THE first time I encountered Kelvin Etuhu was at a press conference just before Manchester City faced Liverpool in the second leg of the 2006 FA Youth Cup final.
It was, for the first few minutes or so, an awkward occasion. Etuhu, who was just about to turn 18, was unsurprisingly a little uncomfortable facing a room full of journalists. And those reporters only knew so much about the ins and outs of City’s youth team.
Then came a question from the back of the room: “Kelvin, how much of an inspiration has your older brother been to you?” Etuhu’s face lit up, and he visibly relaxed as he talked enthusiastically about Dickson, then at Norwich, now at Fulham.
It was clear, in that moment, that Kelvin Etuhu was a young man whose family meant a lot to him. And it was clear again, today, in the remarks of Judge David Hale as he sentenced Etuhu to eight months in jail for assault.
“You brought yourself up by your bootstraps, you and your family, having come here from Nigeria with nothing but your talent, grit and determination,” Judge Hale said at Warrington Crown Court.
“That is a great credit to you and your family, and you have blown it.”
No one, least of all I suspect Etuhu himself, would argue with that summary, delivered as Dickson and their mother watched from the public gallery. A night of stupidity and violence outside a Manchester city centre casino just over 12 months ago may yet have cost him his career.
The younger Etuhu had earlier pleaded guilty at Manchester Crown Court to assault occasioning actual bodily harm and affray following an incident in February last year, captured on CCTV, that left a man with a broken jaw. His barrister, John Broadley, suggested that the subsequent court case may have been a factor in Manchester City’s decision to cancel his contract.
There was a time when Etuhu’s career promised much. His family moved from Nigeria to south London when he was a boy, and then to the North West as Dickson started to make some headway in Manchester City’s youth set-up.
A few years later, Kelvin began making an impression too. He and Daniel Sturridge scored the bulk of the goals on that Youth Cup run of 2006. While Sturridge, even then, looked the greater talent, there was a feeling that Etuhu could make a decent name for himself too.
After that Youth Cup final, the next time I encountered Etuhu was on a chilly afternoon at Spotland in January 2007. Rochdale were struggling near the bottom of League Two at the time, and had taken the striker on a month’s loan in a bid to help them away from trouble.
Dale faced an MK Dons side challenging for promotion that day, and stuffed them 5-0. Etuhu stood out that day, because he seemed to be twice as quick as anyone else on the pitch. As I recall, he scored Dale’s fifth goal by charging through a Dons defence that looked to be running in slow motion behind him.
Etuhu got a little run in City’s first team later in 2007, scored his first goal for the club and won a two-and-a-half-year contract. But even then, there was perhaps a sense that he wasn’t quite good enough for the Premier League – as his technical ability didn’t match up to his pace.
A loan spell at Leicester provided the chance to gain additional first-team experience, but no goals. He made a handful of appearances back at City the following season – the first following Sheikh Mansour’s takeover – as manager Mark Hughes was short of strikers. When Hughes then went out and bought Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz during the summer of 2009, it was obvious that Etuhu’s future lay elsewhere.
Maybe, in different circumstances, a season-long loan at Cardiff would have been just the thing to jump-start Etuhu’s career. But a couple of injuries held him back, and he never really got going. During one of those injury absences, he got involved in the incident that led to his jailing today.
Etuhu was, according to those who were there, largely ineffective as Cardiff lost last season’s Championship play-off final to Blackpool, and he finished the campaign without a goal to his name.
By the start of this season, with a court case hanging over him, his career was in limbo. Left out of Manchester City’s 25-man Premier and Europa League squads, he was restricted to five reserve-team appearances, the last of which was against Newcastle on November 16. He didn’t score in any of those games either. Around a month ago, there was a trial with Championship side Hull, which came to nothing.
It is possible for a player to serve a prison sentence and then continue his career, as Joey Barton and Lee Hughes, to name but two, have proved in the recent past.
Etuhu, at 22, is certainly still young enough to start again. His problem, as odd as it may sound, may lie in his goal record rather than his criminal record.
Football, you see, can be a remarkably forgiving industry if you serve your punishment and then prove yourself on the field afterwards. Whether that is morally right is for another discussion. But it’s the reason why Etuhu, an attacking player who hasn’t scored a senior goal since December 2007, faces a significant challenge when he tries to rebuild his career.