BY HENRY OKODUWA
With eight games under his belt already since making his debut for the Super Eagles against the Harambee Star of Kenya in what almost turned out an ill – fated match in a Brazil 2014 World Cup qualifier in Calabar last March, Academica of Portugal star, John Ogu is fast becoming a permanent fixture in coach Stephen Keshi’s ongoing revolution in the Super Eagles.
Ogu was confident the Flames of Malawi would fall when they visit Calabar as guests of the Eagles in a final group E qualifier this weekend.
He also talked of other sundry issues in this exclusive chat with the Daily SunSports. Excerpts…
John, how did you find yourself in the Super Eagles?
My journey into the national team began late last year during Nigeria’s playing tour to Portugal in preparation for the South Africa 2013 African Cup of Nations. I had been spotted by the Eagles coaches when they saw me play in a league match for my team. Academica against Sporting Lisbon. But I had no inkling I impressed the national team handlers enough to earn a call – up so soon after they won the Nations Cup. I think that that fact was what threw me off balance when I got an invitation to feature for the Eagles against the Harambee Stars of Kenya in a World Cup qualifier in Calabar. To tell you the truth, I nursed the ambition of donning the national team colour someday, but never in my wildest dreams did I remotely imagine it would come so soon.
But you missed the Nations Cup. What happened?
Well, maybe it was not my time then to break into the squad. I am one person who strongly believes in destiny. I feel that at the appointed time, the right thing always happen to the right people. I did not feel rejected not been considered for the Nations Cup despite the huge impression I made on coach Stephen Keshi and his crew. I knew my time would come. And to be quite candid, I think it came far quicker than I envisaged.
Did you feel overwhelmed making your debut at a time Nigeria was under pressure to cancel an early goal scored by the Kenyans especially with five minutes left to play?
I was slightly intimidated by the occasion. I honestly would have wished for a better start to my national career but as a professional, I had to shake off those sentiments and try to get the job done as I was instructed by the coach. My job was simple, go in there and disorganize the Kenyans’ defence to pave way for the Eagles to score. That’s what I did. I ran at the opponents defence, which up to that time appeared quite impregnable. With some luck and with only a few minutes left to play, we were able to create a room for Nnamde Oduamadi who had also just come in to make hay and save the day with a timely equalizer, which helped us salvage a very precious point. Since then, I have chalked up games for the team with amazing regularity. My recent game against the Bafana Bafana of South Africa in the recent Mandela challenge in Durban took my tally of games played for the Eagles to eight under six months since joining the team. Overall, I would say “so far, so good,” if you consider that I scored in our 2 – 2 draw against Mexico in a friendly in Texas and that I featured in all three games Nigeria played at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil in June. I also think I was quite unlucky against South Africa, as the Woodwork denied me twice. Maybe I would by now be boasting of at least three goals in my kitty.
What has playing for the national team done for you both as a person and as a footballer?
I want to say that being considered good enough to play in the national soccer team of a country like Nigeria with a population of over 150 million people, bursting at the seams with a never – ending well of talented individuals from all spheres of human endeavour, is one of the greatest honour I have ever received till date. I should say without mincing words that it has changed me in many ways. Am a better person. I relate better. I compete better. As a player, I am even more challenged to train more to keep up the high standards necessary to sustain my stay in the Eagles. I realise any drop in form means a drop into oblivion. I also realise that everyday, someone, some where is training hard and horning his skills, waiting in the wings to take my place in the team, the moment I fail to keep up the high standards necessary to maintain my place in the team.
Were you intimidated by the more established stars in the Eagles when you first walked into the teams’s dressing room?
To be very candid with you, I wasn’t. Do not forget that I was not exactly a green horn when I was invited to join the team. I was coming from a background of top – flight football in the Portuguese Premier League, where you encounter players from such teams as Sporting Lisbon, FC Porto, Victoria Setubal etc. yes, I have the greatest respect for the established players of the team, especially someone like John Mikel Obi, who I consider my idol on account of his midfield presence. I had always marveled at the ease with which he shields and distributes ball with such dexterity quite beyond his years. He was one player I had always longed to meet and when I did, it was a heady feeling. However, like I said, I told myself from day one that I was going to go in there, play my game and carve a niche for myself. And you won’t believe it, the players I met in the team have received me quite well. Their friendship have no doubt helped to settle me in quickly.
Now, what are the perculiar assets that has endeared you to the team handlers and the fans?
It’s hard to say. I don’t see myself. I only get on the pitch and try to contribute my quota to the success of any team I am playing for. But keen watchers of my game have been unanimous in describing my game and likening it to the legendary Davor Suker. Each time, I’ve always seen that as a compliment. But as a midfielder, I like going forward a lot. I compliment that with good marking and fiery shots. I should say, however, that I am still a work in progress, continually improving and refining the rough edges in my game. If I can help it, I don’t want to be earning unnecessary bookings!
Now, to the big one this weekend in Calabar. Are you nervous about Nigeria’s clash with the Flames of Malawi?
Why should I be? Yes, granted that the Malawians have had quite a good run in the World Cup qualifiers so far, but I still don’t see them coming to Calabar to beat us. My teammates and I have since resolved not to pamper any opposition, since the scare we got from the Harambee Stars the last time at the same venue. We have resolved to always stamp our authority on every game as befits our true status as the reigning African football kings. We are motivated by two main reasons – one, we want to shut the Malawians up once and for all by effectively extinguishing the burning flames of their World Cup quest, following the unnecessary physiological warfare they have been waging with us in the last couple of months, and two, we all have resolved that we want to be at the World Cup, where 32 of the best footballing nations would gather to showcase the best they have to offer. We are ready to spill blood, if necessary to actualise that dream. I don’t see Malawi stopping us.