A former Green Eagles player, Fatai Yekini has said national pride rather than money was what motivated them to put in their best for the then senior national team. The former Mighty Jets, Leventis United and Ranchers Bees player spoke to Trust Sports on his football career and life in retirement.
What are the clubs you played for in the Nigerian football league?
I am Fatai Yekini, a former Green Eagles player. I played for the famous Mighty Jets of Jos from 1977 to 1980. From Jets, I joined Nigeria Standard FC also of Jos from 1980 to 1984. In 1984, I moved to Leventis United where I played from 1984 to 1987. When the club was disbanded, I returned to Jos to play for JIB Rocks. I played in JIB for one year. From there I moved to Kaduna to play for Ranchers Bees where I spent three seasons. In 1990, I returned home to Jos and played again for Mighty Jets where I played my club football till 1993 when I finally retired from active football. I also played in the national team, then the Green Eagles from 1978 to 1984. I was the one who handed over the captain’s band to Late Stephen Keshi. By this, I mean I was once a captain of the senior national team. When I retired, I proceeded to the National Institute for Sports in Lagos where I did a coaching course. At the moment, I am one of the coaches in Gee-Lec International Football Academy Jos. The academy is owned by Babawo, a leading football agent in Nigeria.
How was it like playing in the then Green Eagles of Nigeria?
It was a fantastic feeling to say the least. We understood one another and built our team right from the dining hall to the field of play. We would always motivate one another on and off the field of play. We shared what others didn’t have. Unlike modern day players, we were self motivated. We didn’t need much prodding to put in our best. I was in the national team at the same time with players like Late Stephen Keshi, Austin Eguavoen, Bala Ali, Chibuzor, Efan Ekoku and a host of others.
Did you represent Nigeria in any African Cup of Nations?
I was in the national team in 1978 when they left for Ghana. In 1980, I was dropped along with late Stephen keshi just a week to the Nations Cup which Nigeria hosted. I then went to Libya 1982. In 1984, I was suspended for reporting late to camp. I was then the captain of the team. So I didn’t attend the Nations Cup in 1984.
What would you say made players of your generation to always put in their best for the country?
Our motivation was simple. We wanted our names to ring a bell. We were not after money. The money we got was enough for us. Even if it was small, we were satisfied. We wanted to make a name for ourselves. Putting on the national team colours was enough motivation. We played for national pride.
Would you say those of you who served this country are given adequate compensation or recognition?
There is nothing like that for us. Many of us have nothing to show for serving this country. I just pray that something in this regard would be done and very quickly too so that the present generation will see and be motivated to put in their best.
They should be made to understand in words and deeds that it pays to serve this country. If not that you heard my name, you wouldn’t have known that you are next to a former Green Eagles player. You see, most of us gave our lives serving this country. By the way we walk now, you will see and know that we were thoroughly used but abandoned. Our bodies are not in good condition again.
So in concrete terms what do you think should be done by the relevant authorities to address this ‘injustice’?
We want to be compensated by the concerned authorities. It is sad to note that most of the former internationals, especially those who played in the Green Eagles are now like beggars. They have nothing to live on. No compensation or policies to accommodate them in the scheme of things in Nigerian football. Most of them didn’t go to school but spent their lives playing football. Now they have stopped, the legs are gone and there is nothing to sustain them. As we speak, there are so many green Eagles players who are battling different ailments but there is nobody to help them out. We are talking about Christian Chukwu but there are many others in even worse health conditions. It will help a lot if those of us who have acquired coaching certificates are fixed in national teams or recruited to serve as football coaches or directors in schools. This is what is happening in Brazil. When I went there, I discovered that their ex-internationals are assigned to scout for talents in schools.
With what you have said so far, will it be right to accuse the present Super Eagles of lack of patriotism anytime they ask for money to play for Nigeria?
These young men are smarter than us. They have discovered that most of us are poor because we didn’t demand for money in our time so now that they are paying actively, they want to be paid so as to save something for life in retirement. They want to have something to fall back on even if they stop playing tomorrow.
What are the chances of the Super Eagles at the 2019 AFCON in Egypt in June?
Really speaking we have a good side and the chances are quite high. We need to motivate the team. Once the coach and the players are given all the necessary motivation, the Super Eagles will do well
How soon do you hope to coach in one of the national teams?
Everything has its own time. I had applied to coach the different national teams without success but I believe in God’s time. When it is my time to coach at the national level, it won’t be difficult at all. At the moment, I am happy grooming these young talents. I really thank the proprietor of Gee-Lec for this opportunity.
Do you have any regret playing football at the time you did?
I don’t have any regret at all. Whether there was money or not, that name is enough. The name Fatai Yekini can never be erased from the history of the Green Eagles. It will be there forever. You are talking to me now because you discovered I represented this country. For me this is worth more than any amount of money in the world.
What is your advice to the present generation of football players?
I always advise them to plan for the future. Like our cameramen would say, he who plans his life, lives better. If you don’t plan your life, you won’t live a good life. You must be ready to save for the rainy day. I tell them not to put their five fingers in the mouth at once. Even if you are helping others, don’t forget to save because a time will come that your legs won’t carry you again.