Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Tunde Oyedoyin
[email protected]
London, UK

For Wole Odegbami, there is life outside of football

fter the exit of the Mathematical Segun Odegbami from the Nigerian soccer scene, football enthusiasts were just settling down to the emergence of another set of legs from the Odegbami family product line with the advent of his younger brother, Wole.

Determined to continue from where the former Super Eagles skipper left off, Wole soon became a nightmare for many defenders and goalkeepers alike. His name must have featured prominently on the match notes of opposing teams' coaches and tacticians.

Good ball control, swerving body movements and good runs on the right flank, were enough characteristics to guarantee him a place in the hearts of those whose habit of watching the round leather game revolved around entertainment. He was at different times, drawing his wages from Leventis United of Ibadan, JIB Rocks of Jos and Iwuanyanwu Nationale of Owerri. Coupled with some appearances in the national colours, he looked set for a long and fulfilling career on the pitch of play. But ask the likes of Arsenal's Robert Pires, Real Madrid's Ronaldo and Manchester United 's Roy Keane, they all have stories to tell about the menace of injury in the life of a soccer star. Wole too had his, but it has made him look in another direction while the others staged their comeback after career threatening operations.

Its been almost nine years since coming to London and when injury dealt him a devastating blow, it gave him the opportunity to reflect and it was then it dawned on him that: "you cannot play football forever". At the wedding ceremony of his niece recently, he told me: "I've gone into software development, I went back to the University of East London, got a degree and I'm now a Systems Programmer." But why didn't you consider taking up a coaching career? To him, its not his idea of a dream job. 'No, I don't think its the type of job I will like to do, I mean coaching is good in itself, but it is a thankless job" The conversation went further:

Q: But they get good money

Ans: Where, in Nigeria?

Q: No, here.

Ans: Yes, even though they get good money, its still a thankless job. How many of them last four or five years in a job?

Q: Are you contemplating a career in football in any other capacity?

Ans: No, no, no, I would work with my brother in his consultancy business, that is, the IT related part of it, but not to play or be a coach. His business is growing now and he will need IT to make it bigger, that's where I come in.

Q: But what really made you turn your back on football?

Ans: I had a serious knee injury and went for an operation, that gave me time to reflect on my life and what i'll like to do in future. I was off for about a year and I said, why just sit at home doing nothing? I was academically inclined and I said to myself, why not get a degree?

Q: What was your brother's reaction?

Ans: He was very happy.

Q: How would you rate the Super Eagles, judging by their performance in Japan and South Korea?

Ans: Now that you mentioned that, I followed it closely and set up a forum for it on the internet for people to discuss Nigerian football and I got quite a lot of response, I still have it there. I hope that we've learnt from the World Cup, in my opinion, we went there not very well prepared and even with that lack of preparation, we saw what we could. With a little more preparation, we would have achieved a lot. We've always had the talent, but the cycle of bad management keeps going round and round, it shouldn't happen again, we have to learn from it.

Q: What would you say to aspiring young football talents, should they give the game their all or carry their academics along with it?

Ans: Its a matter of personal preference, my family insisted that I get an academic qualification before starting to play. Even while playing for Leventis United and all that, I was going to school, I was at the Polytechnic, I got HND in Accounting before embarking on professional football and that was good then. But now, the kind of money they make, you don't need to study" if 'you can make it big time. There's a big 'If "to it, but if you don't make it, what do you fall back to? But if you make it, you don't need academics, but you need education. Academics doesn't cover all education, so you need education.