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Vanguard Newspaper 03 February 2018

46—SATURDAY Vanguard,

46—SATURDAY Vanguard, MARCH 3, 2018 •Mikel Troost Ekong What may go well for Eagles in Russia – Aghahowa •Speaks about his days in Eagles, Bendel Insurance and the league In the late 1990s, a young energetic and pacey attacker emerged from Bendel Insurance. He shot his way to the National team and by 2000, he became an instant hit for Nigeria. Julius Aghahowa soon became Nigeria’s ‘redeemer’ in some intriguing way. He spoke with Jacob Ajom as he recalled some of those unforgettable moments of his international career. Excerpts: What are you doing at the moment? When we were playing, we used to stay away a lot from the family. Now we give them a lot more attention. It is family time now. We also want to spare some moments and see how we can pay back to the society by getting involved in a lot of projects. I have been around, since I retired in 2013. I stopped playing in 2013. I have been outside(the country), but I come in once in a while. We are now involved in community service kind of thing. We support the kids through developmental projects. That is what basically takes most of my time now. This is a World Cup year and the Super Eagles are going to Russia. As a former national team player who has been to the World Cup, how does it feel flying your country’s flag at the World Cup? You can’t really define the feeling. As a footballer, the World Cup is the biggest tournament you aspire to play. It is the ultimate. It is a very big deal when you qualify to go and represent your country at the world stage and a very big experience to you personally because when you are out there you feel the weight of expectations from over 180 million people back home who are also solidly behind you. The feeling is tremendous. What do you see in this Super Eagles squad as per their World Cup campaign? I think they have assembled the best set of players ever for the national team going by their qualification even before their last match. I think they can go far. From what I have seen, we have a solid team. If you want to add one or two players to the team, no problem. On the whole, I think they can go far in Russia. With Argentina, Croatia and Iceland, you believe the Eagles can qualify from that group? I am very optimistic we can go past that group and even beyond. My optimism is based on the fact that these players are active for their various clubs; they play week in, week out and they are in top form. The ones that are strikers are scoring goals, the midfielders are consistent, while the defenders have been playing well. With their present form, they will come out of that group and even go beyond. As an ex-Super Eagles player, which was your most memorable match for Nigeria? If I look back, I played a lot of games and I have a lot of fond memories. I think few will stand out if you judge the degree of impact I had on the fans. In that respect, the game against Senegal will stand out and my goal in the World Cup will stand out also. But I think the match against Senegal will stand out most because I scored the equaliser and the winner at the national stadium Lagos. It was during the Ghana/ Nigeria 2000 AFCON match. Senegal were leading and I was •Gov Obaseki By Desmond Ekweme gwo Nnaji, David Adiele, AKadiri Ikhana, Francis Monidafe, Leotis Boateng, Peter Egharevba, Felix Agbonifo, Henry Ogboe and Prince Afejukwu are among players of the golden generation of Insurance FC of Benin. For those who watched or read the story of the all conquering squad of this great team in 1978 when they dusted “Almighty” Enugu Rangers International FC in •Aghahowa brought in as a substitute. I scored the equaliser and the whole stands shook as spectators poured onto the pitch. Play was held up for some minutes before fans were asked to return to their seats for the game to continue. When we resumed play, I scored the winner about 5 minutes from the final whistle. It was a very important victory and a very memorable game to the team and me as a player. How do you feel that you lost that tournament in the final? It was very unfortunate because, to me we didn’t lose the final. We did our best. I cannot say we lost the final, it was the referee’s error that cost us that final. But to me as a young player, just coming up, getting into the national team and the then revered FA Cup, it is a taboo for the club to be missing in the elite League for over a decade....I hope I’m correct. When you marry this to the fact that the best of coaches the sport has offered Nigeria hail from Edo State leaves one wondering what has happened to this great team. From Alabi Aissien to Sebastine Brodericks-Imasuen down to the era of Willy Bazuaye, Shaibu Amodu, Lawrence Akpokona, Solomon Ogbeide, Fanny Amun and later to Rowland Ewere, Austin Eguavoen, Paul Aigbogun who are all sons of the can only ask, why will anyone want Insurance FC to remain in the backyard of Nigerian football? From the glory of Insurance FC clubs like New Nigeria Bank FC, Rubber Board FC, Flash Flamingoes FC, Okomu Oil FC and Igbino Babes FC emerged and made great impact on the nation’s football scene. Stars flooded Nigeria’s soccer •Alex Iwobi have was an getting to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, having played a major role getting to that stage and if not for the referee’s mistake, we would lifted that trophy, it amazing experience. Your international career w a s short. Would you say it was fulfilling? Yes, it was fulfilling. I played for the national team