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Ubong Ekpai: I am shocked by my exclusion from Rio Olympics team

How are you doing in your new club, Macaibi Haifa? It is a wonderful experience. I am experiencing a new life entirely and enjoying every…

How are you doing in your new club, Macaibi Haifa?
It is a wonderful experience. I am experiencing a new life entirely and enjoying every bit of it. I have since settled down and also learning new things. They have shown me so much love. At every training session, I learn something new. In all I can say my game has improved tremendously.

You were an integral part of the Dream Team VI but you are no longer with the team. What is the problem?
Coach Samson Siasia will be in a better position to answer that question. Personally, I am yet to know why I am not in that team. In the friendly match against Brazil, I scored the only goal that gave the team victory. I don’t know why I was not invited again to be part of the team that is preparing for the Olympics.

How disappointed are you by the exclusion from team?
If I tell you that I am not disappointed, I will be telling a big lie. Every athlete wants to be an Olympian so it was my dream to represent my fatherland at that level. Unfortunately that may not be possible now but I have not given up on my dream. Even if it does not happen now, it may happen in the future. In future, I can play as one of the over-aged players. Secondly, I have put that behind me. I have to look to the future. I have got a new club and I am thinking of how to make my mark in Europe.

So what are your expectations as the new season in Europe is about to commence?
My expectations are high but in my first year, I may not be playing for Macaibi Haifa. There are plans to loan me out to another club in Europe. So if everything is settled, I will be loaned out.

Are you surplus to requirement in the club?

Not exactly but the truth is that the new law allows for only five foreign players and I am the seventh foreigner to be signed by the club. They need only five at a time so instead of keeping me, they want to loan me out. I am not so sure yet but I may be heading to Czech Republic to play for one of the top clubs there.

How comfortable are you with the loan arrangement?
I have no problems with that. I am a professional and nothing gives me joy more than playing football. If I am not playing, I feel as if something is wrong with me. Moreover, I signed a three year contract so I still have enough time to play for the club.

How can you compare your experience in Israel and Nigeria?

There is no basis for comparison. Football in Europe is better organised in every way. There is better motivation, good pitches and better officiating. In the Nigerian League, you play but nobody motivates you. Most of the pitches are terrible. Like I said, I am experiencing something new.

So you must be happy that you have left the Nigerian Professional Football League?

Definitely but I want to say that the Nigerian League is also improving very fast. If they continue to bring on innovations, the league will only get better and in future players may be encouraged to stay back and play the game.

Would you say the planned NPFL All Stars tour of Spain is a step in the right direction?

It is a welcome development. It will help the players to improve on their game. They will gain more experience playing against more experienced players and clubs and that would impact positively on the clubs that they are representing in the local league. It is a good one and I commend the league organisers.

Are you sure you would have made the team, if you were still playing at home?
I cannot say yes because, in Nigeria, anything can happen. Nigerians are unbelievable. It’s hard to predict what will happen next. You can be so good but still you will be sidelined. I have learned from the Dream Team VI experience. So it’s possible that even if I were at home, maybe I wouldn’t have made the team.

What was your happiest moment in Akwa United?

My happiest moment in the club came when we won our first CAF Confederation Cup match against Vita Club of Congo. It was an away game in such a big competition and that was a special moment for all of us. Maybe those who played in the Federation Cup finals would say that was their best moment but for me, it was the Confederation Cup victory.

But Akwa United raised and dashed the hopes of their teeming fans right there in the Nest of Champions. What went wrong?
We did our best but I can tell you that luck was not on our side. We did everything. We were highly motivated but we couldn’t go beyond that stage because we were destined to end it that way. For many of us, it was the height of disappointment.

Would you say that is the worst moment for you in your career?
For now, I have not experienced anything worse than that. It pained me and it took many of us a while to get over that disappointment. We all wanted to reciprocate the support from the government and the good people of Akwa Ibom State.

You also played for Kano Pillars. How was the experience?
I can tell you that it was a wonderful experience. Nobody can play for that big club without having fond memories to share. The fans of Pillars are amazing and it was a fantastic feeling each time I stepped into the Sani Abacha stadium to play. I think I was popular among the fans. They loved my speed which I always put to good use anywhere I am playing. I had a swell time in Kano.

So why did you leave Pillars for Akwa United?
Everybody knows that Akwa Ibom is my state of origin and that is where I started my career. So when Akwa United qualified for the continent, they approached some of us to go back home and they came with big money so I had no choice but to leave Pillars. After all, Pillars used big money to take me away from Akwa United and Akwa also used bigger money to take my back from Pillars. Moreover, my fans in Akwa were missing me seriously. They were all happy when I returned home.

How did you start your career?

Like most Nigerian players I started very early. I first played for Ekpatex FC in Udung Oku before moving to Macito FC. From Macito, I joined Gateway FC Feeders of Abeokuta from where I returned home to play for Akwa Starlet. From Akwa Starlet, I was signed by Akwa United.

How much support did you enjoy from your parents when you chose to play football?
It was not easy at all. My father was highly against it but I remained adamant and when he died, I continued fully.  It is painful that is no more alive to see what I have achieved so far but my only consolation is that my mother is very much around to witness what I have become. My mother is my number one supporter. She fasts and prays for me regularly. Her motherly love and prayers have kept me going. As the last born, I used to trouble her a lot but now, I am her husband.

Who is your role model?

My role model is Sanchez who plays for Arsenal. I fell in love with him right from when he was playing for Barcelona. I love his game and I try to play like him. I like using my pace to beat defenders.

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