After 13 seasons in Israel with four different teams, former Super Eagles safe hands, Bamidele Mathew Aiyenugba returned to Nigeria ahead of the 2020-21 season, to play for Kwara United Football Club. He spoke to sportsbash.com on why he joined the Ilorin-based club, and his target for the season. Excerpts:
Why exactly, did you choose to join Kwara United FC?
I joined Kwara United for two reasons. First, it was because of my children. I have been far away from them for long. One of them, Daniel, has taken after me. He is a goalkeeper that is doing well at the youth level. I want to personally mentor him to be greater than me. The senior, Joshua is a striker. Another reason was to help Kwara United FC bring back its lost glory. I am sure, with the support of the other players, the coaches and management, we will achieve success. I want to contribute my quota to the revival of the team. This is where I started.
You have been away from the terrain for a very long time. Are you sure you will be able to cope with the pressure?
I think there wouldn’t be any pressure, because, there is practically little difference. Again, you know I started from here. Even when I was there in Israel, I still follow Nigerian league, especially when it was on Supersport. I do watch highlights, and also sometimes watch on Youtube. With social media, it’s easy assessing the system from anywhere. I also followed Kwara United FC a lot. I am happy to be back here, especially teaming up with Kwara United FC. I can’t wait to start playing. Before taking the decision to join the team, I had some other NPFL clubs wanting to sign me, but the fact is, I just wanted to come back to my family. My children have endured enough. They have really tried. I chose the team again, because this is where I started from, and I want to end it here. I want to pay back with good performance that will bring success to Kwara state.
How did you really start?
I want to first of all, give Almighty God the glory. It has been a long and successful journey and I thank God for that. I started from the streets, just like most other players. My first club was Folley Babes. I played a lot of Youth Sports Federation of Nigeria (YSFON) competitions at youth level. I later joined Pako FC, an Amateur League Club in Ilorin then. I moved from there to Kwara Stars, and from Kwara Stars, moved to Enyimba FC. From Enyimba FC, I moved to Israel, where I played for four different clubs.
First, I started with Bnei Yehuda, and I was with the club between 2007 to 2016, that’s for nine years. The second team was Hapoel Ashkelon, between 2016 to 2018, then Hapoel Iksal, between 2018 to 2019, that’s one season, and the last club, Hapoel Afula, also for a season, 2019/2020. There, you have to be professional in all aspects. In Nigeria, players will be in camp three days to a match. There, like you have a game on Sunday, you go to the camp after light training on Saturday morning. There is discipline. Most times players come from home. Nobody will tell you to be discipline. It’s your job; it’s what gives you money. You need to work hard and do extra training for yourself to always be in the line-up.
Here, players rely so much on only the trainings in their clubs. Up there, players do extra trainings on their own. They even employ and pay trainers to train them personally, especially on their areas of deficiency.
How did you join Kwara Stars?
It was a funny story. That’s why I always tell the upcoming players to always put in their best in any situation they found themselves. Some believed that you can’t really make it without a godfather. The issue is, don’t sit at home. Keep training, and success will come.
I remembered that that faithful day, I was doing road walk early in the morning, from Aduralere, close to Ipata Market to the Kwara State Stadium Complex. On getting to the Stadium for flexibility exercise, I met Lukman Ijaiya, then a player with Kwara Stars, and now a Coach at Kwara United FC, Sefiu and Sherif Jimoh. Then, they don’t have a goalkeeper in Kwara Stars because the team had not resumed for the season. They talked me into joining the team. Then, I had no gloves, and my boots were bad. In one of the trainings, the then Manager of the team, Mr. Timothy Daramola saw me, took interest in me, and that was how I joined Kwara Stars. That was in 1998.
But when you left Kwara Stars back then in year 2000, many expected you to join Kwara United FC, but you went to Enyimba FC. How did you decide that?
I think, very few people knew about this story. Kwara Stars played against Enyimba FC in Aba in 1998, and I think that was it. But before then, they have been monitoring my performances in the league. Kwara United FC also had a strong team that same season, and that prompted Enyimba FC to come for the services of five players from Kwara United FC, which then included late Sanni Abacha and Alphonsus Ezimogha, who were arguably the best defence partners in the league back then. The Chairman of the Club, Felix Anyasi-Agwu personally came to Ilorin for the players, and that was when he also showed interest in me joining Enyimba FC. He surprisingly came to our house, sat with my parents, to convince them to allow me join Enyimba FC. He assured them that I will be safe in Enyimba FC, because then, I was still very young. I also thought about leaving my parents that time. But I like challenges, and I also assured them that all will be well. And that was it.
