Former Enyimba coach, Gbenga Ogunbote, in an interview with CHARLES OGUNDIYA, said injuries put paid to his football career but he’s grateful for achieving greatness as a coach. Excerpts…
It’s been a fantastic career for you as a coach, how did it all start?
You are taking me back on memory lane; I think it’s going to be a little bit difficult for me to really answer that question. Be it as it may, it was a career that I never anticipated at the initial stage. It was when I had injuries that I had to switch to coaching because of the interest I had in the game. I started as a grassroots coach, and gradually continued to the level I’m today. I have to thank God for all His blessings.
Coach Kadiri Ikhana revealed that you played football under him, tell us about your football career?
Well the truth of the matter is that, while growing up, I was living at Makoko and we used to have several grassroots games; that’s where it all started until I went to secondary school. Unfortunately injuries did it for me, cutting my career short.
You’ve handled so many clubs in the country; which one would you say was your most memorable and which do you wish you never coached?
I don’t know if I have any club that I have regrets ever going for as coach. I give glory to God that every team I handled had been memorable and ended as success. If talking about most memorable one, I don’t know which one to pick. Was it Sunshine that brought me to limelight, or Rangers, where I got my first major trophy? Will I say the teams I went to for rescue mission that almost everybody in the country had already given up hope and I was eventually able to help them survive? I want to say all the teams I’ve handled were all important in my career.
How did you come about the name Oracle?
I can’t really say this is the person that gave me that name or where it came from; I think it was when I was at Sunshine Stars, when we were playing on the continent. Before Sunshine Stars, I had not really handled a team alone. I had assisted during WAFU Cup with Dolphins, so I never headed a continental team alone before. There were a lot of arguments about my competency for the job at Sunshine Stars, people saying I don’t have continental experience, that I would not be able to handle it. So, the chairman of the team (Adagunode) then called and told me, “I am taking a risk.” He said I should try as much as possible not to disappoint.
I saw it as a challenge, so I worked so hard. We were able to assemble 18 players to beat in the country; we started work and then I got the confidence of my players, so when we started the work on training they respected me a lot and there were some cases where we disagreed. I would tell them if you did this training and if we go by it this way and do this and that, this is likely the results. When all my predictions started coming to pass, all of a sudden, they started calling me ‘Oracle.’
That’s how the name Oracle came about. I remembered a scenario when the Ogun State governor came to Ijebu Ode to visit us; when he was to give me something, everybody just shouted Oracle, and the man looked back, wondering ‘where is the Oracle.’ So I told Mike Idoko. When I was given the job, he stood by me, he said that he knew I was a good coach, and that statement motivated me a lot, combined with what the chairman said.
People said you actually succeeded with Sunshine Stars because your team played in Ijebu-Ode; that you wouldn’t have achieved such results if the team was playing in Akure, how true is this?
Well, everybody is entitled to their opinion. One thing I am sure of in football is that if it is not home it is not home. There are some advantages attached when you’re playing at your home whether you like it or not, there is this motivating aura that you enjoy when you are home; you cannot afford to disappoint when you know that people are watching and it brings out the best in you. All I know is that we actually played league games for a whole season in Akure and we got a continental ticket, so it is possible that if we had played there, we would have done better than we did.
You led Sunshine Stars to the semifinal of both the CAF Confederation Cup and the Champions League, what actually stopped your team from getting to the final?
This is something I don’t always want to remember especially the CAF Championship league when we qualified for the semifinals. We had five weeks or thereabouts, before we were to play the final games and we had a game in hand against Kano Pillars. At that time, we had about 26 players that were registered for continental games. I met with the management and I told them that maybe we should just keep the 26 players while allowing others to go so that we could concentrate properly. I can remember that Mike Idoko said then that his own idea was that we should leave the country so that we could prepare for the tournament. No money syndrome really played a negative role. At that time, the club had not paid the sign-on fees of the players. So after a while, the Chairman felt that he was trying to help the players who were angry, and he gave them N300,000 to share. The boys collected it and proceeded on strike. We did everything possible to bring them back but there was no luck. They came back four days to a game against Al Ahly, a five-time champion then. We had just one training session and unfortunately, we failed to progress as we actually lost the opportunity after playing a 3-3 draw at home. The same thing happened during the Confederation Cup a year earlier; we wanted to take advantage of the weather against our opponent by playing around 3pm but on that fateful day there was downpour and the rain didn’t stop by 5 o’clock. We were actually contemplating postponing it till the next day, but again the issue of money came up, so we played and lost the game in Nigeria 1-0. We went away to play a 1-1 draw. The one that was so painful was the Champions League; there was nothing to stop us from not getting it; if we had defeated Al Ahly, we would have got it. It was so painful. Everybody has their own reasons for doing anything; the loss was so painful personally to me. I’d have been the best coach on the continent if I had won it.