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Why we recorded Chile 87 disaster – Oliha

I was not really supported. I was discouraged, especially by my mother who wanted me to go to school.  She wanted me to go to…

I was not really supported. I was discouraged, especially by my mother who wanted me to go to school.  She wanted me to go to higher institution of which I complied, but latter dropped out along the way. It wasn’t easy for me at all. Unlike modern parents who buy for their children boots, jerseys and all that, my case wasn’t like that. I remember how I used to sneak out of the house just to play football for Bendel Insurance. Then, I was in secondary school. To ensure that I had my way, I decided to change my name from Gabriel Oliha to Thompson Oliha so that my parents won’t know that I was the one playing for Bendel Insurance. My father was an architect and didn’t like me to play football. His younger brother was a commissioner of police. Both of them usually talked about one Thompson Oliha, who was playing for Bendel Insurance. But, one day when the commissioner of police went to watch a Bendel Insurance match, he found out that the Thompson Oliha they had been hearing and talking about was actually me. Because of that I did not go home for days. But, when my name continued to ring a bell, my father called me to come back home, promising not to beat me. From there, he started supporting me.

Who was your football role model?

 During our own time, there were many great players. We had Segun Odegbami, Adokie Amiesimaka, Felix Owolabi, Felix Agbonifo, Nicholas Ukadike and others. Actually, I didn’t want to play like anyone of them, because all of them were too popular. Even if I wanted to play like them, I could never be like them. So, I decided to play my own game. But, I like the way Segun Odegbami and Felix Agbonifo were playing. They were really good players in their days.

Breaking into the Super Eagles is not always very easy.  How did you make it as a home-based player?

From Bendel Insurance, I was invited to play for the Flying Eagles in 1986. So, I was part of the Under-20 team that played in Chile in 1987. But we bowed out early in the tournament, not because we were not good enough, but a lot of things took place while we were in Chile. I remember there was this chicken they compressed. We were novice and started eating five of such chickens at a go. So, we started growing big buttocks and becoming very heavy.  Consequently we disappointed Nigerians. I was one of the outstanding players that were invited to the Super Eagles. From there, I became the only home-based player who played for the Super Eagles and commanded regular shirt in the Westerhof-tutored team.

Which outing as a Super Eagles player was most memorable for you?

That is certainly the match we played against Italy in USA’ 94 in which we lost 2-1 after leading with one goal for greater part of the match. It was an embarrassment to the whole nation, losing the match. Nigerians expected us to beat Italy and qualify for the quarter finals, but we were not God, it wasn’t to be. We bowed out because of lack of concentration or maybe we were inexperienced at that level. Whenever I watch the match again, I feel very bad. It refuses to leave my memory.

What made the Eagles of 90s, to which you belong, very tick and what are those qualities that were in your team which Eagles of today do not possess?

The Super Eagles that won the trophy in Tunisia did not start in 1994-it actually started in 1990. We were always playing together and anytime we were called upon, we were always there to do the country proud. So we were used to one another and always determined to win. Westerhof gave everybody an equal chance to prove themselves, be it home-based or foreign-based. Also, the then football administrators were always supportive and co-operative. So, everything was going very well for the team.  And Westerhof was not using too many players, something that made us very tick, except in some situations, when he noticed some lapses and introduced one or two players to fill up the gaps.

Your  career was cut short by a recurring knee injury before you clocked 30 years. How did you come to terms with the verdict that you had to quit football while your colleagues were still doing the business?

It was too early for me to have left active football when I did. I was operated upon in Turkey for a knee injury. It was a very bad experience for me; I did not enjoy it at all. I was then at the peak of my career. It actually stopped some millions of dollars from entering my pocket when I was about to sign a very good contract for a club in Turkey. The injury cost me a lot of things in life.  I was not happy about it at all. It wasn’t easy to accept, but what would I do?

You played alongside players of great qualities like Rashidi Yekini, Daniel Amokachi, Emmanuel Amunike, Finidi George, do you think the players in our team now possess such qualities?

The difference is not that much. I would say in our own days, we played with much determination and we believed we were playing for ourselves. The players of today play for big clubs in Europe and earn 30,000 to 40,000 dollars weekly. But anytime they come to play for their fatherland; they get peanuts for their efforts. So, they always would not like getting their legs broken for peanuts. The zeal is not there at all. Another thing is that players do not wait to mature very well before travelling abroad for professional career. They do not want to graduate the way we did. Even when we left the shore of the country, some of us went to very small clubs to gain more first team experiences, which latter helped us in our careers.

Nigeria league is far from what it is expected to be, what are the factors responsible for this?

It will be very difficult for us to develop our football when most clubs cannot pay their players sign-on fees, match bonuses and other entitlements. How do you expect such players to give their best? The Nigeria referees on their part don’t help matters. You see a situation whereby a referee gives you a red card for running too much on the field or tell your team that you cannot win this match no matter how hard you work. The administrators we have are not up and doing. Why can’t we have our league on television? Today we sign a contract for the live transmission of our league, tomorrow we cancel it. A lot have to change to have the league of our dream.

Lastly, your last match for the Super Eagles was against Italy at USA ’94 and a little while after you quit active football, what do you miss most in football?

 Money! Football money is like oil money; you see it in bulk and it goes afterwards. Every week your pocket is full, but after leaving football you don’t see money in bulk anymore. With such money you were always enjoying yourself, travelling from one part of the World to the other enjoying your holidays. The national team also take you to some parts of the World for camping, tournaments and friendly matches. So, money was always coming from every angle. But, since leaving football, such money has ceased coming in.


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