Why I did not play in Europe throughout my career
Henry Onyemanze Nwosu, MON is former Nigerian footballer turned Manager. Born and bred in Surulere, Lagos State about 57 years ago, Nwosu who hails from Umuoye, Naze in Owerri North Local Government Area of Imo State spent his career at home with New Nigerian Bank, NNB Football Club of Benin, African Continental Bank, ACB Football Club of Lagos. 37 years ago, the experienced midfielder won the Africa Cup of Nations for Nigeria, a feat that is still remarkable. In this interview with GILBERT EKEZIE, he spoke about his football career, exploits, and life after retiring from active football and other issues.
How did you become a footballer?
I started football as a toddler then at Obele Odan Boys and Girls Club in Surulere, Lagos. Then we used to play inter-streets football competitions with a ball called felele. That was how we continued, until I started playing for my school, Salvation Army Primary School. From there, I began to improve and graduated to play for my secondary school, Ansar’ Udeen High School, Surulere, Lagos in 1974. Later I proceeded to St. Finbar’s College to continue my education from class 2. Due to my skill and disposition, I was invited to the Flying Eagles and the Green Eagles in 1977, an accomplishment that made me popular in the country, particularly after we won the Africa Cup of Nations in 1980. We formed the Greater tomorrow with Benson deem, Captain Franklin Howard, Stephen Keshi etc.
What really motivated you to become a footballer?
Well, I would say that my family background was a great motivational factor for me to develop interest in football. It is therefore interesting to state here that football runs in my family. My eldest brother played football very well that many people said I was not close to him in terms of skill, though he did not get to the height of his career as a result of recurring injuries. My immediate elder brother also played football. So, the game runs naturally within the family.
At what level did you come to limelight?
It was in 1979 when I joined New Nigerian Bank football team in Benin newly. Then, we played a match against the Eagles in Benin, with the likes of Late Bashir Lawal, George Omokaro, Sefiu Mohammed etc. I was a young school leaver from nowhere, I played so well that I was spotted and called to the National team, though they defeated us 2-1.
You won the African Nations Cup in 1980, how did it happen?
When I just came into the team, I looked at myself and asked myself if I could match the likes of George Omakaro, Mudashiru Lawal, Felix Agbonifo, Sefiu Mohammed and Aloysius Atuegwu. But after that, I told myself that since it was football, I would give my best.
Could you tell us about your international football career?
I played for ASEC Mimosas of Ivory Coast and Racing FC Bafoussam of Cameroun. I was the youngest of the Nigeria’s victorious of the 1980 Africa Nations Cup squad and scored the only goal for Nigeria at the 1980 Olympics. I played my last game for Nigeria in 1991.
What did you go into immediately you disengaged from playing football in 1991?
After disengaging from active football, I got a job to manage Ibom Stars in 1997. I later became an assistant to my former teammate, Samson Siasia at the 2008 Beijing Olympics where Nigeria won the silver medal. Later, I was made an assistant to Festus Onigbinde who took the Super Eagles to 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan. On 27 September 2008, I was appointed as the coach for the Nigerian U-17 team. However, I was removed from the post in April 2009 after a string of poor results in preparation for the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup. Thereafter, I was hired as coach of Union Bank FC. In October 2013, I was named coach for Gateway United FC of Abeokuta.
How did you feel being invited to the national team as a schoolboy?
As a young schoolboy, making it to the senior national team was a great feat for me. I was happy and highly honoured to be invited to play alongside the likes of Christian Chukwu, Segun Odegbami, Adokie Amesieamaka, the late Muda Lawal and others. And I thank my senior colleagues in the team for accepting me as one of them. In fact, it never crossed my mind that I would not make the team because my mission and objective was to play for the national team and I concentrated and tried to improve on my game and played to the delight and expectations of the coaches.
Why didn’t you play in Europe throughout your football career?
Well, I did not play in Europe because as at that time playing in Europe was not very popular since the Naira was very strong when compared to the dollar. At that time, a dollar was about 43 kobo, so why would I want to play in Europe to earn dollars when the Naira was stronger? So, the attraction was not there. Besides, the main reason I did not play in Europe was as a result of cold weather, which I could not stand.
