Former Super Eagles goalkeeper, Dele Aiyenugba, in an interview with CHARLES OGUNDIYA says he is looking forward to winning something great with his new club, Kwara United. Excerpts…
It all started with Kwara Stars years back and now you are with Kwara United, what’s the affiliation with Kwara?
Kwara is like home to me, Kwara has been my place, I grew up there, my family are there at the moment, both immediate and extended are all in Kwara State, that’s my home, that’s where I started my career, and the fans are always with me, love me and I decided to return to Kwara United so as to bring back all the memories back to Ilorin.
What has kept you going as a goalkeeper despite your age?
The biggest motivation has been God’s grace, I also have my wife and son who is a goalkeeper that have been pushing me, also my family, who have been there. I will also want to give kudos to the fans who have been urging me on all these years, likewise I really want to give back to the young goalkeepers just coming up so as to make them better. I want to teach them, encourage them more.
What was it like winning the CAF Champions League trophy with Enyimba?
I remembered while playing for Enyimba during the time of Kadiri Ikhana, we always train three times a day so as to get the needed fitness. Then we push ourselves, we work hard and we always tell ourselves when we are not doing well. We always want to push more because we want to win trophies. I will say that was what helped Enyimba then coupled with the fans, and also the chairman, Felix Anyansi and also the state governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, who are all ready to go extra miles to help us to achieve results.
After your reign in the NPFL, you moved to Europe, why Israel and not any other country?
I will just say it was God calling because at that time, I had two offers, one from Egypt and the second Israel, but I decided to go to Israel and I never regretted going there, it was a nice place for me. I won some and lost some there in Israel, had a great time playing in Israel.
It was a case of you against Vincent Enyeama at the time in Enyimba and then you moved to Israel too, how would you describe your relationship with Enyeama?
We have been having good relationships all these years and even when we played together at Enyimba because I met him there. the relationship was good, it was not like a rivals, anyone called upon to be in goal, we always pray for each others, we support each others, my going to Israel was also about him. He was playing with Bnei Yehuda at the time and he told them that there is a goalkeeper that he can vouch for and that was how I ended up there. Even when we play against each other, it’s always fun and I have known him for so long a time. I really appreciate him always.
At a time, you always come in to replace Enyeama when it’s time for penalty in a major game, what kind of support do you always give each other?
During that time, I wont say I was a penalty specialist, I think it was just the grace to achieve that at the time and God’s grace. I also worked on the talent, the same thing Vincent did because I could recollect when he saved the country during an AFCON competition. We always work for each other and also support ourselves. I will say there was a healthy competition between the two of us. We always try to put each other on his toes which really bring out the best in us.
Would you say it has been a fantastic career for you as a footballer?
When I came back to Nigeria, I saw one article where all what i achieved in the Nigeria league were stated, i was amazed because I didn’t know i had achieved so much during my career. I always play my game while enjoying my football, I didn’t bother to put any record on my mind because if you are not enjoying what you are doing, then why are you doing it? I want to appreciate God Almighty for all I have achieved and still playing at this moment is all by God Grace.
Growing up, was there any goalkeeper you looked up to?
A lot of them, not one or two but the two key goalkeepers I always get in touch with are Dosu Joseph and Ike Shorunmu. Both encouraged me and I always look up to them. I really look forward to playing like them, playing in the national team and also to going to Europe. I really want to achieve something in this career and I will say I don’t have any regret whatsoever.
So why goalkeeping and not an outfield player?
During my growing up, I started playing as an outfield player but there was a day we didnt have a goalkeeper and I decided to take to the post, and that was how it all started. I will say it is a gift from God ALmighty, and since then I decided to stay on my lane, I decided to be a goalkeeper all through when i was young and later became a professional.
What was your parents reaction to your choice of career?
It was 50/50 for me. While my dad was supporting me, my mum doesn’t want to hear anything about football. The main reason why she was not interested was because most times after training, I will fall sick and will be admitted for days, so she was scared and not ready to allow me to play football. Gradually, I started coping with the training and I will say my dad was there for me all through. He bought my first boot for me, my first glove and other training kits, he was always there for me.
You mentioned earlier that your son is also a goalkeeper, was it a case of him following your footsteps or you wanting him to be?
Seriously I don’t want him to be a goalkeeper, I remembered a time when I came home for a break from Europe, we played together and he was never a goalkeeper then, but there was a time I saw a video where he was diving, I really don’t want him to follow my line because as a goalkeeper, you need to be strong mentally because you will maker mistakes and there will be time you will need to face a lot of criticism, you will need to be ready to face the fans and if you are not strong, it might be difficult for you to return back to your best. All the best goalkeepers in the world had made one mistake or two at a time in their career but always returned stronger. However, he is a strong guy, I was surprised to see him coping in games that i watched him play recently. I am sure he will be a great goalkeeper.
If you have not been a footballer, what would you have done in life?
I would have been a businessman because I cannot work in the office. Reason why I cannot work in the office was because I love to sleep a lot and if I decided to work in the office, then I will be sleeping a lot. I want something that will keep me moving.
Your time with the Super Eagles was not as you really want it to be, what will you say about that?
I never regret my time in the national team and I will use this time to appreciate all the coaches I work with in the national team, for giving me the opportunity to be part of the team. It was sad that I was not really given the chance to really play, but that’s the national team for you and I never regret playing in the national team.
What will you say has been the main problem stopping the home-based players from making the national team unlike your days?
During our days, we have so many players who started from the home front and all of us were given the opportunity to fight for a shirt in the national team. But I don’t know what’s really happening at the moment because we have the talents back at home at the moment. I already played three matches, I also watched some games and I can tell you we have fantastic players in the league at the moment. The referees are doing well and I can say football is changing. I will say during our time, the coaches always encourage the home-based by giving them the platform to prove themselves, but now I’m not sure we have such things. When you invite a player to the national team, you don’t expect all of them to click at the same time, you will have to give them more time. Also the coaches need to watch league games, I remembered how Vincent was discovered by Coach Onigbinde, it was a game between Enyimba and Julkius Berger, Onigbinde was at the stadium and that was it, so they need to watch these players and see what they are doing but seriously i don’t think they are doing that now.
People already talking about your performance and many talking about you returning to the national team, do you think it’s possible?
I don’t think that’s possible, I can’t return to the national team now. What I am doing now is just to enjoy my game, even coming to Kwara United, i was not thinking of starting as the first choice, I really want to see the development of other goalkeepers but now I am starting games. All i want to do now is to help Kwara United to achieve something with the club with the help of all other players.
How do you relax and enjoy yourself outside football?
All i do is to rest if not playing football like i said before, I love to sleep and if i am not sleeping, I always read books. Sometimes when I decide to watch a movie, within a few minutes, the movie will be the one watching me, so it’s either sleep or book for me.