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Melai How I became Lobi Stars penalty taker

How did you start your football career?I started right from my primary school days in LGEA Wannune in Tarka Local Government area of Benue State.…

How did you start your football career?
I started right from my primary school days in LGEA Wannune in Tarka Local Government area of Benue State. It continued up to my secondary school and when I completed my SSCE, I settled for football as a career. In fact right from when I was small, I was made to understand that I have talent and would go places. So I said let me see how far I can go and it has been success all the way.
Did your parents support you when you started?
Yeah my father was a football lover and loved football so much. But my greatest support came from my mother who intervened whenever my father attempted to discourage me. Although she never knew football is a money spinner, she was happy that I was getting popular in the society.
When and how did you join Lobi Stars?
I joined Lobi stars in 2009. I was discovered by their youth team coach and coordinator. I was training with an academy in Gboko called Abaya Academy. They came to me and said I should join Lobi Feeders. I consulted my boss in the academy and he gave his blessings. In the same year, we played a friendly match against Lobi and Dominic Iorfa after watching the match and my performance said I should join the senior team. So I moved straight to the senior team.
Did your promotion to the senior team come to you as a surprise?
I cannot pretend that it was not a surprise. I least expected it to happen so soon. It was my happiest moment in football. Being invited to train with Lobi Stars alone was an achievement and when I was promoted to the senior team, it was another feeling entirely.
What challenges did you face when you joined the senior team?
The challenges were not much but in life everything you want to do must pose some challenges. So my biggest challenge was about experience. I had never played in the top flight before but luckily enough for me I had older goalkeepers to learn from. They were very supportive.
Who among the goalkeepers in the world is your role model?
There are so many good goalkeepers but if I am to choose one, it will be Petr Cech of Chelsea. Cech is keeping for the club that I support. I will also add Vincent Enyeama. Enyeama is like a big brother to me. He lives an exemplary life. I am looking forward to replacing him in the national team.
Last season, you scored seven goals from the spot. When and how did you start taking penalty kicks for your club?
 That was back in 2013. We were losing against Kwara United and when we got a penalty, one of the strikers wasted it. We lost the match 0-1. When we played against Dolphins, we were awarded a penalty and another striker threw it away. When we got the second, I decided to take it. I was convinced I was the only person who could do it. Austin Brown in goal for Dolphins had saved the first but I scored the second. From that day, everybody had confidence in me. Each time we were awarded a penalty and the strikers got afraid, I would go and score. At a point, our boss said in every department there must be an HOD. So I became the HOD of penalty kicks in Lobi.
What is Lobi Stars target in the coming season?
The dream of every club is to do well. Ours is not an exception. Our aim is to win a trophy for the people and government of Benue State. We want to win a continental ticket. And on a personal level, I want to improve by scoring more goals and conceding less so as to get a national call up or get a deal abroad.
You have won so many Player of the Month Awards but you are yet to get a national call-up. How disappointed are you?
I am not disappointed because it is not yet my time. I have been waiting but the decision is with the coaches. As one who has been consistent in the league, I expected a call up but God’s time is the best. The snail moves slowly but surely gets to its destination. So I believe when my time comes, I will be invited. I am working hard and waiting.
Looking back, which match was your best last season?
I can say it was our match against Kano Pillars in Kano. We lost the match 2-0 but I did very very well. In fact after the match, their goalkeeper and captain, Theophilus Afelokhai called me and encouraged me to keep it up. He said I would go places.
And what was your worst match?
My worst match was against Nembe City. We played 2-2 but I conceded a goal direct from the corner kick and for a goalkeeper that was very bad. I was so disappointed in myself.
How do you prepare for a match?
Normally I rest very well and I play some gospel music. After that I pray to God. In fact there is one other secret. I used to call my mum before every match and now I call her and my wife to pray for me.
What do you have to say about the win at home by all means syndrome in the Nigerian league?
There is one thing I tell people. This win at home by all means thing is not about referees. It is about the attitude of players when they are playing at home or away. When you are playing at home, you see it as your responsibility to win. Consequently, when teams play at home, they are more offensive than when they play away. The attitude at away matches is different from the attitude at home. Teams don’t push hard when they are playing at away.
Having been in Lobi for six years now, what is your candid assessment of the vice-chairman, Dominic Iorfa?
Dominic is a seasoned administrator. He loves football so much. He has spent all his life in football. We are lucky to have him as our boss. He goes the extra mile to motivate his players. He cares about our personal problems. It is not something that every Nigerian club boss does. He is a wonderful man.
Goalkeepers are not always in hot demand. Do you have any regret being a goalkeeper?
No, I don’t have any regret but I always feel sad that goalkeepers don’t get noticed like field players. I believe that in everything there are exceptions. It is not every goalkeeper that kept for Nigeria that has been successful but I look up to someone like Vincent Enyeama. He and one other Cameroonian who are all doing well in Europe. I believe one day I will be like them. I believe my career is not going to end in the Nigerian league.
Last weekend, Nigerian clubs shone brightly in continental competitions. How happy are you with their performances?
I am highly impressed. It is good for the league. For the past three years we have not done well in the continent. Now we can talk of positive change. All the clubs did well. Even Dolphins that lost narrowly did very well.

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