Former Flying Eagles and Super Eagles winger, Ndubuisi Okosieme, tells ‘TANA AIYEJINA about life in retirement, why government should give national recognition to his family and more
How do you find life in retirement from the game?
Life hasn’t been easy; I’ve been struggling and hustling. It is a very bad situation for ex-internationals to be struggling. After giving so much for the nation and the nation does not regard you, it’s frustrating. Again I reside in a state (Edo) that I am not from. It’s a big problem because nobody wants to hear from you. And when I go to my state, they say, “You did not grow up here.” So, where do we stand? Life has been very tough and difficult but I thank God that I am alive despite all the stress I am going through.
But how could Edo neglect you after your family’s contribution to football development in the state?
That is a very big question that I don’t have an answer to. Like you know, my father played for the state and the nation, I and my sister also played for Nigeria. It’s the way we find things in the country. It’s about who you know and who you don’t know. Even when you know somebody in high places, if you don’t have something to give to complement knowing such a person, you will get nothing. I feel the nation should recognise my family because all over the world, there is no country where you have father, son and daughter who represented their nation except Nigeria. My father kept for (Bendel) Insurance and the national team, my sister played for Rivers Angels and captained the Super Falcons for so many years; I played for Nigeria too for many years at different levels. I was part of the YSFON team before the U-17 World Cup began. But today, everybody feel that all what my family did for the nation is nothing to write home about and nobody seems to talk about it. I believe it’s because my dad is late, that is why all these is happening. If he were alive, he would cry out; he knows the people to meet. But despite I am retired, they still look at me as a kid without any power. I expect that the media should ensure that the Okosieme family is remembered. If it was in the civilised world, my family would be highly honoured but here nobody talks about it. Nnamdi, my brother is a sports writer too, so we are a full sports family. Even Chigbu would have represented Nigeria at the U-17 World Cup in 1985 but he had to sit for his exams at the time. So, I just don’t know and that is why you see me quiet. Here, if you don’t have a godfather, money in your pocket and a jeep packed somewhere, nobody will listen to you and it is very bad for the nation.
What does this signal for up-and-coming players, who look at you as role models?
This is the reason some sports writers tell me that I cannot be given a job at the FA; that I always speak against the Football Association. But what I am saying is the fact. The present players have seen players who played for Nigeria and are retired roaming the streets. They don’t want to be like that. That is why they want to collect every of their penny when they play for the national team these days. Before they used to say, “What can you do for your nation?” But now after what we did for the nation, what has the nation done for us? Now, what they want is what the nation can do for them. When I talk about this, they say I speak against the Nigeria Football Federation. As an ex-international, if I apply for a job there, they say where is my certificate. If I bring it, they say it’s not enough. Are we talking about papers or what the man has contributed to the development of Nigerian football?
How have you been able to take care of yourself and your family?
For now, I have an academy that I am running, where I train boys. I hope to get an agent to help them get good clubs. What I do is that they pay a token as registration but I keep training them, believing that they would get somewhere someday.
As a member of the Flying Eagles to the 1985 U-20 World Cup, how would you describe the bronze medal winning feat of the team?
One thing was getting to the semifinal and the other was thinking of getting to the final and winning the cup but unfortunately, we played a good Brazilian side. We gave everything we had but the Brazilians won. We had chances that were thrown away. Our goalkeeper, Aloy Agu, was not fit, I had a torn muscle and a lot of our other players were not 100 per cent fit for that game but we had to play. You know the Brazilians are highly technical. We had a very good team and bench but due to injuries and illness, we couldn’t make it. We gave our best but it wasn’t enough. After the semifinal defeat, we told ourselves, “At all, at all, na im bad pass.” So agreed that we had to come back home with the bronze medal, having it at the back of our minds that the Golden Eaglets had won the 1985 U-17 World Cup. It was fun and memorable too.
You missed the Seoul ‘88 Olympics after copping an injury before the competition. What do you think led to Nigeria’s disastrous outing at the event?
There were a lot of expectations. I would have been one of the best players in the world if I had played in that competition. I had a very good game during our training tour but unfortunately, I sustained a ruptured Achilles tendon in a match against Manheim. It was a kick from behind that put me out of the tournament. I was sitting in the stands seeing other teams wallop Nigeria and it was so painful. I knew that I would have made a little difference if I had played. Zambia’s Kalusha Bwalya had a great tournament scoring a hat-trick against Italy. After the event, he signed for PSV Eindhoven. I was a better player than Kalusha, but my Achilles tendon got ruptured badly and kept me out of the competition.
You played in the final of the Maroc ‘88 AFCON, where Eagles were defeated by archrivals Cameroon…
I will never forget that competition because that was a trophy Nigeria won clean and clear but the referee refused us the title. I was a boy then but I knew the ref wanted to appease someone in CAF. I am blunt and will tell you the truth. The ref gave Cameroon a penalty that wasn’t and disallowed our good goal. We also missed several chances. I can’t forget that moment. People still see that final match against Cameroon as one of the greatest games I ever had in football.
Dutchman Clemens Westerhof came in 1989 and dropped senior players like you from his team. How did you feel about your exclusion?
I didn’t feel too bad because I was still very young and fresh, bubbling with energy. But he (Westerhof) needed younger players and he wanted people he could control. Why he made the decision is best known to him.
Do you have any regrets not playing at the senior World Cup?
I don’t but if I had played in the senior World Cup, I think heaven would have known me.
What are your best and worst moments?
My best moments were at the 1988 AFCON final and a league game between Flash Flamingoes and Sharks. I scored the two goals; they were great goals. I don’t have worst moments.
Who was the toughest player you played against?
To be candid, I never had a tough opponent but if you say a defender that was a very hard nut to crack, then I will say it was Bright Omokaro. You couldn’t go past him without a scratch. He was the toughest defender I ever met. I won’t say I was afraid of him but you can never go past Bright without a scratch and many people can testify to that.
What is your advice for young Nigerian footballers?
They should strengthen themselves and save every penny they work for because you never can tell at the end of the day.
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