for 7 years, I cannot say that was short compared to a lot of people playing now; some will play for two years, some three years. For me, those seven years were memorable. I cannot count how many times they called on me to rescue Nigeria and I did that very well. Sometimes they called me from the bench, sometimes I started the game and I always delivered. It was pleasing playing for the country and I felt happy delivering Nigeria in times of difficulty. I did that for seven years and I can’t say that was short. Compare the current Eagles and your squad, which would you rate higher? Every generation has its own challenges, peculiar to its time. You cannot compare two generations under the same parameter. We have some areas that were better and they have theirs that are better than our time. Now you have a set of young players coming together, while in the past you had a mix of both young and old players, what you term as youth and experience. Right now you still have a couple of some young players who still have the experience, mixed with some youthful players, which is from Edo State and some are products of Insurance FC while many others are not....Yet we had great ambassadors of the state, talking about indigenes who made the state proud through football. Julius Aghahowa, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Osaze Odemwingie, Osaro Obobaifo, Austin Igbinabaro, Humphrey Edobor, Sunday Eboigbe, Bright Omokaro, Monday and Austin Eguavoen and Monday Agbotaen, Willy Agbonavbare, Andrew Aikhmuogbe, Bright Igbinadolor, Pius Ikedia, Thompson Usiyen, Charles Okonebor, Kingsley Aikhionvbare, Joe Enakhire and Festus Okougha to mention a few. We hear that Governor Godwin Obaseki has set in motion plans and strategies to return the great Insurance FC to where it rightfully belong in Nigerian football through Tuesday’s rebranding event at the Government House. I join millions of football fans in saying “WELLDONE YOUR EXCELLENCY”.....I also wish to good for the team. During our time, it was good for our generation and what we are having now is good for this generation. But they have a better chance of doing better than us. What would you say of Nigeria football, generally, particularly, the domestic league? The domestic league is still what it used to be but what we are lacking is the presence of the fans. There is no more dedication from the fans as we used to have then. I remember in 1997 when we just signed for Bendel Insurance; about nine other new players signed together with me then. We were young players from nowhere, from playing in the amateur league, eleven of us were paraded in the opening game of the season and we did very well and even got to the final of the FA Cup that year. The fans were rooting for us and the expectations were high among them as they wanted to see what these young players could offer. As for us the players we were out to do our best because we wanted to impress. These days you attend a match and you find empty stands. The support is lacking for the players. I think that is what is lacking in the domestic league. The administrators too, most of them know more about foreign clubs like Chelsea, Man United, Arsenal and so forth, they don’t know much about our league. And the sponsors seem to be shying away. The agents are not helping matters. Once a good player emerges, the next moment he is taken abroad. People no longer want to play at home. So I will encourage the players to put in at least two or three years before they start thinking of going abroad. We all started from here and most players who featured for the national team in our days, started from home. And, what is your feelings for Bendel Insurance FC of Benin? I am saddened. I am saddened because when you want to mention football clubs in Nigeria in the past, you can’t mention three teams before Insurance of Benin. This is a team that won WAFU Cup many times, a club that have a robust history. Now they are down below. It is sad, indeed. I think we need to inject more ex-players to come and run the club. They need to be involved at every stage to help bring back the club to what it used to be. If we leave it for people who don’t know anything about football, our football will continue the downward slide. It is important that ex-footballers get seriously involved in the administration of the game. For instance, players that have travelled far and wide, who have garnered a lot of experience, who can bring their experiences to bear on the local game. Like myself now, I have been to England, Turkey, Ukraine and many more. All these places I have passed through, you think I have not learnt anything that can make our football better? “Return” of Insurance FC? •Wake Up Call On Shooting Stars, Stationary Stores, Others use this privilege to say a big CONGRATULATIONS to the teeming fans of this team. Perhaps, this will serve as a huge step to revive the old order of beautiful football through healthy rivalry among the traditional teams in our domestic sport. Enugu Rangers Int’l, Shooting Stars FC and Stationary Stores FC among others. Sadly, the likes of Sharks FC have matamorphosed and their history almost buried. My advice to Gov. Obaseki is simple, Your Excellency don’t allow politics and power tussle within your state hinder this great move of yours. That was exactly the factor that almost destroyed Insurance FC. Those who felt High Chief Igbinomawhia Ekisouehi had overbearing influence and control over the club used their closeness to the corridors of power to ‘divide and rule’ the end the club commenced a free fall.

