Coach Tunde Sanni Saliu is the Chairman, Nigeria Football Coaches Association (NFCA), Kwara state chapter, and a member of the Kwara State Football Association Board. The former Head Coach of Kwara United Football Club spoke to sportsbash.com.ng on his experience, and his target.
Who is Coach Tunde Sanni Saliu, and how did you come into the game?
I am Babatunde Sanni Saliu. I am from Balogun Fulani Ward III, Ilorin South Local Government Area of Kwara state. I started my football career from Ansar-Ud-Deen Primary School here in Ilorin. I was in class Three when I started playing for the school team. In 1975, I was one of the players selected to play in the All-Primary School competition which Ilorin won. We defeated Barutein Local Government by a lone goal, at Bishop Smith pitch. There was no Stadium in Kwara state then. That was my first achievement in football.
From there, I got admission into Ilorin Teachers College. I was in Form One in the College when late Coach Musa Abdullahi discovered me in a match played at a pitch where Kwara Express transport service is now. The Former Director of Sports of Sports, Mallam Tunde Kazeem was a goalkeeper, and was on the reserve bench in that match for the State team. They were then preparing for All Teachers Games, and they played against us in a friendly match. In that match, they were leading us by 3-0, and in the second half, we leveled up. I scored a last minute 30 meter yard shot to level up, and it was that goal that made late Coach Musa Abdullahi to pick me. And that was my breakthrough. That was why I didn’t play much of under-aged football. I went into the league straight. I started playing in the league from 1978, with P&T….then; they used to second Coaches to Zonal Offices form the Kwara State Sports Council. So, late Coach Abdullahi was then with P&T. That same year, he was seconded to Super Pioneer, and he took me along with him. That was where I came into limelight.
I played P&T in 1978, Super Pioneer between 1979 to 1984, and then, we were all staffers of the Kwara State Sports Council. From there, five of us were taken to Water Corporation. From there again, five of us were selected from Water Corporation to play for Shooting Stars Sports Club (3SC) of Ibadan. That was how I left Ilorin for the Ibadan-based team. I joined 3SC in 1985/1986 season, alongside late Rashidi Yekini, Felix Owolabi, late Taiwo Ogunjobi, who was then the Captain, Ademola Adeshina, Goke Adelabu and others.
It was there that Chief Segun Odegbami inspired me to go back to school. He told me that he doesn’t want me to play football alone. Surprisingly, out of five of us, I was the only one he told to go back to school. I got admission into University of Ibadan (UI). I played Nigeria University Games (NUGA) in 1986 for UI. From UI in 1986, I moved to IBL Ilesha, from where I got admission to Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
At the time I played for 3SC, no player can come there unless you are talented. And as you sign to play for 3SC, you are given a 504 Saloon car. I rejected the offer when I signed because I cannot cope. We had a lot of good and quality players then. Mutiu Adepoju was then in the junior team alongside the present Team Manager of the club, Dimeji Lawal.
At what point did you come back to Kwara state?
My coming back to Kwara state was by accident. In 1991, when they wanted to form Kwara Bombers, I was then with First Bank of Lagos. Then, Osun state has not been created. It was Oyo state. IBL Ilesha won Oyo State FA Cup in 1989. We defeated Shooting Stars Football Club. But due to many things that happened thereafter, the team was disbanded. We had three fatal accidents on different occasions. Warri Township Stadium, before it was reconstructed. There was a burnt luxurious bus there. That was our bus, which the fan burnt down. In the FA Cup proper, we were travelling to play our third place match in the Challenge Cup (Now Aiteo Cup) in Bauchi. The semi-final matches were played in Lagos. Iwuanyanwu Nationale (Now Heartland FC) of Owerri, IBL of Ilesha, Stationery Stores of Lagos and BCC Lions of Gboko played in the semi-finals. That was the year BCC Lions won the FA Cup. We had to play our semi-final with Iwuanyanwu Nationale twice before we were defeated.
We were to play Stores in the third place match in Bauchi, and on our way to Bauchi, we had another serious accident. It was so serious that we couldn’t even play the match. So, that was how IBL Ilesha was disbanded. Because of all that, the Proprietor said that he doesn’t want to lose anybody, and that was how he disbanded the team.
I then joined First bank of Lagos. Coach Fatai Amoo was the Coach/Player then. Three of us left from IBL Ilesha squad to join First Bank FC, but I was the only one selected. So, I had to bring the two other players to Ilorin, to join Kwara Bombers. They are Seun Ashagidigbi and late Laolu Ashaolu. I brought them here, but thanks to retired Referee Olanrewaju. He said that, there are only three chances. He said that they will sign the two players, but I too will have to sign for Kwara Bombers before they can be taken. I told him I already signed for First Bank FC of Lagos. The two players begged me to stay so that they would be signed. Then, there was no mid-season transfer. When you sign, it’s for the whole of the season. When I saw my friends crying, there was nothing I could do, and that was how I came back to Kwara state.
