Bolaji Okunola

Former Super Eagles’ captain, Joseph Yobo in an interview with Saturday Sun, revealed the secret behind his success as the most capped Nigerian footballer of all time, the rough route he took before rising to stardom, his bitter and sweet experience in the round leather game, what he love doing before stepping into the pitch, perception about the present team captain, John Obi Mikel, his prediction ahead the forthcoming AFCON, rating of team handler, coach Gernot Rohr, solution to Eagles defence, his love life and lots more.

Can you brief us about your up bringing?

My up bringing has been fantastic. On September 6,1980, I was born in Kono, Rivers State, a community in the Khana area of the state. It was there I started playing street football. As a young lad, I never knew I will make it this big, but I thank God for where I am today. If I keep revealing how I grew up, we will remain here till further notice, because my childhood story is a very long one. I passed through what other Nigerians passed through and my up bringing was challenging.

You made your Super Eagles debut at age 18 despite going through a lot of challenges, how did you achieved that?

Although as a footballer, I had the belief I will one day represent my fatherland. But I never see myself staying so long in the team, not to talk of becoming the most capped Super Eagles’ player. Well, I believe hard work remains the secret to success. I started having hope, when I featured for the U-20 national team in 1999. The tournament was hosted in Nigeria. I proved my worth to the whole world and I think that drew the attention of the then Super Eagles’ coach. I see myself as a lucky person because that tournament produced many soccer stars, whose names are still relevant in the world of football.

As an ex captain and most capped Super Eagles player, what did you always do before stepping on the field of play?

Sincerely speaking, the only thing I take is my best food, which is rice and plantain. After this, I go on my knee and pray ahead of the game. You know as a captain, you are the key man on the field of play. If you win, you take the glory and if you lose, you receive the opposite. So this are the things I do before stepping out to represent my fatherland. I can boldly say that is the secret behind my success as the most capped Nigeria national team footballer.

Millions of Super Eagles fans get mad at you guys whenever you lose, as the team leader, what are the antidotes you get whenever you are faced with this situation?

It’s crazy out there whenever one step on the pitch to represent a country of over hundred million fans. We are known to be the most popular black nation in the world and that alone is a signal we are in trouble if we lose.

The only sacrifices I made were to make sure we win. We are Nigerians; we know the repercussion of defeat. As a matter of fact, we hate to lose. Whenever such occur, the next thing I do is to psyche up the team towards winning the next game. During my days, we hardly lose two straight games. Whenever such is about to happen, I get mad at the boys and tell them the repercussion we will face from million of fans and that kept me growing and made me a leader of a team. I won’t deceive you; I have made a lot of sacrifices towards the betterment of the team, which I still think the present Eagles squad is following the blueprint. As a leader, I psyches up the team every minute, I built good relationship with my mates. Those were the things I did and I think it helped in building my over 100 caps for the Super Eagles.

Can you share some of your sweet and bitter experiences while in Eagles?

We are all human; we are created to witness sweet and bitter part of life. I have a lot of sweet moments in the round leather game, same as bitter experiences. Winning the AFCON 2013 remains one of my best moments. I was proud to lead my team to the third AFCON trophy. And in other hands, I have had some sad moments, which I think is natural in the round leather game.

Do you think the present Super Eagles team will excel in the forthcoming AFCON in Egypt?

Well as for me, it’s too early to decide. But looking at the team’s excellent performances during the qualifying series, I think they are good to go. The team has really been doing well, I mean one must give it to a team that came from behind to top the qualifying group. It shows the team spirit is high.

The boys are willing to play and beat previous record. It will sound good if we return to AFCON with the aim of winning the trophy. If am not mistaken, I think we missed the last two editions of the tournament. AFCON has never been a soft tournament. It’s pure Africa game, which deals with the survival of the fittest. But I’m very confident the team will prove its worth in Egypt.

As a defender, do you think the Eagles defence is in right shape for such tournament?

Related News

Why not? Our defenders have been fantastic in their various clubs. I think the team has what it takes to play physical football. Don’t forget every player wants to win and break the existing record the previous ones had made. Super Eagles have always been blessed with world-class defenders. The defence department of the game is never a problem. I can see some up coming defenders, who are also making their way into the team.

Your successor, John Obi Mikel has not featured for the Super Eagles since Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Do you think he deserves a call up ahead of the 2019 AFCON?

Well, the coach has the final say on that. As for me, I think Mikel’s experience is still vital for the team. No doubt he remains the most experienced player in the present Super Eagles squad. Aside that, he has derived a lot of respect from the younger ones.

I think he should be included in coach Gernot Rohr’s plan for the forthcoming AFCON. Although it’s been a while he featured for the team, but I think with his experience, the Super Eagles can regain their fear factor. As for me,

I am happy he left China for England and with that, I think he is in right shape to keep his captaincy and remain the key man of the team. And if he wishes to keep selecting games, its good for him because he is ageing and I think he knows what is good for him. If he says he is tired of playing for Nigeria, then I think the coach should let him be.

Do you think Gernot Rohr has what it takes to win a trophy with the Eagles?

Gernot Rohr has been fantastic and the AFCON qualifying results had shown the players are willing to prove themselves. One secret of a successful coach is seeing his players being dedicated to his style of play.

The present Eagles have shown Rohr can go far to win the AFCON trophy. He has gained the respect of his boys and his techniques towards wining game have been spectacular. As for me, I see him as a world-class coach who can bring the best out of players. The AFCON competition is around the corner and I tip him to go far in the tournament. AFCON medal; either gold, silver and bronze has been our birthright and I think Rohr can achieve same if he keeps maintaining the spirit we saw during the qualifying series.

Your former English Primer League side, Everton is currently placed 9th on the EPL log; do you think the team stands a chance of making it to the UCL or UEFA Europa league?

Everton has always been a great team who can contend for any trophy. During my days with the team, we do give the so-called big teams a run for their money. Although I am not underrating the present ones, but I think the team was more superb during my days.  Although the likes of Zuma from Chelsea now maintains the defensive line, but I still think my tenure was quit good, but I see them fighting for the top spot before the league comes to an end.

Another of your former teams, Fernabache is battling relegation in the Turkish league, what is your advise to them towards escaping this?

It’s quit unfortunate, but I believe things will start working out for good. They have signed and loaned more experienced players and I know with time, they will start to get it right. Although it seems late for them, but I know the team has what it takes to escape this. I am happy the likes of Victor Moses and the rest of others won’t wait to see them relegated and am sure the club will soon regain its glory as one of the best in Turkey.

20 years ago, you made it to the U-20 FIFA World Cup, being a hero, what advice do you have for the present Flying Eagles team who will be hoisting Nigeria flag in this year edition in Poland?

I don’t really have much to say than advise them to remain focus. I know the boys have a dream. We are yet to win the FIFA U-20 World Cup tournament and I am sure the boys are aware of that. I won’t be surprised seeing them bringing the trophy home. Don’t judge them by their poor outing during the African Youth Championship. I am sure they would have noticed and corrected their mistakes.

You are married to a former Miss Nigeria; hope you are having a happy moment?

Yes I am. My wife has been respectful and kind to me and I always thank God for our lives. She remains the reasons why I smile and I will always be grateful to her and the kids she gave me.