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Nigeria’s forgotten football heroes

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By Danusa Ocholi

Unlike other climes it is always difficult, if not impossible, for footballers, especially those who have reached the peak of the game, international soccer, to assume the headship of the country’s football Federation. Usually because of the huge amount required to play the politics, to buy the delegates votes as it’s is done in the nation’s politics. It is therefore understandable why most of the players that have toiled for the nation, especially those who do not participate in the politics to be sidelined, when it comes to appointment even as coaches or the NFF Standing Committees.

Some of them came to mind a few days ago, and many more will be given as time goes on. They include:Benedict Akwuegbu, Taribo West, Celestine Babayaro, Emeka Ezeogu and several others whom I will try to reel out as time goes on. I came out with these names based on my investigation, and the fact that neither the NFF nor the Sports Ministry had deemed it fit t ask of any of these sons of Nigeria who laid their lives, so to say, in the service of the nation, and for common good.

Benedict Akwuegbu

A former Nigeria’s international who played in all age grades competitions for Nigeria made his relevance at the height of COVID-19 pandemic recently when he visited Nigeria from Europe.

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The 2000 Africa Cup of Nations silver medal winner and ex Grazer AK of Austria forward was in Jos recently where he impacted on many after organising the inaugural edition of the Plateau Legends and Ben Akwuegbu Unity Cup Football Tournament .Reports also have it that four Golf cars were given out to his former colleagues and footballers to make life meaningful for them, although Akwuegbu would not want to make public the identities of the beneficiaries.

“Giving away four cars to my former colleagues, for me, is not something special. From my humble beginning, I was brought up to be my brother’s keeper,” the former Golden Eaglets, Flying Eagles and Super Eagles player said in an interview.

According to Akwuegbu:“ Yes, my tournament was a huge success. It also opened my eyes to the real situation on ground including the plight of our people following the Coronavirus Pandemic.

“So, I thought it wise to offer my own widow’s mite in the way of assisting my former colleagues by helping them out mobility-wise.”Akwuegbu, 45, had an illustrious career that spanned through RC Lens, France (1991-92), KSC eedracht Aalst, Belgium (1992-93), Harelbek, Belgium (1994-96), Waregem, Belgium (1996-97), Tienen, Belgium (1997-98), Grazer AK, Austria (1998-2002), Sheyang Ginde, China(loan 2002), Grazer AK , Austria (2002-2004), FC Karnten, Austria (2004), St Gallen, Switzerland (2004-2005), Wacker Innsbruck, Austria (2005-2006), Siegen, Germany (2006) and Tianjin Teda, China (loan 2006).The former Heartland of Owerri Assistant General Manager also had career spells at Panserraikos, Greece (2006-2007), Qingdao Jonoon, China (2007), Beijing Hongdeng, China (2008) and Basingstoke Town, England (2009-2010) before calling time on his career. Benedict Akwuegbu who played for more than 16 clubs between 1992-2010 was a popular name in the Austrian league between 1998 and 2002 after turning head while playing for Grazer AK.

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Akwuegbu is sad that “ after serving my fatherland, the football authority doesn’t seem to appreciate nor recognise my efforts,” Akwuegbu said.“It makes me feel the regret of playing for the Super Eagles. It makes me blame myself, and ask myself why I rejected Austria who were all over me then to play for their national team which I turned down in preference to Nigeria.

Akwuegbu represented Nigeria at all levels. He first featured in the U17s – the Golden Eaglets. He represented the country at the FIFA U-17 World Cup finals staged in Scotland, in 1989, although he did not get the chance to play in any of the three group matches and the second round tie.He deserves a prime place in the nation’s football. He has not turned his back on his country despite the injustice he has been suffering. A patriot and a compassionate lover of his people. May his tribe increase.

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Taribo West

The former Super Eagles defender has been hailed by the Italian giants AC Milan to be among the most rugged players to have come out of Africa. Inter Milan and the Confederation of African Football (Caf) sent heartfelt messages to Taribo West on his 46th birthday in appreciation of his contribution to the club and his country. Like Akwuegbu, Taribo is like a prophet without honour in his own country.

The former Nigeria international is famous for his solid defensive performances and colourful hairstyles during his playing years.Taribo, now a pastor, started his European career with Auxerre in 1993, having played for Nigerian sides Obanta United, Sharks, Enugu Rangers and Julius Berger. He has been left in the brink, like Akwuegbu for a long time.Something must be done by Nigeria to carry them along for their service to the country’s football. They may not have godfathers but their likes and Celestine Babayaro who was a bright star for his country and Chelea and Emeka Ezeugo equally need to be traced and carried along. Nigeria should not allow these great stars to waste. They should be considered for positions in the Nigeria Football Federation, the Sports Ministry and other spheres without delay.

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