Not wanting to be like the proverbial prophet that was not honoured in his home land, he decided to return to his fatherland after over 10-year sojourn in the United States, where he established various football academies and equally planted youth programme in some European countries. Henry Abiodun spoke to Kunle Adewale
Like many upcoming footballers Henry Abiodun had high hopes looking into the future that he would one day become a great footballer but a nagging knee injury at the age of 15 cut short his ambition of fulfilling his dreams. But the dogged Abiodun would not allow the injury to put-pay to his football ambition as he secured admission into the popular Nigeria Institute of Sports (NIS) from where he obtained his grade three, two and one certificates.
As a young man, he cut his coaching teeth with Obeya Babes of Oturupo in Benue State and later Exide Sparkers of Ibadan before pitching tents with the Youth Sports Federation of Nigeria and he was responsible for making the YSFON to have a very strong presence in Oyo State, from where he rose to be the vice chairman of the federation.
But still raring to go he left for the United States in 2001 where he attended several coaching schools and because of his flair for youth soccer he established his now famous youth academy-Shalom Soccer Academy, which has produced a reasonable numbers of players. Due to his success with his academy Abiodun has served as consultants for other academies in the United States and Europe and also helped countries in planting soccer academies.
“I started my academy with just one hundred dollars and with only six players and today I have developed over 30 players that have passed from the Challenge to the Classic and to the Olympics development levels in the U.S. I deal with identification and youth programmes,” he said.
The coach had since returned to Nigeria in his quest to contribute his quota to the development of football in the county especially through youth development.
On why he returned to Nigeria in spite of the successes he recorded in America, he said: “Firstly I’m a Nigerian and then there is a point you get to outside your fatherland and you start having the feelings that you are needed back in your country. When you start from the scratch in a foreign country and rose to becoming the directors of about three organisations there is always the feelings that you are also needed back home. I left Nigeria with the highest football coaching certificate the country can offer and also emerged as the best student of my set and having gone through various courses in America and have been of tremendous help to the football development in America and some European countries, so why not Nigeria.”
Despite having left the shores of Nigeria for over 10 years and with a lot of changes in the country’s football, Abiodun never doubted that he could still fits in very well into Nigerian football system.
“I’m a very flexible person and having been to several countries and not have difficulties in adapting to their system. Moreover, I always have a lot of friends in Nigeria and kept abreast of Nigerian football even from the grassroots. Also, having been a player and administrator with YSFON and formerly a director of coaching in Oyo State before I left for the U.S. it was easy to adapt very well and quickly too,” he said.
Poor officiating have been a regular occurrence in the Nigeria’s league but it was this department of the game the returnee coach scored high when answering question on what has changed about Nigerian football since his sojourn to the United States and when he came back.
“The referees have come a long way in trying to improve the standard of officiating. Formerly you cannot win away from home, but now teams’ record away wins in the league unlike years back when goal-bound moves by away teams attract the referees’ whistle for one dubious infringement. If the clubs are well tutored and the players work hard enough they can win anywhere which is very good for Nigerian football development. The other change that I noticed have changed since my return is in the stadium facilities. Most of the turfs used by the clubs now are not really bad when compared to what was obtainable many years back,” he said.
The technical director of Shalom Youth Academy is not really disturbed by the empty stands at our different stadia during league matches, as according to him if well addressed it would be a thing of the past in the nearest future.
“With good structures on ground fans will return to the stadium but when there is no structure in place there will be disorganisation and there is no way fans would be attracted under such circumstance. One obvious thing that is taking away fans from the stadiums is the influence of European Leagues of which standard is far better compare to our league. But unfortunately we are not doing enough in terms of sponsorship and packaging the local clubs. Football clubs are beyond going to play every weekend, it’s supposed to be an institution where you grow young players. If all Nigeria Premier League clubs have youth identification and development programme they will attract friends who want to watch their mates and parents that wants to see their kids to the stadium,” he opined.
He said some young Nigerians had also passed through his academy most of who were born in the United States. “I’m still monitoring their progress because they are great talents,” he said.
Asked if his presence in Nigeria would not affect his academy, the former YSFON coach said: “I believe in vision and when you have vision and focus it lives after you. I was once in Europe during a particular summer where I had the sixth Italian Camp programme which I usually run and I brought Italian technocrats that I invite to the camp which had over 50 players and without my presence it was very successful. Even now that I’m not in my camp things are going on smoothly because I can run the day-to-day affairs of my academy from wherever I may be in the world. The world is now a global village and I can follow up the affairs in my camp on the internet, face books and by many other means. I have the programmes set for them as the technical director of the organization. Things are moving fine in my academy and nothing suffers,” Abiodun said.
Meanwhile, Abiodun was recently relieved of his job as the technical director of Sunshine Stars by the Ondo State Football Agency (ODSFA), which manages the club because of failure to work together with head coach, Samson Unuanel.