I was advised to date Spanish girls to play for Real Madrid –Mutiu Adepoju
Ex-international, Mutiu Adepoju, speaks with TOFARATI IGE about his childhood, experience in the Super Eagles, marriage and other issues
What are some of the most memorable experiences of your childhood?
I was born into a loving family and we were brought up very well. I grew up in Ibadan. As I was growing, I had so many notable moments. One of them was when I began to play for the national team.
What lessons did your father teach you that have been helping you over the years?
My upbringing was very good. My parents instilled discipline in us and made sure that we didn’t go astray. We were taught to be humble and kind to people and I have been abiding by that all through my life.
What childhood pranks do you recall playing?
I cannot recall much at the moment but I remember that I used to sneak out of the house to play football.
At what point did you know that you wanted to become a footballer?
Right from when I was in primary school, I loved football so much. I used to play with my friends in the neighbourhood and also in school. When I got to secondary school, I started developing more interest in the sport and I was part of the school’s team during my time.
Did your parents support your football career?
Yes, they actually supported my career. They didn’t disturb my football activities and by the time I began to represent my secondary school, they supported me totally. I never had any problem with them.
Can you recall the first time you played football professionally?
I wouldn’t say playing for Femo Scorpions (Eruwa, Oyo State) was professional enough. I also played for Shooting Stars (Ibadan) and that was when I knew that in the long run, I had to travel abroad and go professional. I also played for the national under-20 team (Flying Eagles). After that, I went to Julius Berger (Lagos), where I stayed for a few months.
You played for Real Madrid’s junior team. How do you feel that you did not have the opportunity to play for the club’s senior team?
I was signed by the second team of the club. Being a young player, I couldn’t have gotten into the first team just like that. As a matter of fact, only three foreigners could play in the team at the same time. After spending two years there, I was supposed to be promoted to the senior team but unfortunately, it couldn’t be because there were already three foreigners on the team. After three years, I was transferred to Racing de Santander. I spent four years there before I was later transferred to Real Sociedad, where I also spent four years. From there, I went to Saudi Arabia and I played with Salamanca.
You spent over 20 years in Spain. What are some of the highlights of your time there?
I had good times at all the clubs I played with and I was very active.
Weren’t you tempted to take a Spanish wife while in Spain?
Not at all! While I was in Madrid, I was advised to date Spanish girls so as to aid my chances of getting into the senior club but I refused to do that. Before I travelled to Spain, I was already in a relationship with the lady who later became my wife.
When was the first time you played for the national team?
That was when I was with the U-20 team in Saudi ’89. During the qualifying games for the competition, I was the highest goal scorer and I helped Nigeria to qualify. My first game with the team was played at the Adamasingba Stadium in Ibadan. Before then, I was with Shooting Stars and I was the highest goal scorer there too; scoring five goals in six matches. In one of the games, I actually scored a hat trick.
How would you describe your experience during your time in the national team?
It was a great experience and it was a very heartwarming thing for me to represent the country. It is humbling that out of over 100 million people, I was chosen to play for the country. I was also able to play in three World Cups and three Nations Cups. I feel privileged being able to do all that and I am proud to be a Nigerian.
What are some of your notable moments while playing for Nigeria?
I have so many of them. At the semi-final game of Saudi 89’, when we played against USA, I scored two goals and it was a very great moment for me. In Senegal, at the 1992 African Cup of Nations, we won the bronze; it was also a memorable moment for me. Also, being in the team that qualified Nigeria for the 1994 World Cup was another heartwarming time for me. That was the first time that Nigeria would play at the World Cup.
What are your thoughts on Nigerian football at the moment considering that the World Cup is around the corner?
Looking at the ongoing preparation for the World Cup, I think the players have done pretty well. I think they are on the right track and if everything goes according to plan, they should be able to do well at the competition.
Do you think the team is making adequate preparation?
People have different opinions but I believe that they have been preparing well. I think they are on the right track.
How would you describe your experience as the administrator of the Kwara Football Academy?
I was able to work with a lot of young players and I already had some experience, having managed Shooting Stars. In everything that you do, it is important to learn and I learnt a lot to be able to do my job well. This helped me in terms of making decisions. It was a great time.
How did you feel when your contract wasn’t renewed by the Kwara State Government?
