Being left out of USA ’94 still hurts me– Ekpo | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Being left out of USA ’94 still hurts me– Ekpo

Posted: Apr 11, 2015 at 6:12 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Friday Ekpo was one of the most influential midfielders that have passed through the Super Eagles. In fact, he was the toast of many fans until the emergence of Clemence Westerhof as Super Eagles coach. His exit from the Super Eagles left many wondering. But in this interview with CORRESPONDENT Augustine Akhilomen, Ekpo gave insight into all that happened. Excerpts



You had a bright start with Abiola Babes and Calabar Rovers during your playing days in the domestic scene. What really propelled your form?

There was no magic. I only concentrate on what I need to do in order to raise my game. One thing you must also know is that, I practice real hard, especially after normal club own in order to improve on my skills. This really helped me to develop my skills. Besides, playing for Abiola Babes and Calabar Rovers really gave my football a big lift because of the opportunity of playing continental competitions.

So what is the secret behind your dazzling skills?

Hard-work, dedication, listening to the coach’s instructions and being a team player most importantly was my real secret. Once you are a team player, you are bound to be loved by your colleague because often times, they are the architect of the team’s success.

How did you feel replacing Henry Nwosu in the Green Eagles?

I feel great but you must understand that there is always time for everything life. The truth is everybody has his time. And when you have that rare opportunity and you don’t use it well, it may never come back again.  So when my time came, I grabbed it and never allowed it to pass me by. Again, when I took over the midfield position from Henry Nwosu, he was already ageing and I had to step up my game to stamp my authority.

During the third place match at the 1992 Africa Cup of Nations in Senegal, you scored a goal and set up late Rashidi Yekini in Nigeria’s 2-1 win over Cameroon. How did you feel?

Well I feel delighted because whenever I am called upon to play for the national team, winning is the only thing on my mind. And when I can’t score, I always create chances for others to score. I am not a striker, but a good ball distributor, so when I scored one through free-kick and I was able to set up late Rashidi Yekini for the second goal, I did not hesitate to that. It’s a delightful thing for me because we got something from the tournament, which was a bronze.

Was Coach Westerhof responsible for  yourexit from the Super Eagles?

I don’t think so because it’s only God that has the power to demote anyone in life. And if God does not give you the power, there is nothing any one can do to demote anyone. Westerhof didn’t play any role in my exit from the Super Eagles. I had a good time in the team from the beginning when I represented the country in the under-age competition till my time in the Super Eagles. So I see no reason why I must point accusing fingers at a man for my downfall in any time in life. Westerhof was a nice man, someone that always wants the success of his players and doesn’t tolerate laziness. He will always want you to give your best to the team and I am one of those players he really worked on.

Is it true that your exit from the Eagles was because Westerhof prefers Austine Okocha to you?

I told you earlier that everything in life is about time and when your time comes, if you don’t take it, others are waiting in the wings to grab it. Diego Maradona was waiting in the wings for Mario Kempes to give up before grabbing his opportunity in the Argentina squad. One thing is certain; you can’t cheat age when it comes because it is a major factor too. You should know when your time is up. Austine Okocha is my brother, my friend and colleague, we meet and see every day. He came at the right time and I am so happy for him.  It is a pity that by the time he came into the team, I didn’t stay long, which meant we didn’t play together in the team. I thank God for his time and his contributions to the team and you must also know that after his retirement other players stepped into that position. Despite that Westerhof preferred Okocha, I don’t have any grudge with the coach or the player. It’s the coach’s choice which I must respect.

Any regret missing the Africa Cup of Nations in 1994 and the World Cup in USA the same year?

Everybody has different things to say when they miss any major competitions. But I must let you know that being alive today and in good health make me happy than any other thing in life. The players that represented Nigeria at the World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations didn’t disgrace us at all and I must thank them for their worthy representation. Of course, I feel bad not being part of the team that played at the World Cup because it’s every player’s dream.

Are you fulfilled as a player?

Well, I really can’t say because not playing at the World Cup makes me feel bad. However, you must know that there are other great players in the world that never played at the World Cup. Some even don’t have the opportunity of playing in the European Champions League despite been a good player. One thing is certain that I will always give glory to God for making me part and parcel of a football nation.

Did you ever turned down an opportunity of playing in Europe?

Not really. But I had the opportunity of playing in Africa and Saudi Arabia. As for playing in Europe, no way but I have had the chance of being there with the national team in the course of playing international friendly matches and training tours.

So what was your greatest moment as a player?

That was when I was invited to play for the national team. It was something I never really thought of because there were thousand and one players that the technical crew can select from. All my colleagues then were better than me but I was giving the opportunity to be in the team and I feel like I am in a new world.

Did your parent ever stop you from taking football as a career?

My parent didn’t have issue with me choosing football as a career. I played on the streets of Surulere in Lagos. In fact, in the course of playing street football, I’ve broken car windscreen and window glasses which may parent never cherished. They so much dislike me in that regard. But apart from that, my parent encouraged and supported me.

With the election of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari as president, what do you think he should do in order to improve the fortunes of sports?

He should appoint someone who understands football or sports generally as sports minister, if we must move forward. He shouldn’t just focus on football alone but on other sports such as Athletics, Boxing, Tennis, Basketball and many more. We need to go back to the grassroots too because if you appoint a minister who knows it all, he will be able to give you the very best. I think the government should realise that if someone has not played football or taken part in any sport, he should not be appointed as sports minister. In the past they say sport is for dropouts but now they are the one jostling for the position.