It is always fascinating listening to players tell you how they fought hard to get to where they are in their careers. The hard work, sacrifices and the revelations make for a good listen. Always. One player whose emergence makes an interesting read is Sunday Akinmoladun, the giant centre-back for Ilorin-based Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) side, Kwara United. An old-fashioned centre-back, Akinmoladun is built like a tank. An intimidating proper physical specimen but a gentle giant on the pitch.
He first became a player of interest in an NPFL game a year ago when Niger Tornadoes took on Plateau United in 2017. He lined up alongside James Iko in the heart of the Tornadoes defence and put up a virtuoso performance that caught the eye of many as the Minna side ran out 1-0 winners. Not that it was the first time he was posting a man of the match performance.
Akinmoladun’s rise to the top makes for a very compelling story. He grew up in Kaduna where he started playing grassroots football as a school boy. This is where it gets interesting. A typical African kid playing football is always faced with two challenges. The twin challenge of learning the basics of playing football and that of meeting the school curriculum. But Akinmoladun had three. His parents insisted he had to go to school and also learn a trade while he wanted to play football. He had to find a way to juggle all three. Welding was his choice of vocation. He fell in love with welding and had to enroll as an apprentice at a welding shop in Kaduna.
“My life was hard, very hard but it has toughened me to be who I am today,” Akinmoladun told npfl.ng. “I wanted to play football and then I fell in love with welding and there was the added pressure from my parents to go to school. “It wasn’t easy at all, I had to make a lot of sacrifices,” he added. Sacrifices meant he had to go to school in the morning, then down to the welding shop before ending the day in the football fields of Kaduna to hone his football skills. That didn’t sit down with his boss at the welding shop and his parents weren’t sure he was on the right part too. “To be honest I loved doing all of those things and I don’t blame any of them for feeling the way they did,” the former Kaduna United defender rationalised.. “I had to go to school, finish that and then go to the welding workshop. I had to sneak out sometimes to go play football which usually incurs the wrath of my boss.
“The thing is that I loved doing all of that. I didn’t want to leave one for the other at that stage even though I knew football was always my first love. “Welding involves a lot of creativity and strength. We had to lift heavy metal and iron bars sometimes. Maybe that contributed to my muscles and strength,” he added with a chuckle.
Akinmoladun’s skills caught the eyes and was soon off to Kaduna United before being recommended to Niger Tornadoes by a friend. Abubakar Bala, who was Tornadoes coach then was impressed and before long, he became an integral part of the team and soon, was one of the leaders in a short time. “The move came out of nowhere, to be honest. I got a call from a friend who told me Tornadoes wanted me because one of their centre backs had left the club,” Akinmoladun revealed. “I packed my bags and headed to Ekiti where the team (Tornadoes) was on pre-season training. It happened in a flash and I’m glad I did. “Coach Bala has been like a father to me and he has encouraged me to be a better player. Playing for him has improved my game tremendously. It was no surprise that Akinmoladun joined Bala at Kwara United when the coach moved to the Ilorin side after parting ways with Niger Tornadoes just before the start of the 2018/19 NPFL season. The defender felt it will be good to continue his football education in Ilorin with Bala, a move he says he is enjoying. “Ilorin has been good so far, I enjoy working with coach Bala and I felt going to Ilorin will be good for my career and I have no regrets going there. “The fans have been good and I’m enjoying my game there,” he added. Football isn’t the only thing Akinmoladun enjoys doing.
The defender was back at his former welding workshop during the World Cup break to continue perfecting his skills for a vocation. That action took a lot of people by surprise and became a talking point on social media. The defender was surprised at the reactions insisting welding will always be part of him and revealed that he plans to delve into the business fully when he eventually hangs his boots.
“A lot of people were surprised to see me in the workshop welding things during the World Cup break. I honestly don’t know why. Maybe they think because I play in the NPFL means I should not go to a welding shop. I love welding a lot and it is something I am going to pursue when I retire. ‘Akinmoladun said. “I went back to my former welding workshop to keep myself busy doing what I enjoy and also to pay homage to my former boss. I can’t leave what I love to do. “Welding will always be part of me. I intend to set up a welding company after I retire so that I can continue to do what I love as well train others in the profession. That is my dream,” he added. Not a tall dream from a defender who has been able to weather a storm and a myriad of issues to become one of the top defenders in the NPFL Not a tall dream at all I had.