Former international, Ademola Adesina (44) still shows the skills that made him a Super Eagles regular
Ex-international, Ademola Adesina, relives memories of an exciting playing career with the national football team and his exploits at the 1988 African Cup of Nations in Morocco. He spoke with KUNLE ADEWALE…
He was that tough and imposing player whose presence in the midfield gave opposing players the jitters. Now, there are those telltale signs of age. But he still eagerly rekindled memories of his heyday as he made out several precise passes to team mates and deflected shots aimed at his goal at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Surulere, Lagos during the inaugural edition of the MKO Abiola Cup in commemoration of the June 12 presidential election.
Adesina started football at a very early age against his parents wish. Driven by the passion he had for the game he persisted and went on to play for his secondary school after which he got invitation to play for Igbalaye FC of Oshogbo and later NEPA, also of Oshogbo.
“In those days my parents never wanted me to have anything to do with football; all they were interested in was for me to face my studies. I even had a brother then, Olatunji Adesina, who did everything to discourage me from taking to football, but all was to no avail. Sometimes I will return home with injuries for which I’ll get flogged before being treated.
“Yet, all that did little to kill my passion for the round leather game, as I carried on up to secondary school where I went on to play for the school team. Before I knew it invitation started coming from clubs within Oshogbo which made my parents and brother to give up and allow me take to my passion, which is football,” he said.
The former international, however, admonish any youth who intends to pursue sports as a career to first concentrate on their studies, saying that is what they will fall on after the energy to carry on with sports is no longer there.
“It is now that I appreciate why my parents were hammering it on me to concentrate on my studies then. And that is what I have been telling the generations after me to concentrate on their studies even while taking to sport,” the technical adviser of Prime FC of Oshogbo said.
Adesina got his national call-up when he was discovered by one of the coaches of the then Green Eagles, Eto Amaechina, during the 1981 National Sports Festival in the old Bendel State.
“I was in the contingent as a sprinter but Coach Adegboye Onigbinde said since I played football for Osogbo NEPA, I would be useful to the football team. I was on the reserve bench in a match involving Oyo State and Niger State and we were trailing Niger by 3-1 and I was called upon and I scored three goals and we eventually won the match. The score was 4-3. After the festival I was invited to the national camp and after the screening I made the grade and was selected to play in the 1982 Nations Cup. I was playing as a striker then but the late technical adviser, Otto Gloria, said because I was so strong I would be more useful in the midfield than upfront. That was how I became a midfielder.”
On whether any of his children have taken after him, he said: “My first boy is currently playing for an amateur club in London while my second one that is very tall is playing basketball. I did a lot in encouraging them to take to sports because I know sport is one of the quickest ways to make it in life just as I insisted that education must be a priority.”
The former international deplored the state of the local league especially the near absence of fans at stadiums.
“Fans play a big role in making football grow and where there are no fans to cheer the players what will they be playing for? It is the crowd that makes the players to do some exceptional things on the field. So in their absence whom do you want to impress? But you don’t get to blame the people for not coming to the stadium because there are no players that will attract them to the stadium. There are no players in our league that can attract people to the stadium unlike in our days when you will want to see Christian Chukwu, Emmanuel Okala, Segun Odegbami, Muda Lawal and the rest. I feel saddened each time I watch matches and the stadium is empty. I don’t think such situation gives anyone pleasure.
“The problem is that the players are in too much a hurry to play in Europe and they end up being sold below their worth. They should rather be patient and make their names in the local scene before travelling abroad to play professional football. There are still plenty of talents in the Nigerian league waiting to be harnessed and that is why some of us are hopeful about the future of Nigerian football. And if there is one thing that has impressed me most about the way Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi is going about his job it is his belief in our home-grown footballers and giving then opportunity to play for the national team and I’m happy the boys have not disappointed him,” he said.
However, he would like to see Keshi put a stop to his chase to have Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Sam Sidney play for the Eagles, urging him to concentrate on the home-based players. Sidney has been playing hard to get with Keshi saying the midfielder did not return his phone calls. He is desperate to strengthen his midfield as he continues to rebuild the national team.
