Fondly called Mathematical, Segun Odegbami ranks high among football players to have come out from this part of the world.
Odegbami’s exploits with the Nigeria national team are numerous; including helping the country to her first AFCON title in 1980.
However, the vastly-talented superstar played for IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan his entire career, from 1970 to 1984.
In this exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Odegbami revealed he actually had offers to play abroad but failed to follow them through.
PT: Many people know about your national team exploits, leading the then Green Eagles to win the first AFCON title in 1980 and all that, but one question some people ask is that did Segun Odegbami really have the chance to play abroad?
Odegbami: I had at least three chances, in fact, four chances. But then, it was not fashionable to play abroad.
Probably I didn’t have as much confidence because we didn’t have people who are playing there from here and doing well, so, I thought they were gods there.
I was reading Shoot magazine and all those things and we didn’t think those people playing them were human beings. So, for me to have now had the opportunity, I didn’t grab it.
One John Mastoroudes wanted me to go to Panathinaikos in Greece, when we went to Brazil for three months camping for the 1980 Nations Cup in 1979, we played against the team Fluminense in Brazil. Their president wanted me to come and play in Brazil. When we were playing in Shooting Stars, I had an offer to play in Jamaica of all places. Chief Lekan Salami held on to the offer letter, he didn’t show me until after the thing had passed.
But the one that most people know about… they don’t even know about is that Mr Kojo Alakija who was the team manager of the national team at that time arranged for me to go to Tottenham Hotspurs and I actually left, he gave me a ticket, I had other tickets in my bag, I was a very comfortable person in Nigeria. I had five cars in my house at that time, I was building my first house in Ibadan, I was a distributor for cement, beer, Coca-Cola and I was setting up my restaurant and so on in Ibadan. So, I was doing very well and the Pound was equal to the Naira, the currencies were equal. At that time even if you travel, you’ll come back with change, and put it in your pocket. So, life was very comfortable and the exposure that players have now, we didn’t have it there.
Matches were not shown live every week, you’ll watch one premiership match a week and it was on delay transmission, it was the match of the week. The World was different at that time, so, I actually went to London, went to Tunde Fagbenle, the journalist, and went to his house, to stay there so that I could wake up to go for my trials in Tottenham. That night, he took us out, we went to the empire board room with a late friend, Rufus Orisayomi and we went drinking and dancing, by the time we came back the following day, this Tottenham thing did not come to my head anymore. It was not as if I was too keen, because, in Nigeria, I was like a mini-god, the football was fantastic, anywhere you played, you were a hyper star. Than for me to go to Europe and be an unknown star at that time. So, that was how I wasted that opportunity, I didn’t bother to go there anymore, from there I spent my time, enjoyed myself, spent a few weeks before I came back to Nigeria.
I wish I had gone because they were actually waiting for me, they had arranged everything for me to go. They gave me a ticket to go, I arrived in London and I went dancing.
PT: Does any player come to mind that you would have been playing with?
Odegbami: That was the era of Ossie Ardiles there were three or four of them that came from Argentina, they won the 1978 world cup, they were in Tottenham Hotspurs by the time that I was supposed to go there.
PT: But now, several years after, an average Nigerian wants to play anywhere outside Nigeria, what is responsible in your own opinion.
Odegbami: Yes, because the Nigerian situation is pathetic. They say that our league is the best in Africa, that’s a joke because when you look at what is going on, you can’t count it among the best anywhere. You know, the pitches are horrible, few players are earning decent money now but when you convert it to the dollar, it is nothing. And there is so much corruption still within the system, you cannot remove the Nigerian football from the Nigerian state itself where everybody is corrupt in different ways. So, our football has not been cleansed of corruption and there’s no money in Nigerian football anyways. And where do you play to shine, you cannot play? You cannot find good players in Nigerian football because there is nowhere to really play to shine. The matches are not covered by television, even if the television wants to cover, the pictures will not be very good because the pitches are horrible. And our television coverage is so poor, you can’t cover with one camera. So, too many things are not right with the Nigerian league to the extent that there is nobody that will come to Nigeria to play professional football. And our people will not stay to play also if they are very good. The ones that remain are the ones that are not very good.
PT: On a final note, if you had the powers to turn the hands of the clock, would you have loved to play for a foreign club?
Odegnami: Oh… Absolutely. Now, when I evaluate, I see the kind of pitches where they play now if you cannot play there, then you cannot play football. I wish I was playing in this era, I would have been something else, I know it myself. Because of the state of the pitches, the atmosphere of the matches, the environment, you see people, your spirit is lifted. Yes, to that extent, I missed the opportunity of playing on those great pitches around the world. It’s because of ignorance really and not having people who had done it before who were like models you could see. When Stephen Keshi went, everyone now started to go, we didn’t have people like that, and that was the problem.