16-year old Emmanuel Ukeyima who is the rave of the moment in Mighty Jets football club of Jos has said he is working hard to be in the next squad of Nigeria’s national U-17 team, the Golden Eaglets. In this interview with Trust Sports, the Benue State born teen sensation spoke on how he was awarded scholarship by Mees Palace Football Academy Jos, how he is combining education with football, what he wants to achieve in the NNL with Mighty Jets and his future plans.
You recently won Man of the Match Award in the pre-season encounter between Mighty Jets and Giant Brillars. How happy are you?
I am extremely happy and I dedicate the award to God almighty, my immediate family and Mees Palace Football Academy where I honed my football skills. I can’t leave out my coach in Mighty Jets for his confidence in me and my manager and guardian, Emmanuel Jekelle as well as all those who have supported my dream in one way or the other. This award is for all of us.
At 16, you signed for Mighty Jets FC. How did it happen?
Personally, I didn’t come to me as a surprise because I always believe in my abilities. I joined the Jets from Mees Palace Football Academy where I have been learning how to play the game since 2019. I was discovered in Makurdi by Mr Emmanuel Jekelle who enrolled me into his football academy, EmmyJeks from where he took me to Mees Palace. After a successful trial, I was awarded a scholarship and I am now a final year student in Saint John’s College Jos. So, Mees Palace is responsible for my education. It was from the academy that Mighty Jets scouted and signed me in September.
Considering your age, are you not afraid to play against bigger players?
It is not a problem because football is not only about power or strength. When you have football sense, you are stronger and more powerful than the biggest player on the field. I am never afraid of any opponent because right from when I started, I have been playing against older players. That has toughened me and now I don’t think any opponent can intimidate me. When they approach me with power, I deploy my skills to subdue them.
What are your expectations now that you will be playing in the Nigerian National League (NNL) at such a tender age?
I see it as an opportunity for me to make a big statement and also market myself. I am praying to God to enable me with the ability to cope with the new challenges. Moreover, I am inspired by the stories of other youngsters like Lamina Yamal who only recently made his international debut at the age of 16. He plays in the LaLiga for Barcelona and the Spanish national team. If my age mate can do big things in a big league like LaLiga, I have no excuse not to do the same in the NNL.
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How do you combine your education with football?
It would have been difficult but Mees Palace has made it easy for us. Saint John’s College is a boarding school so we have a bus that takes us to the training ground and back to school. So, once we are done with our lessons for the day, the bus comes to take us to the training ground. Therefore, it has not been too stressful. This is one of the reasons that I will forever be grateful to Mees Palace for the scholarship. I am effectively combining my education with football.
How much support do you enjoy from your parents?
Unfortunately my dad is late but my mum has been so supportive. I miss her so much because she is in Makurdi while I am here in Jos. However, we communicate a lot. She encourages me to keep working hard. My mother advises me to stay away from bad friends. She also says I shouldn’t take what does not belong to me. On my part, I am trying my best not to let her down. I want to be successful in my chosen career to give her at least the basic things of life. I know she is passing through a lot at the moment but it will be alright. It is just a matter of time.
You also represented Plateau United at this year’s NPFL/LaLiga Youth League in Ikenne. How was the experience?
It was a lifetime experience because being my first major competition as a player, I learnt so many new things. I was also happy with my performance. Even as a midfielder, I wanted to score many goals but I ended up scoring only one goal. However, I provided five assists and my team finished in second position, So, overall, it was a successful outing for me and the team.
How soon do you hope to play for Nigeria?
With the way I am progressing, I don’t think it will take long for me to represent my country. I want to start with the national U-17 team, the Golden Eaglets. So, my immediate target is to be in the next squad of the team. I know it is not going to be easy but I believe in my abilities. Once a level playing ground is provided, I won’t have any problem. Football is a practical thing. It is not theory so when the time comes, God will make it possible for me to be among those who would be screened. I will do everything possible to make the next squad. That will be a launch pad for me. From Eaglets, I hope to graduate to the Flying Eagles and by the special grace of God, the senior national team, the Super Eagles. This is my dream and I will pursue it vigorously. I know it will happen not by my might but by the special grace of God.
Who is your role model?
My role model is Toni Kross who plays for Real Madrid. I want to be like him because he is an intelligent player. I like his touches on the ball and the way he kicks the ball. He is one of the best passers of the ball in the world. Most times, I sit to watch his video clips and I gain a lot.
Who is your best player in the Super Eagles?
Victor Osimhen. Although we don’t play in the same position, I like his fighting spirit. He is a businessman on the field. He always wants to score goals. I like people who are committed to what they are doing. I hope to meet with him one day.
Apart from football, which other sport do you like?
If I am not playing football, I play basketball. I like to shoot into the net. So, if I were not a footballer, I would have played basketball.