Lobi Stars and National U-23 player, Monday Akile, has said the failure of the ‘Olympic Eagles’ to qualify for the 2023 AFCON was a huge embarrassment. In this interview with Trust Sports, the former attacking winger who now plays as a left-full back for Lobi Stars spoke on his new role in his club, the failed bid for U-23 AFCON and Lobi Stars’ target in the ongoing NPFL abridged season.
How satisfied are you with your performance for Lobi Stars this season?
As you may be aware, I joined Lobi Stars from JM Liberty in 2019 and since then, I have become an integral member of the team. I give thanks to God because my present club is one of the biggest in the Nigerian league. To answer your question, let me say I am very happy and satisfied with my contribution to Lobi Stars so far but there is always room for improvement. I work harder every day to improve on my game and to be of greater value to the club.
At the start of the season, you were converted from an attacking winger to a left-full back. Were you surprised by the decision of your coach?
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Honestly, that decision came to me as a surprise and I thought it was going to be very difficult for me to play there. I had never played as a left-full back so it was not easy for me but the moment I accepted the decision of my coaches, I began to enjoy my new role. As a player, one has to be flexible. It is not good to say I must play in a certain position. Most times, players who are used in different positions find great favour with their coaches. Now, I look at myself as a utility player and it is helping my game.
How has this new position affected your performance?
I think I am not doing badly. The only thing is that I always find it hard to resist the urge to join the attack at the slightest opportunity. It gives me additional responsibility but I think my team is enjoying the benefits. I do go forward but I am always conscious of my defensive duties. My primary responsibility now is to defend. I am also hoping that very soon, I will start scoring goals from the left-full back position.
You sound as if you are comfortable in your new position and won’t mind staying there…
Well, for now, I am comfortable playing there but anything can happen tomorrow. It was the technical crew that found me worthy to play there and if tomorrow they discover I can serve the team better in another position. What is more important is for me to always be on the pitch for Lobi Stars. Moreover, it was on the basis of my performance in the position that I was invited to the National U-23 team. So, for me, it is even a blessing in disguise.
As a new left-full back, where do you derive your inspiration?
The moment I was drafted to the position, I took time to watch how some of the world class players in the position play. I have watched many videos of players like the legendary Marcelo of Brazil who played for Real Madrid. I also follow players like Chilwell of Chelsea, David Alaba formerly of Bayern Munich and now Real Madrid and Davies of Bayern Munich. On the local scene, I watch former Lobi Stars player, Ebube Duru who now plays for Rivers United. These players have proved their mettle in the position and watching them has helped me to settle into my new role. I watch how they join attack, deliver crosses and recover when their teams are defending.
Which of the matches was your toughest since you started playing in the new position?
I will say our opening match of the season against Rivers United was my first league match as a left-full back so it was not an easy one for me. It was difficult but against Rangers, it was much better. What is difficult about my new position is that one does not have to lose the ball carelessly. If that happens, you will find the opponents in your 18-yard box and it becomes dangerous. So, I have learnt to be more careful in my play. Unlike attackers, defenders don’t have the luxury of mistakes. Therefore, one is even forced to limit his touches on the ball.
Recently you played for the National U-23 team. How happy are you with this development?
Let me start by saying that it was a dream come true for me. It is the dream of every good player to play for his country. By the special grace of God, I am now a Nigerian international. It has been my dream but I never knew it would happen so soon in my career. As a matter of fact, playing for the National U-23 team in the 2023 AFCON qualifiers is my most memorable moment for now.
No doubt, it is a memorable moment for you but Nigerians are disappointed that the team failed to qualify for the U-23 AFCON and by extension the 2024 Paris Olympic…
Yes, just like other Nigerians, it was a difficult moment for all of us. It was not our intention to let the nation down but in the end, we failed to reach the 2023 AFCON. We did our best but luck deserted us when it mattered most. The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) gave us all the necessary support but it wasn’t meant to be. It was like a nightmare when it dawned on us that we won’t be part of the next AFCON. We all felt embarrassed by the loss because our aim was to justify the confidence reposed in us by our coaches and Nigerians.
Do you see your National U-23 experience as a gateway into the Super Eagles?
Yes, because my ultimate dream is to play for the Super Eagles. So, like an Oliver Twist, I am praying to God for more grace for me to have the opportunity to play for the senior national team. I want to play at the world’s biggest stage with the Super Eagles. I know it is not going to be easy but it is achievable. With hard work and the grace of God, I hope to serve my country at that level.
What is the target for Lobi Stars this season?
Our target is to qualify for the Super 6 and go on to win the 2023 league title. At the moment, we are leading the Group B table so we are confident that in the end, we shall be among the clubs that will proceed to Lagos for the playoff.
How prepared are Lobi Stars for the remaining league matches?
We have reached the business end of the season so we need no one to tell us that it is going to be tougher. We have concluded plans to win our next away match at Sunshine Stars. If we can’t win, then we should try and get at least a point. Our other two opponents are neck deep in relegation but we won’t take anything for granted. Clubs that are faced with relegation are usually dangerous.