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The Jonathan Toto Exclusive Part 2 – Football Stardom in Singapore, A Greek Nightmare & Life after Football

In part 1, I examined Jonathan Toto’s career before playing in Singapore. From playing with Koulibaly and Pjanić in the FC Metz Academy to a stint with Hearts in Scotland, Toto had quite the eventful career by the time he was 21. It was this next chapter in Singapore where his footballing career really took off, and due to unfortunate circumstances, ended up peaking. After 2 years in the S.League, Toto secured a move to a Greek club but was then released shortly after, never to be heard from again.

Living the Footballing Fantasy in Singapore

In his short but eventful career, his two years in Singapore were by far the best. It was where he really lived out his footballing dreams as a star player. However, it wasn’t the motivation of becoming a star player that drove Toto’s decision to take up the opportunity to play in Singapore.

“After the failed Qatar trial, I decided to come to Singapore to get as far away as possible from Europe. I was fed up with the European footballing scene and all its problems. I didn’t have any family; I didn’t have any kids; I was young, so i decided to take my chance and come to Singapore. I had an amazing agent who linked me up with Étoile and I signed. This was where in my head, I started to think that a football career could be a real possibility. Before Singapore, I was training hard and playing well but for some reason [like agent troubles] i couldn’t secure a professional contract. I started to think if I was cursed. But Singapore man, I tell you, this was where [a professional] really started [for me].

“It was amazing; A French football club who wants you to make a career in Asia. You would be surrounded by French people, so you won’t be alone and they gave you money. I really enjoyed it. We had a special objective of retaining the S.league title and on top of that we needed to challenge the accomplishment of the previous Étoile FC team. People were talking how the new guys, us, were not that good, so we had a point to prove.”

The offer from Étoile FC was an amazing opportunity for a young Toto hungry for both professional game time and goals. And boy, did he do well in his debut season with the French club. Even though the club finished 5th, which was underwhelming given how the club had won the league the previous campaign, he scored 14 goals in 28 games in all competitions. I must say that a goal-to-game ratio of 0.5 is really respectable for any 21 year-old. Toto had many fond memories playing with Etoile and one of them was playing against Tampines at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

“I remember scoring against Tampines and that day, I saw [Aleksandar] Đurić. I remember people talking about how he was the Ibrahimovic of the league. When I saw him, he was so tall and I was happy to see and play against him. I love it when I’m on the field with superstars, better players, because they challenge me to do better and Đurić was one such player.”

However Aleksandar Đurić was not the only player that Toto looked forward to challenging. One other player was then-Home United talisman Fredric Mendy, who was part of the 2010 Étoile FC Championship winning squad. In many ways, Toto was brought in to replace Mendy for the 2011 campaign and naturally, Toto was fired up every time he faced Home United.

After the 2011 season concluded, Étoile pulled out of the S.League and opted to focus on grassroots football development instead. Many players returned to France or earned moves to other Southeast Asian clubs, with a few of them choosing to remain in Singapore. Toto was one such player who decided to remain in Singapore. Alongside Sirina Camara, he sealed a move to Courts Young Lions for the 2012 SPL campaign. He enjoyed playing football for the Young Lions team and huge reason for that was team manager Eugene Loo, who not only engineered the move but also made both French players feel right at home.

Photo Credits: Ko Po Hui (@bolasepako)

“He is an amazing person and Eugene Loo was always there for us. He was like a friend to both of us. He was somebody who took care of us. He was this person in the FAS who was very kind since the beginning. I remember how Étoile informed some of us hat we will be linked with the FAS to determine where we will play. Eugene called me and I spoke with him and that started my budding relationship with him. That is also how I became a Courts Young Lions player.”

Playing for Young Lions was indeed a special experience for Toto.

“We were two French guys playing in a squad full of local Singaporeans so it was a different experience to playing in Étoile. I was sort of used to this after playing Italy and Scotland but I had Sirina with me. Sirina is like a year younger than me and we were like brothers but Sirina wasn’t like me. I could speak English well but Sirina struggled to early on. They were tough on us, especially, because he was always speaking French. One day I told him, enough is enough and that we should only converse in English. I remember sometimes during training when Sirina asked me a question in French and I replied in English and it was very funny.”

Off the pitch, Toto enjoyed life in Singapore. He shared a condominium with Sirina and Canadian Under-23 player Sherif El-Masri, and he had a ball of a time. Life in Singapore was not that expensive for the forward, who loved the food and the city. Even though they were paid in Singaporean dollars, which was (and still is) weaker than the Euro, they were paid well for local standards, and Toto felt that life was really comfortable.

“I did not want to leave Singapore. People were amazing and I really loved Suntec City. I got all my stuff there. One thing I liked about Singapore was how there were luxury stores and at the same time nearby, you could have hawker centers or food courts where you could get chicken rice for a few dollars. It was amazing. In France, if you go to Paris and if you want to get a croissant or a bageutte, you can never get the same price as you do with the food in Singapore.”