Meaning that you got full support from your parents to play football?
My mum did not support me initially, because she was scared. I remembered when I started with Pako FC. The training was so tedious that after any hard training, I will fall sick, to the extent that I will be admitted at the hospital. But my dad gave me enough courage and confidence. He kept pushing me, and assuring my mother that I will adapt to the system. He bought me my first pair of boots and my first gloves.
And how did you cope at Enyimba FC?
I think what really helped me at Enyimba was that, when I was at Kwara Stars, I was selected for the U-17 National team. So, I was a little bit exposed to bigger situations. I also kept many matches for Kwara Stars then. These factors made it easy for me to adjust quickly and immediately. But the funny aspect was, we had five of us as goalkeepers. We had Rotimi Sunday, Vincent Enyeama, Andrew Aikhomogbe, Emeka Obi and I as the youngest.
With God’s grace, and me not giving up, I made tremendous impact. I set myself a target then, and I kept pushing. When I joined Enyimba FC, it was Coach Godfrey Esu that was the head coach. He didn’t even know my name. He will just say ‘you, enter that goal’. And it will be few minutes to the end of every training. I was not in his plans at all, especially considering the caliber of goalkeepers in the team then. But I did not give up. I kept pushing until it was my time to shine.
One of my memorable occasions with Enyimba FC was my experience in penalties in the Champions League. It was a fantastic experience. I didn’t even know I was good in penalties. It was God’s grace. Before the penalties at the semi-finals, I was not told I would be in goal that faithful day. I remembered the Coach just told me, ‘go and warm up’, and I went to the back of Esperance goal to warm up. I was on this when one of the coaches came to tell me that I should come and dress up. I told him I wasn’t coming, because I was not sure they really wanted me to go in. Then, the coach called me again. I dressed up and went in. And that was it.
By His grace, I won four Premier League titles with Enyimba FC, in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2007. I also won the FA Cup, now Aiteo Cup in 2005, Nigerian Super Cup in 2003, two African Champions League in 2003 and 2004 and two African Super Cup titles in 2004 and 2005.
What’s your target this coming season with Kwara United FC?
My mission, my goal, my target, together with all the other players… this is because it’s not a one-man show, is in line with the club’s. It’s long overdue for the club to return to the continent. It’s not easy winning a continental ticket though, but with commitment and sacrifice, it is possible. Sometimes in training, I take time to assess the team. I would only conclude that Kwara United FC have the right materials to do the job this season. There is love and togetherness in the team. The management and government are also ready. With prayers and support from the stakeholders, we can do it.
You and the current Goalkeeper Trainer of the team, Kareem Elemosho have a long history of relationship from playing days. How did it all begin?
We joined Kwara Stars same season as goalkeepers. Then, nobody knew Elemosho was going to join Kwara Stars. Aliyu Mozambilu, who is also a Goalkeeper Trainer with Kano Pillars, was there too. We also had Musa and one Adisa from Ibadan. We were five then. I learnt from every one of them, especially Elemosho. That helped me a lot. Elemosho was then like a role model. Now, he is my coach. That relationship continues.
How would you describe what obtains in Israel with what we have here in terms of coaching style, facilities and motivation?
Before I traveled, I played under three top rated coaches at club level; Coach Godfrey Esu, Coach Godwin Koko Uwua and Coach Kadiri Ikhana. At the national teams too, the U-17 and U-23. I think there is little difference, especially in the area of facilities available for training. And now, I will play under another great handler, Coach Abdullahi Biffo. The difference I think is how you prepare your team and how you talk to your players, as a coach. If a coach knows how to talk to his players, it motivates them to give their best for him. Motivation is not really about money. It’s the honour.
What plan do you have for your children, Joshua and Daniel?
Every father wants their children to be greater than them, and that’s my prayer for my children. They already started from my Academy, Delmerk Academy, and I want to support them. Initially, I never supported my son to be a goalkeeper because goalkeeping is a more tedious part of playing. You have to be strong mentally, to cope. Thank God I am around, and with my close watch on him, I think he is ready, and I know he will make me proud. Daniel is already making waves. He was the best at the U-10 and U-13 levels. He was the goalkeeper of the Kwara team that won the Ramat Cup in Kano, and has also represented the state in various youth competitions, just like his brother too, Joshua.
And for the Academy, I started with goalkeepers alone. I have about 20 goalkeepers in the Academy presently. We are now on break because of Covid-19 pandemic. I work with them together with Coach Obaro Solomon Oluyori, who is also the Team Manager, and my son. I want to motivate as many goalkeepers as I can.
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