Last season was not too much of a success for us but I believe we did well towards the end of the season and that zeal saw us qualifying for our first Federation Cup final in the history of the state. The Premier League finish we had was not what we wanted at the start of the season but we are hoping for a better outing next season.
Last season, Nasarawa crashed out early in the CAF Confederation Cup. What happened and how do you feel not returning to the continent next season?
As I always say, the dream of every player and club is to win and lift trophies. At Nasarawa, we also had the target of winning the Confederation Cup but it wasn’t to be. I believe that the stress of playing in the league and the continental matches wore us out and affected some of our matches and resulted in our early exit. We couldn’t qualify for the Confederation Cup again because we lost the Federation Cup final to IfeanyiUbah. We trained and worked hard to win that competition because we have tasted continental football last season. It was very painful when we lost on penalties but we believe that we will get another opportunity to make that history. Another reason we didn’t perform too well last season was playing our home matches away in Benue State. It was like playing all our league matches away but the government has promised to finish the rehabilitation of the Lafia Stadium before the season begins. We hope that will help us to do well next season.
The club has decided to retain coach Kabiru Dogo and most of the players from last season. What do you think you can achieve at the end of next season?
The Nasarawa State Governor, Tanko Al-Makura, made it clear to us before the Federation Cup final that if we won the competition, he would reward us. But despite not winning, he gave us some cash rewards and allocated plots of lands to us in the state. He said it was for making history as the first team from the state to get to the final. Such a gesture from the governor will surely motivate us to go the extra mile next season because we want to get more of it. Most clubs in Nigeria don’t have that continuity. Every season they discard many players and buy new ones. The result of that is not always instant because it will take the players quite a while before the players get used to themselves. I believe that with the players we have and our coach, we can compete for the title next season.
You won the 2015 U-23 Africa Cup of Nations under coach Samson Siasia but you didn’t make the team to the Rio 2016 Olympics. What was responsible for that?
Really, it was exciting to play under coach Siasia. He is a role model and father-figure to many of us in the Under-23 team. Despite all the challenges we faced at the competition, he told us to fight harder in each game and write our name in gold. It was a tough competition we had in Senegal but I am happy today that I have a winner’s medal to show for it. I don’t regret missing out of the Olympics team at all. After winning the competition, we had the qualifiers for the 2016 African Nations Championship and also my club needed me. It wasn’t easy shuffling between the national teams and my club. These affected my stay in the Under-23 camp and I eventually had to leave one for the other. However, I am happy that I made the final CHAN squad but it was painful that we couldn’t go far in the competition after we had been tagged as favourites for the title.
How has been the impact of your stay in the national teams on your game?
As a midfielder, I have learnt a lot from the two national team coaches I worked under – coach Sunday Oliseh and coach Siasia. They let me know that I can be creative in my game and as well as being a fighter for the team. I learnt that as a player, one should play for the team and not for oneself. I learnt the value of unity more in the national teams because we are different players from different clubs and some of us are playing the same position. Whoever among us is chosen to start a match must know that he must work as part of the system of the team and forget his selfish desires. It was one of such that pushed me and I was able to score one of the two goals against Burkina Faso in a 2016 CHAN qualifier last year – Gbalahan Salami scored the second one. These lessons have impacted the way I play in my club too. The coaches let us know that the glory of wearing the national colours is greater than that of the clubs we play for because we are representing Nigeria.
What areas of the Premier League will you like to see improvement?
The area of officiating should be improved upon. The referees are doing their best but there is room for more improvement. They need to be more conversant with the rules of the game and know that the credibility of the league depends on how they officiate. It is a beautiful thing to know that if you train hard at home, you can travel to get three points without fear of being molested. The security at venues too is something that can be improved upon. Last season, there were pockets of situations when some fans beat up their opponents. These things will not allow people to come out to watch matches. I will also like to see improvement in the area of players’ welfare. Some clubs owe their players for months and expect good results from them. That is not possible. But if clubs can emulate what some state governors like Nasarawa is doing, the players can give their best and the league will be more competitive. Players, who are well motivated, will do everything they can to get results while poorly-motivated players will not do same. I believe that our league is capable of being the best in Africa because we currently have foreigners playing in the league against what obtained in the past.
With the improvement in the domestic league, do you think the home-based players deserve more places in the Eagles squad for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers?
Having played in the national team, I know that there are a lot of good players in our league. Our performance at the CHAN should not be used to judge what we can do but we should be given the opportunity to showcase our talent for the new coach. When there are matches and we are called upon, I believe that we can challenge the overseas-based players for shirts in the national team. In the first match against Zambia, when we had three home-based players invited to the Eagles, we were excited but for the match against Algeria, it was only Ikechukwu Ezenwa, who was called up. It however doesn’t mean that we are not good enough for the team; I believe that with time, we will get our chance.
What is your goal as a footballer?
My goal is to win laurels with my club and country and I also want to play at the highest level of professional football.
Do we still look forward to seeing you in the colours of Nasarawa United next season?
I am currently a Nasarawa United player until any other thing happens.
How did you start football?
I was born in Jos, Plateau State, and I began football while I was quite young; without the support of my parents though because they wanted me to face my education. I began football at Dom Soccer Academy in Jos and from there, I moved to Abuja, where I played for Supreme Court and Almak FC. I later moved to Lagos, where I played for COD United until 2014 when I joined Nasarawa. Playing football was not easy due to that absence of support from my parents but today, I am grateful for the little I have been able to achieve through it.
If you have not been playing football, what would you have been doing?
I will probably be at the university studying or running a business.
Your former club, COD, have yet to play in the Premier League. How soon do you see them in the topflight?
COD is a very good club with one of the most organised administration. It is quite unfortunate that they haven’t qualified for the Premier League yet. I believe it is not about the players but some other factors. But with the never-say-die spirit in every COD player, they will soon be playing in the Premier League. The club helped me to refine my football skills and I learnt a great deal while with them; so, I know they will soon be in the Premier League.