A former national U- 20, U- 23, Super Eagles of Nigeria defender and now coach of Lobi Stars FC of Makurdi, Odeh Ogah in a recent interview with The Voiceports’ TERFA ALAGHGA, said his dream was to play professional football in Europe but he could not achieve the dream and now as a coach, he would work towards becoming one of the coaches that would win the NPFL and the FA Cup even if he could not go professional coaching abroad. He also spoke on other issues. Excerpts:
How and when did you begin playing football?
I started my career in football way back in Otukpo with Kazim FC of Otukpo, a grassroots team. I played there for sometime after which in 1996, the coach of Obeya Babes FC of Otukpo, Tony Alote, a Ghanaian took me to Sharks of Port Harcourt feeder team when he was to sign for Sharks FC as a coach. Mid season in the same 1996, coach Alote got an offer to report to the Steel Pioneers FC of Warri as the Head Coach and he asked me to go him which I obliged. The Steel Pioneers FC was then playing in the National Division Two, the Amateur League in 1998. I left them for also another Division Two side, Delta Force FC also based in Warri
How did Lobi Stars Fc notice you?
It was in the process of playing for Agatu local government in the Governor Cup, that Lobi Stars FC noticed me and invited me to the club which I started playing for in 2000. That was the era of Godwin Uwua as coach, Mike Idoko as Team Manager of the club. In that same year that I joined Lobi Stars FC, they were also playing in the Continental but because I did not begin the season with them, they did not register me for the continental tournament and it was when they qualified for the second round of the tourney, that I was registered.
Did you have an opportunity to play for the national team?
Yes. When we were playing in both the league and continental matches in Lobi in 2000, Sunny Ibeji and I were discovered and invited to the U – 20 camp.
Who really invited you to the camp?
Coach Ben Duamlong did but after some time, he left the team for Coach Stephen Keshi. We played the qualifier matches and that was when we were shuttling between the national team and Lobi Stars. In 2003, Lobi won the FA Cup by beating the Sharks FC of Port Harcourt in Kaduna and after the 2003 league season, Enyimba FC of Aba gave me an invitation to the club but when I discussed it with my then boss, Dominic Iorfa, he asked me to turn down the offer because he still needed my services in Lobi.
Did you from there sign for a club abroad?
We all returned to Nigeria and I continued with Enyimba FC. In April, 2007 my manager called me from Lagos and asked me to join him and that there was an emergency call for me to travel to Cyprus for professional football. I left Aba without informing anybody.
Why did you have to do that?
That was because in 2005, I had a similar offer, to travel to Sudan but they stopped me and that was why when thus second opportunity came, I declined informing them. Before I got the Cyprus Embassy in Lagos for my visa, and while on board the flight to Lagos from, the pilot announced in the plane that an error had been dictated and so they would have to turn back and transfer all the passengers on board to another flight which they did and rather than flying straight to Lagos, they went through Abuja and before they got to Lagos, the officer who was supposed to process my visa and hand over to me had left so my manager called the president of the club in Cyprus which I was to sign for who advised that we make the trip the next day. Because of the stress occasioned by the long journey from Aba to Owerri via Abuja to Lagos which I embarked on and the possible hold up on the way, I told my manager that I would mount a bike that would take me home without delay so that I could rest my nerves before the next day. On our way home on the bike, we were hit by a ‘Danfo’ bus. That was how my dream of playing professional football in Europe died off.
How did you receive the message, telling you that, you can’t continue in the field of play again?
I felt as if the whole world had caved in on me because I was still very much eager to continue with my playing career because I saw that the future was bright for me in football. I knew, I knew I was doing well and still young.
What steps did you take after all the three confirmatory messages by the orthopaedic about your inability to continue playing?
Immediately after I received that message, I called Dominic Iorfa who was still Lobi’s Vice Chairman and because we were very close as friends and when I did, he asked me to come back home but I told him that the management of Enyimba FC were still paying my salaries and it wouldn’t look nice if left them and when they finally disengaged me, I returned to Makurdi. The management of Enyimba FC were not happy with me because I travelled without their consent. When I returned, Iorfa asked me to join the Technical crew of Lobi Stars FC,cwhich I did and after some months, he said since he wouldn’t be staying in Lobi forever and so would not want me to be put under after he had left the team, he sent me to the National Institute for Sports NIS for a coaching course. He paid my school fees throughout my duration of stay in the school, paid all my bills and still was paying my salaries without any deductions.
How do you see Dominic Iorfa, for this singular gesture which he demonstrated to you?
I see Dominic Iorfa as God sent in my life.
What were the challenges that you faced during your play days?
Honestly, I did not see anything as a challenging moment during my play days and that is because I was the one that chose football as my career and so I gave all that I could and attention and never allowed anything to be a distraction that would make me feel it was a challenge. I did not even think of anything that would hurt my feelings. All I thought of was my football career and never saw anything else but focused on my career. I was not the going out type, staying late nights also was not in my character and so was just committed and focused because I had a target and was working towards it.
What is the difference between the style of play of your time and that which is witnessed today?
The difference is much. Now they don’t think about the game but the money involved. We played with joy but the money was not there the way it is now. They now put money ahead of the career which we never did.
The home and foreign based players, which do you prefer for the national team?
No matter what, you cannot rule out the experience. There are times experience counts in the game of football and that is where. What the foreign based players can withstand in the course of the game, the home based can’t. Forget about what these boys play in the local league because when you travel out of the country to play, there is a kind of spectators that you see from which tension catches you at once. You can inject the local league players into the team gradually, in order to motivate those at home to work harder to earn the ticket to play the national team as well.
On the aspect of coaches, which do you prefer?
I passed through local coaches but I want to say here that everything lies in the understanding. It is all about how a coach would relate to a player such that when you give a player the jersey to play for you, he can die for you.
Playing under late coaches Stephen Keshi and Austin Eguavoen, which of them would you say motivated or inspired you?
Eguavoen, and the reason is that for him to have invited me to the national camp really motivated me. Do you know how many millions of players in there wishing to be called to the national team? I had the opportunity. When we were in Portugal camping, Daniel Amokachi was really inspirational to me. Knowing that I came from Benue state where he too came from, he called me Ochi ‘Idoma and we related as brothers. After training, he would be encouraging me to sit up, push harder and I was doing as he wanted me to.
What are your regrets?
I had wished to play professional football in Europe. That was my dream and when it did not come true, I said well, only God who knows why it happened that way and I took it in good faith may be God had other good plans for me.
What is your advice for upcoming players?
They should understand that life after football is more difficult. It is better they plan their lives very well now that they are still playing football actively.
Now as a coach, what is your dream?
If cannot handle a team outside the country, let me be one of the coaches that would be winning the league, the FA Cup and other Laurels as well.
How are you working towards that?
Because all the coaches that I work under, I am learning from them keenly and I believe that by the grace of God, I will achieve that dream.