After an over three-month break, the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) is set to resume in a few days’ time.
One of the questions on the lips of many Nigerian football fans is whether Akwa United can retain the title they won for the first time last season.
However, Godspower Tower Anefiok, an attacking midfielder who played for the Uyo-based club until they were knocked out of the CAF Champions League this year, doubts that they can, and explains why in this interview with PREMIUM TIMES.
Anefieok has now returned to Kano Pillars, a club he played for in 2016 before moving to Tunisia to play for Etoile du Sahel. While in Tunisia, the former Nigeria U-23 midfielder also featured for Union Sportive de Ben Guerdane on loan.
After a two-year sojourn in Tunisia, Anefiok also tried out in Cyprus and Lithuania before returning to Nigeria with Akwa United and thereafter Enugu Rangers.
In this interview, he speaks on various issues, including why Nigerian clubs have recently not performed well in continental competitions.
PT: How would you rate Akwa United’s historic feat of winning the Nigeria Professional Football League last season against great odds?
Godspower: I wasn’t with Akwa United when they won the league, I was signed after they did but they did extremely well and I am proud of them.
PT: Have you ever won the league with any other club?
Godspower: Back then when I was in Kano Pillars in 2015, we had a great team and our aim was to win the league. But we had some issues that really affected the team and some players had to leave, the team was kind of scattered and that was the time we were close to winning the league.
PT: You have played in the Nigerian League and also abroad, how would you compare the experiences?
Godspower: There is a big difference between there and here. For example, you cannot travel six hours by road to play, you have to fly. But here in Nigeria, we travel days on the road, sometimes two days. With the things happening in Nigeria; no security, kidnapping and killings, we still travel by road to play away fixtures.
In fact, there is a lot of difference. In the Nigerian league, they don’t have specific dates to start or end. They can decide to do anything, stop the league and say, ‘okay that’s the end of the season’. But it doesn’t happen like that abroad; there is a big difference.
PT: So, is this why Nigerian teams don’t do well in continental football, except for Enyimba who have won two CAF Champions League titles?
Godspower: Truly speaking, I don’t really know what the problem is. Enyimba have been doing extremely well representing the country in CAF games. After Enyimba should be Rangers, they have tried a little bit but the rest, they haven’t lived up to expectations. I don’t know if it is from the player or from the management. I don’t really know what to say about that.
PT: We have seen over the years that club competitions in Africa are dominated by North African teams. You have played in that region, what do you think Nigeria can learn from them?
Godspower: The clubs there are owned by private businesses. But here in Nigeria, clubs are owned by the government and we know that governments run on budgets. For Instance, in a season they will tell you, ‘okay, we are budgeting N20 million that what we are going to give you to run the league’; but there they don’t do it that way.
There, they see it as a business. They buy good players from other countries, other places and other clubs, bring them together and pay good money. And they pay in dollars. So you can’t compare there and here in Nigeria. But we are still trying. At least now, it is better than five to six years back. Because in 2013 when I played with Akwa United, I saw some players earning N70,000 every month or N60,000. But now, we see players earning N600-700,000. They are improving and I think with time, everything will be okay.
PT: Do you think Nigeria-based players are getting enough opportunity in the national team or is it actually true that the country’s best legs are all abroad?
Godspower: We all believe that anybody playing abroad is better than the ones playing here in the local league but I don’t think that is true. Because I have seen a lot of players that played here and they went out there and still do well. I can boast of Ahmed Musa, he has been doing extremely well and other players.
I think before, the home-based players, like the local leagues, were not given enough chance to prove themselves. But now I have seen a lot of changes and a lot of opportunities coming in, trying to set up the home-based players and bringing them together and keeping them and also bringing friendly games for them to play to showcase themselves. So I think right now, we are on the right track about the home-based players.
PT: Have you at any time been invited to play for the national team at any level?
Godspower: I played for Nigeria U-23 under Coach Samson (Siasia) and I also played the Olympic qualifiers for him.
PT: So does playing for the country come with extra pressure?
Godspower: It is not normal football because even when we started we were in camp for over three months. We had a lot of players and every day some players go, new faces come in and you still have to do what you know how to do and keep on praying and wait for the last list to come out. There was no pressure when we travelled but there was pressure when it started. There were so many players, we were about 300 or so. And they kept going, new faces kept coming in from other big names, ‘this is my player, you have to do this’. They had to drop some players to bring in the new ones. But during the competition, we just played our normal football and that was in 2015 when we won the African tournament.
PT: Where does the pressure come from – fans, friends or officials?
Godspower: It depends. Sometimes, it comes from the fans, if you allow them to overwhelm you. Sometimes, it comes from the management, the coach or from any other, it depends though. As a professional football player, you don’t allow those things to come into your game, to affect your game. Try to keep them aside and concentrate. Be focused on what you’re doing.
PT: Which players would you describe as your role models?
Godspower: I have got a lot of players I would love to be like and that I am working on, learning stuff from them, watching them play. I love Neymar a lot but due to my position, my best player and role model is Kevin De Bruyne.
PT: Was going into professional football something you always wanted to do?
Godspower: I think it is something I wanted to do because my dad used to tell me then when we were kids that he used to play football but his father stopped him and told him to concentrate on his education. So, he now told me that the only way he would allow me to play was for me to keep my education first and back it up with football. I think I had some people pushing me. My mom was also pushing me, I think she was the first person that bought me my first pair of boots. It wasn’t by chance, it is what I wanted and my family also wanted it but they wanted me to concentrate on my school first. It wasn’t by chance.
PT: So how far did you go with your studies?
Godspower: That was during my secondary school but even with that, I didn’t finish because I had a deal when I was still in an academy. I travelled out and saw the way football was being run and everything and I had to put school as second and concentrated on travelling out and forgot about school.
PT: Any regrets about that decision?
Godspower: I will still choose football over school but I still have plans of going to school. I do have plans, I am just praying for the right opportunity to come and the right place I want to be able to do both at the same time. But then, when we were young, we never knew we could cover the two.
PT: Ahead of the new season, what are your predictions? Do you think Akwa United can retain the title and who are the contenders?
Godspower: With what I have seen after a few weeks with Akwa United, I don’t think they have those kind of players that can even compete for the league this season. Last season, they had good players, but I think most of the players left the club, I don’t know what happened, and they tried to recruit new players but still the same situation. I don’t think Akwa United will be among the top four this season. I don’t have any problem with them. They are a good team, that’s where I am from, but I don’t think they have the kind of team that can compete this season.
My three favourite clubs for the title are Kano Pillars, Rivers United and Enyimba.
PT: Thanks for your time
Godspower: Thank you.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: To advertise here . Call Willie +2347088095401...