First Nigerian Footballer To Play Abroad Assignment

Says drunken driver ruined career
Former Green Eagles star, Christian Nwokocha, holds the record of being the first Nigerian player to sign for an European first division team in the early 80’s. JOHN EGBOKHAN goes down memory lane in this conversation.

What have you been doing since your exit from football? Was it worth quitting the game.

I left international football as a result of an auto vehicular accident 1985. It was caused by a drunken driver. My academic career started from ClemsonUniversity where I earned a B.Sc degree in Administrative Management with a minor in Accounting.

I have satisfied the requirement of MBA in Technology Management and Master’s of Science in Accountancy. On the other hand, I am a candidate for CPA and PhD in management in organizational leadership with special emphasis in Information Systems and Technology at University of Phoenix. I have also been under the employment with the United States Defense logistics Agency, Defense Contract Administration Agency and Defense Finance and Accounting Service. I am a certified Total Quality Management (TQM).

The above listed professions and academic career are not worth quitting football if I did not suffer injury because of monetary value attached to football. Shortly after my automobile accident in I985 I had to prepare myself for future challenges that have compensated me well because one can become whatever he or she wants to be if he or she puts the mind to it. As one of the pioneers of Nigeria football, we must set standards for younger generation to follow and that makes us stand out as international player.

What do you know about Keshi and do you feel  he is the right person to coach the Super Eagles. Can he qualify us for the World Cup.

Coach Keshi is a fine young man I met when I was invited to Green Eagles in 198 for a  World Cup qualifier.. I found Keshi at the time very interesting not because he was a fine player but very intelligent, honest, and sincerely friendly. He is just like our very own Paul L. Okoku, a founding father of ANED who is very professionally, straight-forward and friendly. Keshi is similarly inclined to Okoku’s personality and can easily qualify Nigeria for the World Cup if no interference is experience.  Keshi’s relationship with players is in sincere interest of helping players. Coaches accept their responsibilities with a true commitment to their players in helping them to expand their abilities and become better players.

What are your fears for the Eagles in the World Cup race

I have no fears but any interference coming from people other than the coach who should never be allowed to come in contact with the standards and policy (politics) of NFF will be my fears.

After careful evaluation of Coach Steven Keshi’s performance in South Africa, my findings clearly indicate that there are many processes of providing leadership to Super Eagles and the best process lies on the exact team objective conditions. The majority of the grouping preferred leadership style concern for task but with sufficient level of concern for people.

The generally preferred leadership model employed by Keshi was a mixture of transformational and situational leadership as most would enjoy engaging others in team activities and decisions. The resultant research I believe that involving all associate members through collaboration and compromise will result in the most effective team results.

What I have learned thus far from the United States, Nigerian Green Eagles and ANED will provide me the opportunity to conduct research on Super Eagles and recommend it into a business setting. Overall, I strive to continue furthering my education to enhance and improve my depth of knowledge and skills.

The doctoral program will only give me an opportunity to be a well-known advocate of information system among colleagues within my professional rankings.

Eventually I hope to be a vital part of society. I firmly believe that with he right idea, opportunity becomes available

My credibility and sources of information and information literacy has been acknowledged and evaluated up to this point.

You hold the record of being the first Eagles star to sign for a first division side in Europe? How did you manage to get the deal and what impact did it have on your other players

Yes, thanks in part to a goal I scored against Sporting F.C Portugal. It was a fine game between Sporting and Penn Stoners. I was hot after I left Memphis Rogue that drafted me out of NCAA Div 1 as its first pick. As NASL was on strike, Willie Ehrlich, stoner’s president made a contact that I switch to Penn Stoners. At the time, I played against Sporting and penetrated its defense was not aware Sporting F.C Portugal was a powerful European Div one team.

Shortly after, the game ended, coach Menedez and the team officials tapproached me to take telephone contact of my U.S. based lawyer for contract negotiation. Two days later, my lawyer advised that we must travel to Lisbon on invitation of Sporting. Upon arrival to Portugal my lawyers, entered into contract to join sporting. Upon arrival to Lisbon for preparation, I met Eusobio and I played against Franz Beckinburg of Germany both were among the super stars players at my ceremonial game after my contract was sign.

Of all the coaches that you played under in the Green Eagles, which do you think was the best and what stood him out

Coach Dan Anyiam is one of the best players and coaches Nigeria ever produced. Dan is not just a coach, he inspired young players to pursue their education. He specifically, told me to further my education if I can. Jerry Ayeazu was attempting to stop us from going to America because of Nigeria/Ghana athletic events. Coach Dan was the one who confronted other official not to discourage us from furthering our education.

He told me while the sports director was physically present to go because the director’s own son will fly probably in the same Pan American plane to America. Coach (father) Tikko was also instrumental to my earlier development in football and prepared to national  team. Coach Otto Gloria, the ex-national team coach for 1966 Portugal’s World-cup inspired to lead Nigeria to 1982 world-cup.

You have been in USA for a long time, don’t you think that your countrymen back in Nigeria can benefit from your vast wealth of experience to turn around our sports.