Jonathan wanted to remain in Singapore and carve out a long career in the city-state. However, he couldn’t agree to contractual terms proposed by the clubs that approached him. He wanted the exact terms of the contract he had with Courts Young Lions, but none of the clubs were biting. He would then leave Singapore and head to Greece.

A Greek Nightmare & The Missing Piece to the Sirina Camara Story

After leaving Singapore, however, Toto came to realize that many Singaporean clubs, as well clubs around the region, were keen on signing him. He would later go on to regret this decision. To sum up his time in Greece in two words: “messed up.”

Problems started early on in his stint with Greek second division outfit Doxa Dramas. The agent that brought Toto to Greece told the forward everything he needed to hear, and then he left him there without any news henceforth. Being left alone was just the tip of the iceberg. Unpaid wages was the biggest issue that Toto faced during his time with Doxa Dramas. For an entire season, Toto was rarely paid. In fact, despite a relatively good season, most players in the club were not paid as well.

“They paid us a few times but that was it. It was so difficult to get paid without an agent present. And not just any agent, an agent that really takes care of players. I didn’t have that and I said I had enough of football, I went back to France to focus on myself.”

During his time in Singapore, Toto fell in love with tourism in Singapore, and he decided to invest in tourism. So, together with his family, they stared their own tourism business in Cameroon. Even though most of his wages was never paid while playing in Greece, Toto survived through the profits he earned through his tourism venture. However, his experience his Greece really soured his aspirations of becoming a professional footballer. Not only that, it also made him start asking himself some serious questions.

“I have goals in life, like I wanted to be married by a certain age, I wanted my own house, my driver’s license and have kids at a certain age. After Greece, I asked myself if I’m able to achieve my goals if I continued to play professionally. And the answer was no. I had sacrificed so much in my life for football.

“I started to look at other foreign players who played in Asia and realized they were leading luxurious lifestyles and had to spend alot of money. I did not need that. So, I had to make a decision at that moment after leave Doxa Dramas. If I don’t leave now and do something else, I wouldn’t have had that opportunity.”

When the door to a professional football career was about to shut, a lifeline to keep the footballing dream alive came from an all too familiar friend.

Photo Credits: Ko Po Hui (@bolasepako)

“Sirina [Camara] is an amazing person and I don’t think a lot of people know how good a person he really is. After I leave Greece, I go back to France and I get a call from Sirina. Sirina calls and tells me that after what I’ve been through in Greece, he wanted to help me. He was in talks with his coach at Home United about a potential contract. In some sense, he was my soccer agent. He was helping me negotiate my contract [to help me secure the terms that I wanted].

“While Sirina was doing that, I was looking for opportunities outside of football. My heart was still divided. Then, something amazing happened. I applied to university to further my studies and I got accepted into the course I applied for but my heart was divided. Then I get the best news from Sirina. Home United agreed to all the terms that I wanted. So then I had to decide between both offers not just on the same day, but within the same hour.

“I was praying; God, what path should I take and the answer was one that I did not expect. I came to conclusion that it was time I should build my life so I rejected the offer from Home United, even though the club offered me everything that I asked for.”

When Toto revealed this to me, I was momentarily speechless. It dawned on me how a few bad agents left him disenchanted over a career in football. Toto was by no means a bad player. However, poor guidance from agents ended what could have been a great career prematurely.

Understandably, Camara was disappointed with Toto. After all, the defender worked hard to help his friend out and secure all the conditions he wanted. However, Toto felt the need to build something for himself and create the life he wanted. After receiving a degree in tourism, he got employed at a champagne house and focused on his business in Cameroon. On top of that he became a motivational speaker, a pastor and he helped many youths in France. However, Toto felt a burning desire to get himself involved in football yet again.

Becoming an Agent to Help Future Players

Picture credits: Jonathan Toto (@jonathanmindset)

Currently residing in Reims with his wife and kids, becoming a football agent is the next chapter of Toto’s life. He feels that the best way to help French youths, namely young footballers, is to guide them properly as an agent and has been undergoing a 2-year course to make that into a reality.

Quite honestly, Jonathan Toto makes a perfect agent candidate. After suffering a lot from the decisions of bad agents, he wants to ensure that future generations do not face a similar predicament and make the mistakes he did.

“I want to give a chance to young players who are poor an opportunity. It really is all about giving players a chance. You can have a lot of talent and potential but if you do not give that player a chance, no one can discover that. Good agents give these players a chance and I want to give that chance.”

Jonathan Toto’s professional football career may have been brief, but it was eventful and surprising. Plagued by constant agent troubles, Toto wants to become an agent so he can help future generations of footballers achieve their dreams and aspirations. He is looking to return to Singapore one day, and I told him that maybe he should plan something with Sirina Camara. Who knows, maybe Toto comes back as an agent and helps engineer a move to France for Singaporean players?

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