I knew that I couldn’t stay there forever; at some point, I would have to leave. I didn’t feel anyhow when the contract wasn’t renewed though I always tried to do my best while I was there. Even if I wanted to continue on the job, if the owners of the club didn’t want me there, it wouldn’t have made much difference. I just had to move on. It was the end of an era for me.
What are the challenges mitigating against the development of the local league?
There are so many challenges. One of them is poor funding. There are also poor facilities and equipment. However, I think that the league can be developed if all stakeholders work together and are committed. If all the facilities can be put into good shape, the fortunes of the league will definitely change for the better.
Do you think Nigerians are watching local league matches?
If people are not interested in watching, I believe that has to do with what is being offered. If they like what you give them, they would embrace it. If people are entertained and they get value for their money, they would turn to the local league. Football is entertainment and if people enjoy what you offer, it wouldn’t matter whether the game is played in Europe or in Africa. What we have not done is to take time to know what people really want and offer it to them.
What are some of your most notable moments while you managed Shooting Stars?
The most notable was when we got promotion from the second division to first division in my first year then. We were looking forward to do more but that was not to be due to some reasons.
What does being a La Liga ambassador entail?
I promote La Liga and I represent them at events to give them more visibility in Nigeria. I have been doing that by attending events.
Did you train specially to be able to score goals with your head?
It was something I had been doing since I was in secondary school. Back then, I could nod a ball no matter how high it was while my mates would be struggling to do the same thing. They used to call me ‘coconut head’ then. As time went on, I began to develop the skill until I was proficient at scoring goals with my head.
Out of all the three World Cups you played in, which was your most memorable?
USA ’94 was a memorable one because it was the first time Nigeria would participate in the World Cup. Personally though, France ’98 was my most memorable World Cup.
Who were you closest to in the team?
I was very close to everybody in the team but I was closest to Ike Shorunmu, Finidi George and Emmanuel Amunike.
What are some of the personal qualities that helped you in the course of your career?
Apart from the talent and the training, discipline also played a very important role. No matter how good you are, you should have self-discipline; otherwise, you would go astray.
What do you think are the most pressing challenges in the industry?
We need good facilities and equipment. Sadly, players have to rely on equipment that are not in good condition.
Is there anything you had to stay away from during your active career that you now enjoy doing?
Nothing was taken away from me while I was playing; I never drank or smoked. There is nothing I do now that I was not doing when I was playing.
What are some of the most challenging moments you have encountered?
That would be when I lost my mother. I was in Spain then and it was a very challenging time for me because I was very close to her.
What is your advice to the team going for the World Cup?
They should realise that all matches are different; so, they should strategise differently for all their games.
It is believed that footballers often indulge in drinking, smoking or womanising. Which is it for you?
Like I said earlier, it is very important to be disciplined. I never engaged in any of those vices. I live very simple life.
A lot of women must have flocked around you in your heydays. How did you handle your female fans?
I had no problem with that. I concentrated totally on my career and my family.
Apart from football, what other interests do you have?
Football is all that I know how to do and that is all I am involved in.
What do you spend your time doing now?
I spend my time doing a lot of things. I am the La Liga ambassador in Nigeria and I am also involved in a number of sporting activities. I also spend time with my family in Spain.
Is there anything you would love to accomplish that you haven’t been able to?
I am fulfilled with what I have achieved in football. However, in life, one shouldn’t stop dreaming as there are always things to achieve. I believe I still have a long way to go.
Are you open to leading any of the associations in the industry such as NFF?
I don’t know yet. Anything is possible.
What are the qualities that attracted you to your wife?
I was wowed by her simplicity and intelligence.
Was it love at first sight?
Yes, I think so because immediately I met her, I knew I would marry her.
How do you cope without being with your family?
It could get lonely at times but since I have activities that I am involved in that take my time, that helps.
Are any of your girls involved in sports?
I have four daughters and they all play basketball. My second daughter is in the US and she plays for her university there. My last daughter also plays in Spain.
Considering that you have four female daughters, do you sometimes get snide remarks from people?
Yes, people sometimes call me father of girls but it takes nothing away from me. I am so proud of my children.
How do you like to dress?
I always like to dress simple. When going for events, I wear whatever the occasion demands.
How do you relax?
I play squash and football. I also visit the cinema.
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