Definitely, yes. I am an officer of  ANED. ANED) is a non-profit   corporation and operates exclusively for sports fundraising, sports recreation and   charitable purposes within the meaning of Section 501 (c) (3) of the United States Internal Revenue Code, or the corresponding section of any future U.S. Federal tax code.  ASSOCIATION OF EX-NIGERIAN INTERNATIONAL IN DIASPORAS’s (ANED’s) purpose is to support and encourage the affairs of disadvantage ex-international players and to support Super Green Eagles of Nigerian national team players in America and all over the world.

ANED will be in negotiation with six popular and able Nigerian governors and prominent Nigerian businessmen to join us. The plan will strengthen and assist Super Eagles with financial assistance based on Super Eagles present and future accomplishments. We hope the team will continue, especially after the team’s recently concluded Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa. The amount raised by ANED from the 50 States of USA will be assigned to assist ex-Super Eagles with its obligatory expenses at 80% of the amount raised after excluding 20% expense used for fundraising throughout USA.

Are any of your children into sports and if not, what not and if yes, did you encourage them to get into sports.

My first son and second boy are into American football while the third boy is into soccer. The Constitution of the United States gave them absolute rights to make choice. I would  not interfere in the choices they make.

What is the biggest problem of Nigerian sports and why are Nigerians abroad unwilling to contribute their quota to the game’s growth.

The biggest problem of Nigerian sports is the welfare of the players after their careers and their families. Many groups of Nigerian citizenry whether or not they work for the government sports management council or private ventures in Nigeria are trouble by a lack of strong leadership when it comes to making salary payments. Is this a legitimate concern for the government that a family man/woman in Nigeria with children could be paid salaries late in three months in arrears after job performance is complete? I honestly believe that there is indeed a “crisis of leadership” in today’s sports management and that it is incumbent upon Nigerians of all walks and all responsible parties at home to redress the problem.

I argue that individual’s involvement to this dilatory conduct in paying these coaches and players are simply not looking in the right directions for effective leadership; it exists in the form of numerous numbers of citizen leaders. Association of(Ex- International in diaspora is well conscious of the challenges to leadership in today’s world, and to present its concerns to the “crisis of leadership,” which I believe that upon information and belief parallels the citizen leaders of any competent organization.

What do you remember that makes you to feel sad and at the point of tears

The 1982 World-Cup in Spain is remarkable history of the Green Eagles and that year would have been the country’s first appearance in the W0rld  Cup under the control of mathematical Odegbami. Unfortunately, Nigeria lost the last game to Tunisia. I remembered vividly how sad I was my injury before the first match in Lagos. I was invited from Sporting F.C Portugal at the cost of Nigerian taxpayers.

The fifty-thousand per game agreement entered by Sporting and Nigeria felt the pain too and sadness as I had a swollen toe after my first practice in Nigeria. I saw the biggest sadness of a nation in sports and tears of the defeat on coach Otto Gloria’s face. Otto Gloria who had been at the airport to receive me in Nigeria when I first arrived,  could not believe seeing a swollen leg in that condition. My dear professional friends Andy Atuegbu, Tunji Banjo, and John Chidozie were all looking at my leg with dismay.

Any regrets and share it

In 1974, I was called up to national assignment to represent Nigeria, the defunct Green Eagles, and I featured for the team in many competitions with Stars like Kenneth Olayibo, Hurana Elerika, Christian Chukwu, Jesse Dunbraye, Owolo, Andy Atuegbu, Obed Ariri, Muda shiru Lawal, Emma Okala and Patrick Ekeji. I was also determined to further my studies when the opportunity presented itself from the U.S. I desired to proceed with the studies because of the situation with football administration and was very fortunate to be among the pioneers of Nigerian football who received scholarship to study in the U.S. Nigerian athletes were being ignored as if we were only meant to entertain only; players were also neglected shortly after their careers ended.

I did not want to be denied the privilege to school. Our players were not encouraged or given opportunities to excel in academics in Nigeria universities until we took it upon ourselves to open roads for others to emulate and   received American scholarship. Nigeria is a country where people who did not play football are given more opportunities than players with advance degrees to lead and administer sports. I have no regrets but to show my honest gratitude for Nigeria.

‘I’ve never seen my mum happier after I broke the story to her, she was ecstatic, dancing up and down,’ Bako Danladi said about the day he told his mum that his dream of playing football professionally abroad seemed to be coming true.

Danladi is one of hundreds of young aspiring footballers who hold high dreams of emulating their predecessors by plying their trade outside the shores of Nigeria.

For the 24-year-old player Bangladesh was supposed to be his stepping stone to bigger things in professional football. Unfortunately, it turned out to be his worst nightmare.

Bako Danladi (right) says his experience did teach him lessons.

‘As you know, every player had to start from somewhere. Who knew John Obi Mikel when he was at Lyn Oslo or Ahmed Musa before he went to CSKA Moscow? They all started from lower divisions outside Nigeria.’

