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Onuche Ogbelu: My recognition by Peseiro is great inspiration

A member of the 2023 AFCON U-20 bronze winning Flying Eagles squad, Onuche Ogbelu, has said his recognition by Super Eagles T...

A member of the 2023 AFCON U-20 bronze winning Flying Eagles squad, Onuche Ogbelu, has said his recognition by Super Eagles Technical Adviser, Jose Peseiro, as a future star, is a major source of inspiration as he pursues his professional career in football. In this chat with Trust Sports, the product of FOSLA Academy spoke on his days in the Flying Eagles and how he was able to overcome the disappointment of his exclusion from the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup.

 

How did you get into FOSLA Academy?

My name is Onuche Ogbelu. I am a graduate of FOSLA Academy in Karshi-Abuja. I joined the school in 2017 when I was 13 years old. I was selected during the annual scouting tournament by the school in the FCT. I represented the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) and was lucky to be among those who were selected and awarded a scholarship to study in the prestigious institution which combines football with education. So, that was how I got into the school where I acquired my Secondary School Certificate and also developed my football skills.

What would you say is so special about FOSLA when compared to other football academies in Nigeria?

Like I said earlier, in FOSLA Academy, education is combined with football. So, unlike other schools, FOSLA Academy takes care of both educational and football development of the students. The school is also partnering with some tertiary institutions like the Nasarawa State University where those with the requirements are offered admission to further their education while playing football. The school also has a team in the NationWide League One. The team is dominated by products of FOSLA Academy who are currently studying in different universities. All these make FOSLA Academy unique.

How early was your football talent identified?

My dad identified my football talent right from when I was still a teenager. And he did everything he could to support me. Therefore, when he learnt about FOSLA Academy and the opportunity for me to be given a scholarship to study in the school, he encouraged me to go for the screening and to the glory of God, I was one of the few that were selected. I am sure he is happy with what I have achieved for now. At least he has a son who has represented Nigeria even as a secondary school student. And by the grace of God, we are going to achieve more together. I am happy that my dad and mum encouraged me to play football.

How happy were you when you were first invited to the Flying Eagles?

The feeling can’t be explained. I was overwhelmed with happiness. In fact, my family and my school were all excited over my invitation to the Flying Eagles. When I got the invitation, I was still in SS2 so you can imagine the excitement. It meant so much for me because I never imagined myself playing for Nigeria as a secondary school student. I was surprised because I never knew my level or performance was enough to earn me a national team call-up.

What was your experience when you arrived at the camp of the Flying Eagles?

When I got there, I met older and more experienced players from the Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) and I asked myself how I was going to face them. I had to motivate myself that it was still possible for me to be a part of the team. I concluded that those who had extended an invitation to me must have seen something special in me so I motivated myself and began to fight for a place in the team. In the end, I succeeded to the glory of God.

Share your international debut experience with us…

It was a huge experience and a big plus to my football career. As a young school boy, my first international competition was an amazing experience. I won’t forget the first day I stepped onto the pitch to play my first match for Nigeria. Although as a second half substitute, I didn’t have enough time to express myself, I was extremely happy that I made my debut for Nigeria at such a young age.

After the WAFU B victory, you went on to represent Nigeria at the U-20 AFCON. Share your experience in Egypt with us.

Playing in the AFCON was indeed a dream come true for me. It was mind blowing as I played a key role in the Flying Eagles qualification for the 2023 FIFA World Cup in Argentina. I put in my best in all the matches and I am happy that even though we failed to win the trophy, we returned home with a World Cup ticket and bronze medals.

In the end, you didn’t make the World Cup squad. How were you able to overcome the disappointment?

Indeed, it was a huge disappointment but I didn’t allow that to weigh me down. I told myself that what happened could be a blessing in disguise. As a matter of fact, the proprietor of FOSLA Academy, Alhaji Sani Lulu Abdullahi, played his fatherly role very well. He said that I have a bright future ahead of me so I shouldn’t give up on my dreams. He also said if I keep working hard, one day I would be invited to play for the Super Eagles. My coaches also offered useful advice. After some time, I picked up myself and moved on with my life. That was how I managed to overcome that disappointment. So, I wasn’t depressed over what happened. It wasn’t possible for all of us to make the team.

Did you still follow the team’s performance in Argentina?

Yes, I did. I watched all the matches and also made out time to talk to some of the players to encourage them. We discussed the need for them to do more. I did all that because I was still a part of the group.

How would you assess the players’ performance and which of them impressed you the most?

In terms of overall performance, they did their best. They gave their best in all the matches. We all felt disappointed when the team was eliminated at the quarter-finals because the boys did everything possible to win. I will say the player who impressed me the most was Benjamin Francis. He is a special talent. I have so much confidence in him and he didn’t let me down.

What are your future plans?

I am already a professional player but I want to further my education. I can’t leave football so I want to combine it with education. I want to go to the university and still play the beautiful game.

How happy were you when Jose Peseiro listed you among his future Super Eagles players?

When I saw the comment by the coach, I felt highly motivated. It was a morale booster for me. It made me feel so special but I was challenged to improve on my game. I still feel I am making it to the top and I will keep working hard till I realise my dream of playing for the Super Eagles.

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