World Cup: Echiejile gets Rohr's nod Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr has confirmed the experienced defender Elderson Echiejile is in his thinking for 2018 FIFA World Cup squad. The Super Eagles boss has dropped a hint on Echiejile’s chances of making the Nigerian team for the global tournament this year. Echiejile moved to second division Belgium side Cercle Brugge in January after struggling to get sufficient minutes at Turkish side Sivasspor following his move in the summer from AS Monaco. “You have to respect what the former players have done in the past but be careful that you don’t try to bring them back because people think so,” said Rohr. “We have big experience in captain John Mikel Obi, Victor Moses and our left back Elderson, who is now playing in Belgium.” The emergence of Chelsea loanee Ola Aina ?and Brian Idowu of Amkar Perm has left many doubting the international future of the veteran left back, with coach Rohr even admitting his satisfaction with the aforementioned duo. However, the coach has named the 28-year-old among players he is banking on to bring their experience to bear on the team when Nigeria gets their World Cup campaign underway in June. Echiejile Basketball: National Divisions 1 & 2 Leagues hold in Ilorin At the close of the deadline for teams registration on February 28, 2018, 12 teams in National Division 1 and 10 Division 2 teams have signified their intention to participate and have also registered for the 2017 Nigeria Basketball Federation, NBBF Divisions 1 and 2 leagues which will be hosted at the Ilorin Township Stadium Sports Hall in Kwara State from March 10- 21, 2018. According to the Co-ordinator of League Management Committee, LMC, Mr SATURDAY Vanguard, MARCH 3, 2018 —47 LBS hosts Dolphin Swimming League A Lagos assembled team as well as host – Lekki British School (LBS) are among the six teams that will compete at the week two of the maiden Dolphin Swimming League this weekend. Already, preparations have been concluded for the colourful ceremony as the management of the LBS is doing everything possible to ensure a hitch-free tournament. With the presence of the President of the Nigeria Aquatics Federation, Babatunde Fatayi-Williams as well as officials of the Lagos State Sports Commission (LSSC) led by its chairman, Kweku Tandoh, the inter-school tournament will take off at the Lekki British School in Lekki. The Lagos and LBS teams will Ajibarede Bello, the 12 Division 1 teams will play in the Conference format of Atlantic and Savannah with the top two teams in each Conference earning promotion to the Kwese Premier League while the Division 2 championship will run concurrently at the same venue. Teams are expected to arrive Ilorin on March 10 with the Technical meeting which precedes the competition holding on March 11 while the tournament will run from March 12 to 20, 2018. Teams depart for their respective bases on March 21, 2018, the LMC stated. compete against Lagos Preparatory School, Children International School, St. Saviors School and Ikeja-based Greenville School in the tournament. According to the initiator and CEO of Dynaspro, Oluseyi Oyebode, the tournament would witness large turnout of sports stakeholders as the tournament would help to unearth new talents for Lagos. For the headmaster of LBS, Gill, the school is ready to host and identify with the tournament which they believe would help unearth talents for Nigeria. “LBS is pleased to be hosting the second phase of the Dolphin Swimming League meet and we see this initiative as paving the way to improving swimming standards in Nigeria. 5th Africa wrestling championship: Egonu commends Nigerian wrestlers President of the Muaythai Fed eration of Nigera (MFN) , comrade Paul Egonu has congratulated the country's flagbearers at the recently concluded 5th Africa wrestling championship held in Port Harcourt the Rivers state capital Comrade Egonu joined millions of sports -loving Nigerians in celebrating the spectacular performance of the team who emerged the overall champions in the tournament. The MFM president commended their hardwork, dedication, discipline and indomitable spirit, which he said are worthy of emulation. Egonu urged the athletes and the coaching crew to remain focused and determined as they go for more tournaments in the future The President thanked the Rivers State Governor Nyesome Ezenwo Wike for his unflinching support and goodwill to sports in nigeria He however called on the governor to extend same support by creating same atmosphere like this to Muaythai and other sports in the country. Nigerian athletes and the search for greener pastures A lot can certainly change in one week! It was only last week on this forum that I celebrated Nigeria’s seeming resurgence in the men’s quartermile, which had witnessed a downward spiral in recent years. My expectations were strengthened by the impressive performance of the standout athlete at the Commonwealth Games Trials held in Abuja last