He didn’t quite make it big with the Super Eagles but Richard Owubokiri was unarguably one of the best African strikers of his era. He dominated Europe with his goals; and despite not replicating that with Nigeria, most countrymen still hold him in high esteem. He told AJIBADE OLUSESAN in this interview that poor administration of football in the country affected his national team career.
You were in the Eagles for close to a decade and how would you compare today’s team with your era?
Sorry, no comparison. In those days, players would go all out for the national service without looking back; these days, players look more into financial details. There is little passion now for the national team.
Going down memory lane, how would you generally describe your career with the national team?
It would have been much better, if there were good plans. I am used to being very organised, I work better in an organised environment.
Do you have any regret not attending the World Cup in 1994 with the Eagles?
I have spoken about this in the past years; I have given the reasons, no regrets. Unfortunately, I won no honours with Nigeria but I played at the 1982 Africa Cup of Nations and was part of the qualifying process for the 1994 World Cup in the United States. My last game for Nigeria was the 1994 World Cup qualifier against the Bafana of South Africa and we won the game 4-0. By and large I have no regrets at all. Like I said I would have achieved much more if the administration was good and organised because I cannot operate in an atmosphere that is not organised.
We have quite a number of strikers now but do you think we can compare them with you and late Rasheed Yekini. Do you think they’ve got the potential to deliver as much as you did?
We were different players, different periods, but we were very effective strikers in those days. I was the second highest goalscorer in 1991/92 season in the whole of Europe. I was the highest goalscorer here in Brazil for two seasons, I was once second highest scorer in Portugal and Rashidi Yekini was once Portuguese and African player, so the titles and honours are there to be contested and overthrown, but the truth is that I just don’t know when we can have strikers like us again. If you check on my Facebook wall some time ago , a fan posted on my wall a picture of my early days in Vitoria club, having scored incredible 65 goals in 98 games, when would you find again such a player? I don’t like talking about myself but I am been forced to do so, so many times because of things we are witnessing now in our football.
In human’s life there would be a moment when things would appear tough what can you say is your lowest moment in your career?
I played European Cup competitions, highest goal scorer in Portugal, Qatar and Brazil but my regret was not having the opportunity to have helped my country when I was in top form in Europe during the 1994 World Cup stage; let us recall that I scored the first goal in our quest to get the ticket to US 1994 against South Africa in Lagos.
Was it because there was so much competition in the team or as you said poor organisation of Nigerian football?
Because many may argue that you and late Yekini were very similar, your style, your frame and coaches were not comfortable using two of you at the same time…. What happened when we played together against South Africa in Lagos? What was the score? Do they remember? Do they remember that we trounced Bafana Bafafa 4-0 and I scored in that match?
You are now a FIFA licensed agent, have you been working with Nigerian players?
I have not really worked with Nigerian players in a long while but I would definitely do something in the Nigerian league very soon. We have been working on a chance to place three Brazilian players in the Nigerian league soon. If these deals come through the league would surely benefit from it because these are talented players.
What was your relationship with the late Yekini during your days in the Eagles, how would you describe the man and how did you receive his death?
We had a good relationship, in fact I did help him adapt in Portugal when he came in to play for Vitoria de Setubal, and we also had a very good rapport in the national team. Of course I am so sad because I don’t know how many fine players, who gave all they had to the nation, would just disappear and in low spirit, helpless and forgotten in Nigeria, It is so sad that you are honoured only when you have passed on in Nigeria. We don’t do much to help our heroes when they are still alive, that is so sad.
Could you recollect the most memorable goal you scored during your playing days and why it is special?
Ok, that was back in Brazil against Botafogo. I scored a goal while I was lying on the ground, I was pushed and fell, upon trying to complain to the referee, the opponent goalkeeper wanted to kick out the ball but it came to my direction and I was still lying on the ground but when the ball fell into my part I skilfully headed it into an open goal, here they still remember this goal, that was way back in 1985, it is really a long time now.
Oh, that was great! You played for Sharks of Port Harcourt what is your memory of the Nigerian league?
I was once third highest goal scorer in the Nigerian league, I also played for ACB of Lagos. I scored many goals both for Sharks and ACB Lagos. The league during our days was fantastic, we had a great players then, great rivalries, I remember playing against old IICC with star players like Segun (Odegbami), Muda (Lawal) (Tunde) Bamidele etc. I think I paid my dues in the league before I left for abroad. I was once third highest goal scorer in the league in a season but we don’t have quality players now in the league.
You worked with Jose Mourinho in Portugal. What was the experience like?
He was my physical coach. I recall that 35 years ago, Mourinho said to me, ‘Ricky, very soon, I will be one of the best coaches in the world’. He said it and accomplished it. He is one of the greatest coaches in the world.