Were you ever invited to play in Europe?
Yes, I was invited by some agents to play in England and Spain on so many occasions, but I turned down the offers because as I said, my health could not withstand the weather and I would not be able to play at my best under such situation. I could remember that I dumped one of the invitation letters from a Spanish club because it was written in Spanish and I could not read what was written.
Who would you say encouraged you more to succeed in football?
I remain grateful to Mike Malagu, who helped me to develop my game as a secondary school boy. I also hold Kashimawo Laloko and Otto Gloria who helped me in developing my attitude in football in high esteem. But in terms of the technicality of the game kudos must go to Otto Gloria. It was through his influence that I am into coaching today. Brazilian legend, Edson Arantes de Nascimento is my role model.
How did you feel winning the Africa Nations Cup in 1980?
I felt like a baby whom everybody wanted to carry, being a young boy, who just came out of secondary school and was already making waves and being supported and liked by everybody. Then, I was decorated with a national honour, given a car, a house and several other gifts by the Shehu Shagari administration. So everybody wanted to associate with me. I felt great and on top of the world.
What were you into after retirement from active football?
I joined ACB as an Assistant Manager. Along the line I went for coaching course and got my certificate. I played for ACB from 1992 to 1993 before I was redeployed to work at the Abakaliki branch office as Assistant Manager and Accountant. That was where I learned the banking job for five months before being transferred back to Lagos. Then, in 1998, we were laid off and I went into coaching full time. The first league team I coached was Iyayi football club of Benin. I also coached Federal Government College football team, Ojo, Lagos; Atletico Club of Lagos as well as Iwuanyanwu Nationale Football Club of Owerri as an assistant coach. Other clubs include Union Bank FC of Lagos, Federal Housing Authority FC, Lagos, (FESTICO FC) and lastly Gateway Football Club of Abeokuta, I left Gateway in 2012.
What do you think are the challenges facing football in Nigeria presently?
One of the greatest challenges facing our football today is that many players no longer go through the rudiments of the game and therefore lack good ball control. Many of them do not know when to pass the ball and when to dribble, and they also lack good positioning. Most of the players cannot play for their local governments back home, but they want to go abroad to play for teams like Barcelona, Chelsea, and Arsenal when they are not fully matured and prepared for it. So, I think something should be done in that direction.
What is life after retirement?
I have been living without a job for about two years eunning and it has not been easy for me. It is unfortunate that the country does not care for their heroes. Many of us are being neglected to the extent that it becomes difficult to manage. As I am speaking to you, I do not have any means of livelihood. I live by the little money people give me. But that is not enough. I still have children to train, so I cannot continue to live by almsgiving when I am still strong and ready to work. Each day, I think about my condition and wonder why it should be so. During our time, there was no much money in football; we had the passion and commitment to make our country proud. That is why many of us are suffering now.
What do you think is the reason for the neglect?
Probably, it could be because we do not have godfathers. It was Onigbinde that personally invited me then to assist Samson Siasia to coach the Eaglets in 2009. But till date, I have not been given such opportunity again. I do not really know what my offences are that I should be abandoned and rejected like that. I am begging that even if I offended anyone in the football sector, or other places, they should please forgive me and give me the opportunity to serve in order to survive, and at the same time, take our football to a greater height.
You said you are still strong and ready work, what area do you think you are fit?
Since the time I stopped playing, I have been training young footballers. So, there is no day I do not do exercise to keep fit. I am capable and ready to manage any team or serve as a coach. I want anyone to give me a trial.
Would you support any of your children to be a footballer?
I was opposed to my first son’s choice of football as a career, in spite of the fame football brought to me. I preferred an academic pursuit for him. Besides, if the younger ones want to play football, they could go ahead, but as for my first son, I charged him to concentrate on his education. The other younger ones I taught them the rudiments of the game without them losing focus on their education.
What would you want to be remembered for?
I am really a grassroots person and I like working for grassroots development. Therefore I would want to be remembered for discovering a lot of young talents for Nigeria and for the future of football.