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Joseph Atule: My target is to emerge 2023 NPFL highest goalscorer

Lobi Stars’ newly signed attacking winger, Joseph Atule ‘Masaty’, has said his ultimate ambition in the ongoing Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL), the abridged season…

Lobi Stars’ newly signed attacking winger, Joseph Atule ‘Masaty’, has said his ultimate ambition in the ongoing Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL), the abridged season is to emerge the highest goalscorer. In this interview with Trust Sports, the 22-year-old former Katsina United star who played for Cleopatra FC and El Makasa of Egypt spoke on why he joined Lobi Stars, his first league goal for the ‘Pride of Benue’, and what fans should expect from the former Nigerian champions.

Congratulations. You scored your first league goal for Lobi Stars against Rangers. How happy are you?

Thank you so much. As a striker, I feel very very happy that I scored the goal that gave us our first victory in our first home match in the current season. I am hoping to build on that achievement to score more goals for Lobi Stars.

It was a very tough match. They had chances in the first half and missed. We also missed but in the second half everyone came out to play. And as the match progressed, we showed more hunger for the three points and as God would have it, another opportunity fell kindly to me and I didn’t make any mistake. It was a snapshot that took the opponents’ goalkeeper by surprise. But overall, it was a very difficult match.

What is your personal target for the season?

What I do is that for every season, I challenge myself that if I am not going to emerge the highest goalscorer in the league, then I must be the highest goalscorer in my club. So, it is the same target that I have set for myself. I am not going to be selfish but anytime I have the opportunity to score, I will do my best to get the ball into the net. But my first ambition is to emerge the highest goalscorer in the league even as we are going to play fewer matches because the league is abridged.

Are you not putting yourself under pressure?

I am used to it. I did it before but I went on to deliver for my former club Katsina United. When I was there, I was consistent in scoring goals. So, it is all about one’s mindset. When you set a target and work towards it with self belief, there is nothing like pressure. Instead of pressure, targets when achieved lead one to pleasurable moments. So, I don’t think I am putting myself under any form of pressure.

A tree, they say, does not make a forest. How do you intend to achieve your set target?

I am playing in a team that has quality players who can assist me with good passes. When you are playing as a striker and you are starved of quality passes, it limits your chances to score goals. But in Lobi Stars, there are quality players who are well experienced so it makes it easier for us to play. Apart from that, we are like one united family. We always play for one another. So, even as I talk about emerging the highest goalscorer either in the league or in my team, I am not going to undermine the overall interest of the club. I will always put the interest of Lobi Stars before any personal ambition.

Since the league is abridged, how prepared are you to face congested fixtures?

We are all prepared for it. Right from the time we heard there were plans for us to play abridged league, we began to prepare so as not to be taken unawares. We are ready to make any sacrifice. We know that there are going to be more matches in quick successions but we are not losing any sleep over this. We are professionals.

Don’t you think congested fixtures would affect the quality of play or the standard of the league?

Of course, it will affect the standard of the league because when players are involved in so many matches within a short period of time without time to recover, it usually has an adverse effect on their output. And to make matters worse, almost all the clubs cover long distances by road to play away matches. Unfortunately, the deplorable condition of Nigerian roads exposes us to so many hazards. Apart from road accidents, there is the problem of fatigue. When there is fatigue, it is also very easy for players to sustain injuries. Therefore, I agree with those who were sceptical about playing abridged league. However, the league organisers are also trying to see how we can harmonise our calendar with other countries so we all must support them.

What informed your decision to join Lobi Stars?

When I couldn’t go back to Egypt immediately, I wanted to go to Kwara United but on a second thought, I remembered that Lobi Stars had been on my trail even before I travelled out. So, when they kept calling, I decided that there is no place like home. I am happy that I made the decision to play for my mother club.

Considering that Lobi Stars struggled to escape relegation last season, were you not afraid that a similar fate might befall you?

Honestly, I was not happy with the way Lobi Stars struggled against relegation last season. In fact, even as I was not in the country, I continued to pray for them to survive and remain in the topflight. Thank God my prayer was answered. So, when they called on me again, I saw every need to come and help the club. I don’t want Lobi Stars to struggle again. I hope that my presence will inspire other players. Instead of fighting against relegation, we are going to fight for a continental ticket.

How much are Lobi Stars motivated under the leadership of the vice-chairman, Dominic Iorfa?

He has been a wonderful motivator. As a former international who has seen it all, he knows exactly how to motivate us. He has made our welfare a thing of priority and that is indeed a great motivation. In fact the government and people of Benue State are fully behind us.

How painful was Lobi Stars’ opening day loss at Rivers United ended?

We all felt sad because we deserved at least a point in that match. We gave everything but it was not meant to be. Everybody in the stadium knew that the added time was up but for inexplicable reasons, the referee allowed the match to continue. Even our opponents were tired of playing so I think they were surprised when the opportunity to win the match was handed to them on a platter of gold. But we gave them a good fight.

Having played in Egypt, how do you compare the Egyptian league with the Nigerian league?

The league in Egypt is far ahead of the Nigerian league. It is better organised in terms of world class facilities and good officiating. VAR is used in Egypt so even when you are playing away, you feel as if you are playing at home. 

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