And how did you join Kwara United FC as a player?
I was among the pioneer players of Kwara United FC. When the team was about to be formed, I was a Level 09 officer of Lagos NEPA. I was playing for Lagos NEPA then. They came to Lagos to lure me to leave my job and join Kwara United FC. That was in 1996. I had to leave my job and joined Kwara United FC. They sent somebody I respected so much, Mr Dele Oguntokun, the former Secretary of the club to me. I played for, Captained, and also coached the team. It was Kwara United FC that sent me to coaching course at NIS.
So many things have changed between then and now. Then, everything is based on your capability. Even the fans will respect you based on what you can do. Kwara United FC then, if you are not good enough, even the fans will tell it to your face. You must be exceptionally good before you can play for Kwara United FC, but not so anymore. It doesn’t mean that you must come from a bigger team before you play for Kwara United. Even the Supporters Club can discover a talent from somewhere. Mr Taiye Aluko is one of our stakeholders in football in Kwara state. He was the one that brought Seyi Olofinjana, Adewuni Adetunde and Oluwole Johnson to Kwara United FC then. He saw them play for Crown FC of Ogbomosho, and came to me that there are three good players in Crown FC. Then, we were about rounding off our registration for the league. The Coach was convinced to play them, and they featured only in our last training session, and they impressed. The three of them changed our selection, because we had to sign them.
I told you they came to meet me in Lagos when they wanted to form Kwara United. They said that they have spoken to Toyin Ayinla too, and that they wanted to use both of us to stabilize and strengthen the team. We both came back home. Toyin Ayinla was made the Captain and I was made the Assistant Captain. When Toyin Ayinla became the coach, I was made the Captain.
Our commitment was beyond been just players. Whether we were paid or not, our team must play well, because we must give our all, to ensure stability in the team. If we were greedy then, there wouldn’t be Kwara United FC of today. What we achieved mostly then was due to our commitment to the game and club. Even as the Captain, I always see myself as an ordinary player. I was highly influential then. I didn’t just bring any player into the team because I wanted the team to be doing well. All the players I brought were top rated players.
When did you graduate from active football to coaching?
I played in Nigeria league for 27 years unbroken….from P&T to Super Pioneer, Water Corporation, Shooting Stars Sports Club, IBL Ilesha, First bank, Lagos NEPA and Kwara United FC. I quit active football in 2005. I played from 1978 to 2005. Since 2005, I became a coach. I started coaching with Kwara United Feeders team. From there, Coach Kadiri Ikhana came to watch one of our matches and fell in love with my style of coaching. He invited my team for a friendly match with the main team, and we defeated them. That was how Coach Ikhana promoted me to the main team. I was trained to be Head Coach, because I have the highest coaching certificate, Higher Diploma. I also coached Abubakar Bukola Saraki FC, I coached in Ondo, Makurdi and DSS FC in Kaduna state. I also coached a team in Port Harcourt.
I played football at the highest level, and that also prepared me well for the job of coaching. I represented Nigeria in different world University Games. I had stint with the national team, both U-23 and the Super Eagles. The time I was at my peak. I was then at the University. Most times I cannot honour national calls because of examinations.
What was the passion like then, especially representing your state in the league?
We were committed. Even, look at my marriage. I married late because of football. Junior was not supposed to be my first born. We gave everything to football. No socialization at all, because we believed we are stars. Then, anytime I come from my home at Emir’s Road to the Stadium, about 40 fans will follow me to the stadium, and they will be telling me not to disappoint them. That was enough motivation.
Then, all our lives revolve around Kwara United FC, and how to make it great. Now, pressure is always on coaches. During our time, it’s the players that faced the pressure. Pressure on coaches started during the reigns of late Coach Kafaru Alabi, because he’s son of the soil. We face a lot of threat from fans, and that alone forced us to always play well.
Now as Chairman of the Nigeria Football Coaches Association (NFCA) Kwara chapter, what has been your achievement, and what’s your mission?
I thank God for the opportunity given to me by my colleagues. I have not done any other thing in my life except football. I started knowing about Administration from been Captain, even though I read Administration in school to Masters Level. The experience, when I became the Chairman of NFCA in Kwara was that, human beings are terrible to lead. There are a lot of problems, and the way some of the coaches behave when playing is reflecting in their attitude now as coaches, and it’s too bad. As a coach, you are a leader. Since I became the Chairman in 2018, I have introduced a lot of changes. One of the major problems was that majority of the things done by the FA, we were not always been carried along. I made sure we were being carried along, because of my influence. We are now been accorded the respect we deserved.
