Mercurial midfielder, Joseph Atule jnr, has revealed that non-payment of his salaries was one of the reasons he left his home club, Lobi Stars for Nigeria’s most successful club, Enyimba. In this interview with Trust Sports, the former Katsina United star player spoke on Enyimba’s early exit from the CAF Champions League. He also said when he was with Lobi Stars, he lost his father during the Super 6 tournament in Lagos but kept on playing as a mark of honour for him.
How disappointed are you with Enyimba’s early exit from the CAF Champions League?
It was a disappointing one because we played our hearts out but at the end of the day, we couldn’t get the goal we were looking for. It was a sad moment for the fans and the players. It was hard to believe that we couldn’t get that vital goal.
What would you say was responsible for the failure?
I must say nobody in particular as we worked as a team. We did everything but we were unlucky that day. So, I will say luck was against us.
In what way did the absence of your technical adviser, Finidi George, on the bench contributed to the loss?
I would say it didn’t contribute to the loss that much but without any doubt, his absence was felt because he is the head of the technical crew. However, I don’t want to completely blame the failure on his absence on the technical bench.
How is this loss going to affect Enyimba’s performance in the 2024 season which is starting in a few days time?
Every disappointment is a blessing as we have learnt our lessons. Believe me, we are working very hard and by God’s grace, we will retain the title again. There is no need for us to keep crying over what has happened. We have resolved to move on.
You will be starting against Insurance who ended last season unbeaten, what are your expectations?
It will be a tough game as they will play with a lot of confidence after their continental victory and qualification. It will be a great game and I look forward to it. I like such games to showcase my talent.
You made the Best Team of the 2023 NPFL season and won the League Bloggers Best Midfielder award, how happy are you?
I was very happy as it is something I have always wanted to win. When I started playing, I told myself that I want to win awards. I have put in a lot of hard work and determination to win the award. I saw it coming.
What would you say was your happiest moment in the NPFL last season?
It was when I helped Lobi Stars to reach the Super 6 Championship Playoff and to also qualify for the inaugural edition of the Naija Super 8 tournament.
And what was your saddest moment?
Without a doubt, it was during the Super 6 Championship when I lost my father who meant everything to me. It was a fatal blow.
Despite the irreparable loss, you played the Championship to the end. Where did you derive the strength?
My father was my greatest supporter. He was a sports lover and when I was going for the Super 6, I called him and he told me to make him proud. He told me many things would come my way. When he died, I felt he had told me something and that alone made me stay behind to play for him.
Lobi Stars did well in the group phase but put up a dismal performance at the Championship playoff. What would you say was responsible for the poor performance?
I blame the Benue state government for that because when we were in Lagos, there was no support for the team. The government owes players. They still owe me three months. And you know when players are not paid, there is little motivation.
Is that why you left Lobi Stars for Enyimba?
I wanted a fresh challenge and to play in the continent. Even though we are out of the CAF Champions League, we will be playing in the CAF Super League which will be a great opportunity for me to showcase my talents. But this is just the secondary reason. The main reason was the fact I am owed salaries. I am a professional and I have a family to take care of.
You were linked with many clubs in the NPFL, why did you settle for Enyimba?
I really wanted to play in the Super League and Enyimba being the biggest club in Nigeria, when they came for me, I had to choose them. For them to come for me, it meant I had made it.
Considering the recent failure of Enyimba, do you have any regret joining the ‘People’s Elephants’?
I don’t have any regrets. Within the short time I have been with them, I know we are a very good team. We are going to prove ourselves in the Super League. Many people don’t believe in us but we will prove them wrong as we will be playing against Africa’s biggest clubs.
What is your message to Lobi Stars fans who feel you should have stayed a little longer in the club?
I love every one of them as the love they showed me was massive. I miss them and I want them to know that I will come back in future.
How soon are you hoping to play for the Super Eagles?
It has always been my biggest dream. It is my dream to represent Nigeria one day and when it comes, I assure Nigerians that I will put in my best. I know the stuff I am made of. Even now, I am ready to play for the Super Eagles.
How will you rate NPFL’s preparations for the kickoff of the 2023/2024 season?
I can say it is encouraging especially as they have said games will be streamed online and some will be televised live. It will be good for the image of the league. I am glad they are promoting the league and this will be a good platform for the clubs and the players to market themselves.