JS Herculeksen valmentaja Ladi Babalola on pelannut pitkän uran Nigerian pääsarjassa ja on tunnettu pelaaja kotimaassaan. Herculeksen nettitoimituksen käsiin saapui nigerialaisen lehden tekemä haastattelu.
Keshi, Muda Lawal didn’t allow me play for Eagles – Babalola
By ‘TANA AIYEJINA, Published: Sunday, 18 Apr 2010
Ladi Babalola. Remember him? He was a member of the Flying Eagles to the Chile U-20 World Cup in 1987. In this interview with ‘TANA AIYEJINA, he talks on his early days as a footballer, why he couldn‘t really break into the Eagles and lots more
Can you recount how you started football?
I started with street football then onto my primary and secondary schools and my university days. I attended Ladi-Lak Primary School, Yaba, Okemagba High School, Epe and then Lagos State University. I played for all my schools. While in secondary school, I joined a team in Ikorodu- Attack FC. We often came to Lagos to play Principal‘s Cup and it was from there that most teams‘ officials in Lagos saw me as a potential football player.
In my last year in secondary school, we played favourites Zumratul Islamiya Grammar School. We gave them a good fight but we lost the match on penalties and I was one of the best players on the pitch that day. It was after this game that most clubs started coming to Epe to talk to me but I was busy with my WAEC exams then.
When did you start club football?
When I played the Super League with Attack FC, I was approached by Stores manager Baba Joo and a former Stores manager, Nowoola, who left Stores for Nigeria Airways, wooed me to join them. I weighed both teams‘ offers and then decided to play for Nigeria Airways even though my father was a strong Stores supporter. My father never tried to influence my decision though most of Stores‘ supporters then thought I would play for them. They called a meeting and asked my father about my decision. He directed them to me saying I had a right to decide on what I wanted. Really, it was a big fight as some Stores supporters fought Mr Nowoola and tore his dress at the UAC Stadium.
During my first appearance for Airways against WEMA Bank, it was a hell of a fight in the stadium. Stores fan claimed Mr Nowoola left Stores and wanted to destroy the team, saying that was why he gave me so much incentive to lure me away.
When did you get your first invitation to the national team?
I left Airways to Julius Berger to play in the National League and once you were playing in the big league, surely you would be noticed. But funny enough, my first invitation in 1985 wasn‘t to the Flying Eagles but to the Green Eagles but I didn‘t go to the camp.
This is strange because every player wants to play for their national teams…
(Cuts in) Yes, it‘s what players were praying for but then I thought I was too young to play in the team so I let go the invitation even though the NFA sent the letter to Julius Berger twice asking me to report to camp.
Later, I got another invitation to the Flying Eagles in 1986 and we were camped in Ibadan at Benbo Games Village. We had the likes of Dehinde Akinlotan, Paul Okoku, Segun and Femi Olukanmi, Andrew Uwe, Friday Ekpo, Yisa Shofoluwe Chibuzor Ehilegbu but at the end of the camping exercise, I was dropped from the squad at the last minute.
You eventually made the squad to Chile U-20 World Cup in 1987. What caused your first round exit after losing to Brazil, Italy and managing a draw with Canada?
I eventually played for the junior national team in 1987. This is the question I was waiting for. Most Nigerians don‘t know what went wrong. On our side as players, I think we did our best. Firstly, we were over-promoted from home and secondly our opponents had every detail about us. Can you imagine that when we got to Rio de Janeiro airport, we met the Brazilians and even with our Agbada on, they still recognised us? That meant they had watched videos of our games. But we were just hearing names from our journalists without any information about any of the teams we were to play against. That was the politics of the game which we didn‘t know.
Was it true that a lot of the players were undisciplined and that Etim Esin‘s injury also contributed to the poor outing?
No. There was nothing like that really; the media was just trying to give names to some players. Etim was fully alright by the time we played in the World Cup and he played well. From time, Etim was not a goal scorer in the mould of a player like Jonathan Akpoborie but he could create chances to score goals. The team was okay but I think we were unlucky.
Why were you unable to break into the Super Eagles?
If you remember, I played the same position with Stephen Keshi. My second option was the defensive midfield position where the late Muda Lawal held sway. Even though I was doing well in the league and got lots of invitation to the national team, I knew what the result would be. It was like someone coming to the Flying Eagles then and expect to take my place from me before the World Cup. That was the true situation.
Can you tell us about your pro career abroad?
I played for a very long time in Nigeria before I went to play in Bangladesh in 1995. I moved to Spain to join Levante Valencia but I was unable to break through due to a last minute injury. So I went back to Bangladesh to start playing after I finished my treatment in Nigeria. I was the second highest goal scorer in the league with Concord FC of Abeokuta in the 1994\95 season before I left the country.
What was the highlight of your career?
I‘m here today after a successful football career as a player and I have decided not to keep my talent to myself but share it with the upcoming ones because I will forever be grateful to those I played with when I started with Nigeria Airways. I am talking of people like Alhaji Ajagun, Alhaji Sadiq, Godwin Odiye, Eugene Odiye, Tommy Iwebor, Paul ‘Baby‘ Anieke and most of all my father in the game coach Joseph Erico and several others I can‘t really mention who played a role in my football career. I will forever remain grateful to them.
What about your best and worst moments?
Really if I have the chance to choose the profession in my next world, believe me I‘ll choose football because I don‘t think I ever had any bad moment of any kind in football. For me, there were no dull moments at all.
Can you still recall your best goal ever?
It was in 1995 during a league game between Concord and Julius Berger, my former club at the Asero Stadium, Abeokuta. I scored the only goal of the match two minutes to the end of the match. It was a half volley from outside 18 yards that beat goalkeeper Joseph Dosu. There had been a lot of hype about the match and my friend Osagie Esan had promised that I won‘t score; really there was a plan against me in the match because most of the players knew what I could do on the field of play.
When we were together in Berger, there were some tricks I used to score against opponents and they knew them and didn‘t want me to use it against them after I had left them. That was why they all concentrated on me. I must confess it was a very interesting and tight match. With few minutes to the end of the match, supporters of both clubs started going out of the stadium thinking the match would end in a draw but suddenly they heard the shouts of goal and they came rushing back to the field and asking for the name of the player who scored the goal.
What are you doing now?
I‘m am currently coaching Tarmo FC Oulu and Hercules FC OULU in Finland‘s third and fourth divisions respectively.
Have you been monitoring the Nigerian league from Finland?
Since I left I have not really followed the Nigerian league because it was in a mess before I left. I‘ll blame the media first for the situation of our football because even before I left most Nigerian coaches were always afraid of signing players with big names because the media classified such players as tired legs. So how can the young ones grow if they don‘t have someone to learn from?