In the year 2013, on February 15, Danladi said someone approached him immediately after finishing a training session at the Kuchingoro (a town on the outskirts of Abuja) football field.

The person told him he was an agent for some foreign clubs and was impressed with what he had seen during the game and was willing to help Danladi actualise his ambition of playing abroad.

Like most in Danladi’s position who are in deep poverty and are hoping their footballing talents would one day pull them out of the misery, the proposition sounded exciting and difficult to turn down.

‘My father is retired after working for 30 years as a gateman for a water-bottling company while my mum is just a housewife without skill for any kind of work,’ he said.

‘I couldn’t sleep that night, just imagining how immense this new development would be for my family.’

Danladi is the eighth child in a family of twelve and the only one to have gotten any sort of tertiary education among all the family. His other siblings all had to drop out due to financial troubles.

His talent always seems to bail him out. He says that since from the age of 14 when his abilities became prominent, he started representing local teams for competitions and usually earned enough to pay for his school fees.

He had just graduated from the College of Education Zuba in Abuja when he met Ikechukwu Samuel who promised to get him a club in Dhaka, Bangladesh where he has already taken four other players like him and are now doing well.

‘I couldn’t sleep that night, just imagining how immense this new development would be for my family and what it would really mean to find oneself abroad for the first time.’

Samuel asked him to talk with his family about raising the required US$2500 for paper works and the trip itself promising to call him the next day to know how the discussions went.

Danladi was anxious and spent the remaining days in Nigeria imagining his new buoyant life overseas.

After all the excitement had died down, reality dawned on Danladi and his family who have been given the huge task of coming up with 500,000 Naira within a month. (No member of the family has ever owned that sort of money.)

‘At first I went to talk to some of the richest people around my neighbourhood who I know have the means to assist but all that efforts which took days only raised 500 Naira.’

To cut a long story short, Danladi’s family was able to raise the sum after concerted efforts from other extended family members who all chipped in with something to help the mission after 12 months.

He submitted the fee to Ikechukwu and the trip was fixed for February 19, 2014. Danladi was anxious and spent the remaining days in Nigeria imagining his new buoyant life overseas.

He thought he was going to play for Feni Soccer Club which plays in the Bangladeshi Premier League and was supposed to be expecting the left-footed striker with a wonderful reception in waiting.

‘The promise was US$1000 a month, amazing accommodation and more accessibility to European clubs which had agreements with the Asian team.’

Bako Danladi (right) now trains with Hope Stars in Abuja.

His arrival in Dhaka was as low key as it could get. He called the number he had been given several times before he got a response and spent hours waiting before someone was sent to get him. They also took a taxi to their location. It didn’t look good.

It was his arrival at the club’s headquarters that made Danladi realise that it wouldn’t be as rosy as he’d imagined.

‘I met two other Nigerian players, John Uche and Oluwatosin Yemi, who had just arrived and we were asked to sit in a hall before the team’s coach would come and see us with other details.’

After briefings, they were taken to their abode. It was a hostel facility within the team’s ground. It lacked some basics like clean toilets and water and to make matters worse, none of the players were asked to sign any paper. There was even less talk of receiving payment.

The season hadn’t started at the time so the players were just undergoing training sessions with the club’s Portuguese trainer Nuno Petit.

‘Feeding was irregular and we were yet to be paid anything, so after two weeks we summoned up the courage to make enquiries through the gaffer, who wasn’t really aware of the situation.’

‘The monies we raised for the trip would have done a lot for our family by now, would have enhanced my brother’s grocery business which the whole family relies on at this time.’

Danladi got US$500 after four weeks in Dhaka with a promise from the club that the balance would be offset in days. This never happened. The next two months was excruciating for the trio who now decided to move out of the hostel since conditions were very poor.

The Nigerian embassy was the next refuge which harboured the players for a week before arranging for them to be flown back home.

His family was already aware of the situation; he usually updated them via telephone but all efforts to trace Ikechukwu proved abortive as he has changed his address and telephone number.

‘I learnt a big lesson. The monies we raised for the trip would have done a lot for our family by now, would have enhanced my brother’s grocery business which the whole family relies on at this time.’

Danladi in action for Hope Stars.

Coming back home with only US$300 and a bitter experience wasn’t the main issue that continues to trouble Danladi but the fact that Feni SC still owes him about $2500 (minus deductions) for his stay over there which the player hopes will be paid to him one day.

Meanwhile FC Seni denies Danladi’s allegations, saying the player was a never a bonafide player of the club and was only with them for a three-month trial which failed to land the striker a deal with the Dhaka-based club.

The club went on further to say that no contractual agreement was signed between them and the player, hence stories of exploitation and violations are baseless.

‘We will never go against sporting ethics, laws guiding player transfers and contractual agreements, have always treated our foreign players with utmost respect and professionalism,’ part of the statement reads.

The Nigerian embassy in Dhaka failed to respond to series of emails on the issue which might be connected to the fact that the country’s new regime is yet to appoint an ambassador for Bangladesh to approve any disclosure.

Meanwhile Danladi continues to wait.

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