A former Super Eagles midfielder, Oluwafemi Ajilore, has said missing out of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa was the lowest point in his career. In this exclusive interview with Trust Sports, the 2008 Beijing Olympic silver medalist and member of the FCT FA board spoke on his illustrious career and said the current decline in the Super Eagles fortunes is a result of lack of structure and continuity.
Looking back, how did you start your football career?
I started very early like every other kid. I think I started as early as six-year-old and to the glory of God, I pursued my dreams. As God will have it, it was what I wanted to do and I achieved it. I was privileged to play professionally for 18 years. So, it was a successful career for me. Whatever I have achieved for myself, my family and even for my community, is all as a result from what I benefited from the game.
How did you get your breakthrough in football?
As far back as 1999, I was privileged to play in a grassroots football competition where people came to watch us. In the process, I was invited to the national U-17 under the leadership of the then NFF president, Dr. Amos Adamu in Lagos. After then, I was privileged to play in Taribo West’s Academy and he was our hero and mentor. We had the opportunity of playing against the Super Eagles then at that tender age. Along the line, Churchill Oliseh who happens to be Sunday Oliseh’s brother saw me and invited me and two months after, I moved abroad to accomplish what I had been dreaming of to the glory of God.
When exactly did you retire from active football?
Officially, I stopped playing in 2017 and ever since then I have been doing a lot in my own capacity to see to the development of sports especially football in Nigeria. I am privileged to be a board member of FCT FA and doing some other things by the side.
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Still looking back to your playing days, do you have any major regrets?
I really don’t have any regrets playing football because I so much enjoyed the game while I was still active. Of course, I had some low times and one was my absence at the 2010 World Cup. I was actually part of the team during the qualifiers as I played in most of the games but a lot of things happened so I can’t really blame anybody. What really happened was that the coach who led us during the qualifiers, Amodu Shaibu, was asked to step down and they brought in Lars Largerback who had no time to see us. I remember we were in camp and there was no training at all. So, he just worked with the names and I will say I was unlucky not to have made the list. It really pained me because I had an existing contract with Adidas and a lot was already set aside as they believed I was going to be in the World Cup. So, I missed a whole lot, monetary wise, fame, market value as a football player. In fact, I was in my best form. At that time, I was playing for Groningen in the Netherlands. It was one of the top teams in Europe at that time. I expected a lot but it didn’t’t happen. I missed a lot as I didn’t’t make it to the World Cup.
What would you say is responsible for the current decline in the Super Eagles?
For me, there is a whole lot missing compared to our time and of course, what we are facing now didn’t just happen. It was building up gradually over the years. A lot of us complained about them but it goes beyond complaining. I think the major issue is lack of structure and continuity. We have many good players and we begin to wonder why they can’t replicate their club forms for the national team. This is due to the lack of structure and continuity as well as lack of adequate motivation. When I say structure, I mean integrating some of our local players into the national team so that when the professionals come, there will be competition and when there is competition, everyone gives their best.
When all these are in place, we will be rest assured because any player who will be picked knows that if he is not giving his best, another player will take his place. In our time, anyone coming in knows that there are other good players waiting behind to take over and that pushed us to give our best. Now, we see so many things happening. But not all the blame should go to the players. The administrators have their own blame. How can you owe players bonuses and allowances and expect them to give their best.
Football is funny that anything can happen and that can be the end and yet they are not being paid. This might affect their performance and may not want to give in their best. As for continuity, I mean players are invited and while they are waiting to be invited again, another player comes in. Our local league is another sector we have not fully built well and put right.
In concrete terms, were you owed money when you played for the Super Eagles?
In our time, we were lucky not to have issues with money because the NFF then did their best. We were lucky because the house committee on sports then supported us and that gave us a sense of belonging. We got what we deserved and I can’t remember being owed.
What advice do you have for the current leadership of the NFF?
We can see they are trying their best to repair the damages done. They are trying to put up structures which I think is good and I advise them not to relent and ensure they do everything possible to bring back our lost glory in football.