that need addressing right now are pay-to-play and scouting. You can't complain about the lack of or wish for talented players when you discriminate against a large number of the population and when you're not actively looking for players unless they pay their way into the system. It's completely asinine.
Any ideas on how you would like to see specific changes made to these issues?
Hiring more scouts is a first step, and then I think, setting a reasonable standard entry price for youth soccer programs across the country would be another. It needs to be said that if a team, academy, soccer system is affiliated with US Soccer, it can't be strictly for-profit and for-profit only as it is now. Then we could start on getting more access to the game for these under-privelaged kids.
If you had the opportunity to help fix a key issue in American soccer, what would it be?
I would be delighted to work with communities to find ways to introduce and make the game of soccer accessible to poor kids. That would be a dream.
If you could see any game in the world, what two teams would be playing and what stadium would the game be played in?
Dulwich Hamlet against anybody. I always go to a Dulwich game when I'm in England. It's a really wonderful atmosphere and it doesn't have all the logistical hassles of a huge game. I like being able to stand next to the stadium, drink beer or coffee and talk to people without having to shout to the person next to me.
What is the best thing that soccer has given you?
Happiness. Playing soccer is the one thing that constantly makes me happy. No matter how bad of a mood I am in, when I play, I get happy.
What player would you most like to see in MLS?
Carlos Vela is going to play for LAFC so that is my wish fulfilled. I love that young man so much.
When did you fall in love with soccer?
I'm Nigerian and so the entire male side of my family always played and watched soccer so I can't remember a time when the game wasn't a part of my life. Even in a small village in Imo State. When I went back home last summer, my uncles and I would leave in the middle of the night to go to the only bar around the area to watch EPL games. It's practically a religion there.
Thanks for your time!