month, Emmanuel Bamidele, who clocked sub-46secs twice within the space of 24 hours to dominate the men’s 400m. His winning time of 45.28secs in the final is the fastest time in the world this year (outdoors). Bamidele was named on the Nigerian team to next month’s Commonwealth Games, which was meant to be his first ever outing for Nigeria. He was camped in Abuja alongside other athletes that made the team. But while I was celebrating the outstanding feat of this talented up-and-coming athlete, the lad had made his way out of the Nigerian camp, in pursuit of greener pastures elsewhere. The Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) has confirmed that Bamidele ‘disappeared’ from camp and no one knows his whereabouts. However, rumour is rife that he is set to switch allegiances to Qatar, and had to wriggle his way out of competing for Nigeria, which would have made the transfer process more cumbersome, because it is much easier to compete for an adopted country if the said athlete has never represented their country of birth before. And so Bamidele is set to toe the line of Francis Obikwelu (Portugal), Glory Alozie (Spain), Femi Ogunode (Qatar), Kemi Adekoya (Bahrain), Ebelechukwu Agbapuonwu (Bahrain), Edidiong Ofonime Odiong (Bahrain) and a host of other talented athletes who have left the shores of this country, and exchanged the green and white colours for those of their adopted countries. Nigeria is not the only African country that is faced with this challenge. Kenya and Ethiopia amongst others, have lost a lot of their promising athletes to some of these oil rich countries that are willing to pay anything to get these athletes of African descent to win medals for them on the international stage. Kenyan-born Ruth Jebet who now competes for Bahrain, won Bahrain’s first ever Olympic Gold medal in Rio in the women’s 3000m Steeplechase. She also set the World Record in the event that year. Kemi Adekoya won Gold for Bahrain in the women’s 400m at the 2016 World Indoor Championships. Ebelechukwu Agbapuonwu (now Salwa Eid Naser) became the youngest ever medallist in the history of the women’s 400m at the World Championships when she won Silver as a Bahraini athlete in London last year. Seeing how well some of these athletes seem to be faring in their professional careers since switching allegiances, it is no surprise that African athletes continue to leave their countries of birth in droves. And so the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) had to freeze all transfers of allegiance between countries last year, in order to halt the exodus of African athletes to other countries. A committee headed by the Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) President, Cameroon's Hamad Kolkaba Malboum was set up to study potential changes and propose sterner criteria for switching countries. While speaking at the 208th IAAF Council Meeting last year, Malboum said: “The present situation is wrong - what we have is a wholesale market for African talent open to the highest bidder. Our present rules are being manipulated to the detriment of athletics’ credibility. “Lots of the individual athletes concerned, many of whom are transferred at a young age, do not understand that they are forfeiting their nationality. This must end •Bamidele and a new way forward found which respects the athletes’ rights and the sport's dignity.” The IAAF is yet to re-open the transfer of allegiance process, and even when that happens, one wonders what the fate of the likes of Bamidele, who are yet to represent their countries, will be. For many athletes, it is a dream come true to be selected to represent one’s birth country on the global stage. But for an athlete who has been presented with such an opportunity, to turn down an offer of this magnitude, speaks volumes as to the level of distrust a lot Nigerian athletes have in the system. In essence, what they are saying is “I would rather face an uncertain future anywhere else than in Nigeria.” For almost every athlete that has left Nigeria, their decision to switch allegiances was triggered by some kind injustice or some form of abandonment by officials and the country at large. Take for instance the story of Obikwelu who still holds the Nigerian 200m record. Herecounted how he was hit by a career-ending injury after representing Nigeria at the Sydney 2000 Olympics and needed to have a major surgery. He made an appeal to the federation, the funds were approved but the money was nowhere to be found. Obikweluthen returned to his training base in Portugal and applied to be a citizen, and his request was granted after two months. He said afterwards in an interview with Making of Champions: “It’s not about money; it is about respect. Portugal is a poor country; they don’t have money, but they respectme.”Nigeria needs to take the welfare of its athletes seriously if we hope to stem the tide of athletes leaving this country, or else we will continue to lose our best talent to other countries.