He said it’s gratifying that without any foreign-based player in the team, the local boys were praised for their performance against the Pharaohs of Egypt in Dubai, saying the team had done well to earn Keshi’s confidence.
“I support the total use of home-based players in the national team. There is nothing strange about it and if we continue judging the boys by the standard of our own league, we are making a great mistake. The players in Europe started from here but it is just unfortunate that once a player travels to play abroad, our coaches start running after them. I am not comfortable that Keshi is looking for Sidney all over Germany. He may not be able to make positive contribution to the national team because the style is different.”
Adesina said the national team coach should utilise the advantage of working regularly with the players at home, saying frequent training would bring the best out of them. While condemning the attitude of players based in Europe, he also questioned their claim to automatic place in the Eagles team.
“None of us played abroad before becoming stars in the Eagles and I am surprised that Nigeria suddenly began to rely on players who are either not playing regularly in their clubs or play in very small clubs and non-competitive leagues, just because they play outside Nigeria. The home-based players can take our football to where it rightly belongs. I’m not saying we don’t need the foreign-based players but they should not be the bedrock of the national team. In our days we only had Richard Owubokiri, Sylvanus Okpala and Okey Isima coming in from Portugal to beef up the team. But the core of the national team was the home-based players.”
The former Shooting Stars of Ibadan midfielder is optimistic that Keshi will qualify the team for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“That has always been our clamour to the Nigeria Football Federation: to give former internationals opportunity to handle the national team and give them the necessary support. Rather than employ a foreigner who has little knowledge about our footballers and indeed have no stake in the country’s football.”
On-the-pitch experience of ex-footballers and expertise of football administrators are essential towards improving the country’s football fortunes, he said.
One moment that of his career that will always be etched on Adesina’s memory is the semi-final match of the 1988 Africa Cup of Nations which paired Nigeria against Algeria.
“I was wrongly given a red card by the centre referee because I was not the person that erred. As soon as I was shown the red I thought in my mind that I will be missing the final but considering the vacuum my absence was going to cause the team I began to doubt if we could beat Algeria with a man down not knowing that Bright Omokaro had other ideas. he reduced the Algerians to 10 by injuring one of their players after they had completed their two changes (a team could only make two changes as at 1988) making both teams to play with 10 men.
“Losing the final of Maroc ’88 was very painful, more especially losing through dubious officiating. Henry Nwosu’s legitimate goal was overruled. In the semifinal, I got an undeserved red card against Algeria in a case of mistaken identity. It would have been difficult holding them with a man down in as-much-as I don’t think what Omokaro did was right, which eventually gave birth to his nickname, ‘10-10’. I however still feel if I had played the final against Cameroun, we could have won. As they say, the rest is history.”
During his playing days Adesina played under different coaches, but one coach whose influence remains indelible is Christopher Udemezue.
“Chief Adegboye Onigbinde did a lot in my life as a footballer and I really appreciate him. ‘Wonder Boy’, Paul Hamilton also affected me as a footballer so too was late Father Tico and Otto Gloria. But none of them can compare to what late coach Udemezue did to affect my career. He was a very disciplined man and he did a lot in shaping my football career. Otto Gloria thought and behaved like a Nigerian. He was aware there was division in the national team but he did well to integrate the old players with the new ones. He told the late Muda Lawal that I had not come to take his place but rather that I have come to take over from him after he leaves and charged him to take care of me.
“Onigbinde was a teacher and I owe my confidence from the penalty spot to him. During the 1984 Nations Cup qualifier against Morocco in Casablanca and a game was to be resolved on penalty shootout after goalless 90 minutes. Nobody wanted to take the first kick but the Modakeke high chief called me and asked me to open the way.
“The late Udemezue was a disciplinarian. A particular NFA chief had issues with me and asked Udemezue not to field me in a Mexico ’86 World Cup qualifier against Liberia. But he fielded me against all odds and I even scored in that match. Such was the trust Udemezue had in me,” he recalled.