NFCA is organizing U-15 Youth League to discover young talents. As a member of the Kwara FA, the body organized U-15 Inter-Local Government competition, where I was asked to select good players, which I did successfully. I thank God that the players I selected were part of the team that won the Ramat Cup in Kano early this year.
What has been the experience as Kwara FA member?
I am a Board member of Kwara FA. I have to thank our Chairman, Mallam Idris Abdullahi Musa. He brought a lot of changes to the FA, which I believe, has never happened before. He is transparent, and always consults far and wide before doing things. Forget about friendship. He always wants things to be done according to the rules, and that’s why you can see the achievements of FA in a very short time.
How was it like, growing up as a football star and what are you doing presently?
Then, our parents will always beat us when they see or hear us play football. They see us then as irresponsible people. But we were committed and focused. We respected our coaches, and we don’t do anything they don’t want us to do, unlike now that the job of coaching is somehow. Olden days players helps the coaches, but the players we have now makes the game more difficult for the coaches.
I will be back to coaching, by the special grace of God. I have all the requirements to be a good coach. I had good playing experience, the required certificates and coaching experience. God knows best. I am capable, and I have shown what I am capable of doing with the opportunities I have had.
The only regret I have was that, I would have won the league with Kwara United FC in my first year in charge, in 2012. It was my dream. I wanted to win the league as a player, but it didn’t happen. We came second twice. But I have been praying that as a coach, I will achieve it, and that’s my ambition. I nearly won it in 2012. Then, for 19 weeks, Kwara United FC was on top of the league table. But the spectators encroached on the pitch in one of our matches, and we were banished to Abuja. The team that won the league then led us with three points. We eventually ended up in the sixth position. I pray for another chance, and maybe, a chance with another team. I want to prove a point.
When I was in charge of Kwara United FC, I would not say that the management gave me problem, and this is because, I cannot classify what happened to be a problem. I asked that I be allowed to pick the players I wanted, because, they really wanted result. I picked even Segun Alebiosu that had no league experience then, from Zango into the team. I told the Chairman that I was sure the boy would deliver, and he did. I even had to guarantee that assurance with part of my sign-on fee.
My problem with the management then was, if I finished in sixth position with all the challenges I faced, and with the remuneration given to me then, and I was asked to go, it wasn’t good enough. I didn’t complain at all despite all that happened. I was not given enough chance to express myself.
Kwara teams, including Kwara United FC have not won either the league or the Aiteo Cup in history. What do you think is the problem?
So many factors contributed to that, but I believe I have the solution to that problem, going by the experience from playing the game. I have the solution, and that’s why I am praying for another opportunity. It can be with any team. Then, some people said I stepped on their toes, and that’s why they don’t want me. Winning or making name with Kwara United FC as a coach is not easy at all. It’s not only by prayers, or having the players, far from that. There are so many factors, which only God can solve. Kwarans love good football, but there are so many bad elements who would always act negatively.
There are so many things attached to Kwara football. But I pray God will expose behind the negative deeds. So many teams met us in the league, but they have won the league and the Aiteo Cup several times, while we are yet to win any. Look at Kano Pillars and Enyimba FC. Enyimba took some of our players to form that club, but go and check the records now.
What do you mean by stepping on toes, and why is it that you are not wanted?
At times, you leave everything to God. I want to let some people know that we have served the state very well. In 1992, Toyin Ayinla, Sam Elijah, Deji Ayeni and I….we all signed for Concord Football Club of Abeokuta. Eventually, Concord came to Ilorin to clear me. Mr Hameed Adio, the former Director of Sports can testify to this story. Concord came to clear me. I have collected my sign-on fees from Concord FC. My fans then said, ‘Tunde, please don’t go to Concord FC’. They came in large numbers, prostrating and crying that I should not leave. I didn’t have option than not to go. Hameed Adio spoke to me that if Kwarans are crying that I must not leave their team, I should have a rethink. He told me about his own experience as well. That was the reason I didn’t go. I stayed behind while the others played for Concord FC.
In 1993, we were to represent Nigeria in America. We had camped in Ibadan and Lagos, and the final camping was in Ilorin. We had 10 days to camp. Kwara Bombers, which I was the Captain, was in the league, and they were not winning matches. Alhaji Kadri Alanamu was the Team Manager of the team then. They came to me that I should play for them before I traveled. We met the coach, who said, ‘Tunde, the choice is your’s. You know we have 19 players in camp, and we are travelling with 18. I am not stopping you not to play for your state, but if you are injured, even if its minor injury, it’s you that would be dropped’
I took the risk, played five matches within 10 days, scored seven goals and we won all the matches. I was not injured and also made the American trip. But it’s very hard for such a decision, if there was no passion and commitment to my state.
Even Lagos NEPA that I left at Level 09 then, if I had not left, what Level do you think I would have been today? But God is there. He knows how to compensate good deeds.
I have committed a lot, and I don’t know why they treat me badly.