By DICKSON OKAFOR
Kanu Nwankwo’s Football Academy received a boost recently as Blue Diamond Boss, Mr. Festus Mbisiogu, partners the Nigerian Sports Ambassador on sports development at the grassroots.
The former captain of Super Eagles and former Special Adviser to Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State on Youth Matters, Kanu said the present administration in Imo is giving sports development adequate attention, which according to him, led to the winning of the Federation Cup by Heartland Football Club after 18 years. He revealed his plan to register Papilo Football Club to participate in the Nigerian league, stressing the reason he decided to partner Mr. Mbisiogu on sports development and the origin of street football in Imo.
Under what capacity did you serve the Imo State Government?
I was appointed Special Adviser to His Excellency, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State on Youth Matters until recently when he dissolved his cabinet. On assumption of office, Okorocha introduced street football. It is about giving those who had no opportunity to play in the national or other leagues a chance to play football. So far, a lot of talented players have been discovered through street football. Don’t forget I grew up in Owerri and Street football had been on for over five years before the coming of Okorocha’s government.
Though it did not receive adequate attention from past administrations, hence, in his quest to develop sports, especially at the grassroots, Okorocha invited me to help keep youths out of trouble and so far, it had worked in no small measure towards talent discovery in soccer. During the first edition of street football tournament, the governor donated a cup, but he didn’t know that the cup was a morale booster until he came to flag off the fourth edition of the tournament, it was then he realised that he had kick-started what is today, the greatest soccer hunt in Africa. At the end of the tournament, His Excellency gave out the cup to the finalist.
You played a great role towards ensuring that Heartland won the FA cup after 18 years, what magic did you and the state Ministry of Sports applied?
That was a groundbreaker for Okorocha for Heartland to have won the FA cup after 18 years. This happened because sports are given attention by the present administration. Okorocha engaged people like us in the administration of sports immediately he assumed office. So, when we came on board, sports, especially soccer, became better with the support of Okorocha. Also, I won’t talk about the success of that team without mentioning my friend and brother who had made Nigeria, Africa and the black race proud in the global arena, Mr. Festus Mbisiogu, President, Blue Diamond Group.
When we met in the United States and I briefed him of the challenges the team was facing, he did not only assist the team financially, he was at the National Stadium with Governor Okorocha to cheer the team to victory. Mbisiogu, had been of immense support to Kanu Nwankwo Football Academy. We also started what we call, Imo League, where teams from the 27 local government areas (LGAs) competed for a trophy. The fun of it is that it fosters unity and enables the teams to get to know themselves and communities in the state better. Imo League is a unifying factor for youths. For instance, some of these youths don’t know how many LGAs that make up Imo State.
Some of them have not been to the other LGAs. But today, those from Mbaise can go to Orlu or Mbano to play football. It’s all about bringing them out from the negative to the positive side of life and channel their energy towards productive ventures. Most of them are gifted to play football, but they don’t have the opportunity, hence through Imo League, some of them are playing in the national and other leagues today. When the league was launched by Okorocha, all the television stations were there and beamed it live. Also that was the very first time Super Sports broadcast ran live commentary on local football tournament. We call Imo League, the mother of all leagues.
Recently, you partnered the Blue Diamond boss for football development at the grassroots through your football academy, can you throw more light on this?
When I heard and saw the exploits of the man behind Blue Diamond Group globally, I was impressed. The name Blue Diamond is precious. A brand in the global arena and I’m delighted to be associated with Mr. Festus Mbisiogu. We have known each other for a very long time, and I know his antecedents in business hence, he is one among few Africans who have integrity. Those you can trace their source of wealth, those who became successful through hard work and honesty. I took time to say this much about Mbisiogu because though, Kanu is partnering Blue Diamond boss, it is because we are alike in so many ways.
We think alike and we have the same vision which is, how to better the lives of Nigerians, especially the less-privileged. Of course, we don’t blow our trumpet yet, we are doing much to improve the lives of those Nigerians who have nobody to help them. We are not noise-makers. I call him brother because his humility and love for others is a challenge to me and those who know him. I love him because he is giving back to the society as he is one of those who don’t think about themselves, but others. So, he has done a lot of humanitarian work in Imo.
Yes, we agreed the last time we met in the USA to work together to promote sports at the grassroots. For instance, my team Papilo FC, will participate in the National League and when I told him about it, he said he will be part of it. Already, he had donated three sets of jersey to the club. The aim is to create jobs for our teeming youths because football is a big business and an opportunity for the younger generation to play football and possible earn a living through soccer. The participation of Papilo FC in the league would boost the chances of Imo in the National League.
For instance, we have only Heartland Football Club in Imo and every youth cannot play in Heartland, so we have to float another team. While Abia State has Enyimba FC, Abia comet and Abia Warriors. As I’m talking to you now, Abia Warriors is in the Premier League.
Ordinarily as one from Abia you are supposed to do most of these projects in your state, why in Imo?
We were in Imo State before Abia was carved out of it. As I said earlier, I was born and brought up in Owerri, capial of Imo State. I represented Imo in sports competitions from primary to secondary school level. So, all my life I lived in Owerri. My parents are from Abia State and visit my state often. I had the opportunity to become what I’am today through the help of Imo and I think it is proper to give back to the state that made me.
Have you been offered opportunity to serve the nation in a higher capacity apart from being Nigerian ambassador of football since you retired from active soccer to help develop our football?
I’m the Ambassador of Football in Nigeria and so far, I have contributed in its growth from the youth stages to the national team level. As an ambassador, whenever there is football competition between Nigeria and another country, I’m always with the team from the dressing room until the match is over and encouraging the players to win.
To answer your question, just like others who have served the nation before me in various capacities, I’m waiting to serve Nigeria in higher position. If tomorrow, I’m appointed Minister of Sports, I will also do my best to help grow our sports. Take a look at what Steven Keshi is doing, he is doing wonderfully well.
Finally, Nigeria has booked a ticket to Brazil 2014 by beating Malawi, do you see us doing well in the World Cup?
The present national team is the best in Africa, with their present formation; they will do well at the World Cup. We showed Malawi that we are truly the African champions. What we need is to play more friendlies and sharpen our attack. The boys played as a team, though it took us time to get our rhythm, I’m glad we won that match to be among early qualifiers to the World Cup.