Former Super Falcons goalkeeper Ann Chiejine ranks top among the first set of female footballers in Nigeria.
She was at the first female World Cup attended by Nigeria in 1991 and two other editions in 1995 and 1999.
Now a coach with Nigeria Women Football League side, Abia Angels, Chiejine speaks with PREMIUM TIMES on a range of issues in women football.
She also talks about her failed move to Arsenal 20 years ago which she said could have made her arguably the first female player from Nigeria to play professional football abroad
Enjoy excerpts from the interview……
PT: Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a former national team goalkeeper with the Super Falcons and now into coaching; at a time with the national team but now into club coaching.
PT: Which team are you handling presently?
I am with Nigeria Women Football League (NWFL) team, Abia Angels, Aba
PT: How has the transition from a player to a coach been for you and which do you enjoy more?
I enjoy both [coaching and playing], the graph is just on a straight line. As a player you are playing with your legs; now as a coach, you are using your legs and at the same time using your head. Sometimes you demonstrate, sometimes you think but I guess all of them work together hand-in-hand. But generally, both of them are okay. But you know what you can do then as a player you might not be able to do the same now as a coach. Whether we like it or not, it is still the same father and mother. But I really enjoy coaching, maybe because I had played the game well too. I enjoy coaching because I see it as an avenue for you to impact on young players. It is an avenue for you to know more about football, to teach and make a player that does not know anything to become something. So I see coaching as a great opportunity.
PT: How would you compare talents and interest during your playing days and now?
In our time, female football was just starting, it wasn’t like what we have today. The publicity was not like this. If I have my way, I would have loved to start my career now as a player. But you and I know it is way too late, I mean late not that one can not play football again but in the sense that you cannot play actively at the top. So basically, football has gone up, the graph has risen from where it used to be. Now, it is not the same thing. The opportunity we were given then and now are not the same thing, and the exposure we got then and now are not the same thing. Even when we look at the tactical and physical aspects of the way you train, it is not the same thing. Some training regimes during our time are now obsolete, if you start doing them now, people will ask questions whether you are okay. So in all, it is entirely different. But I would have loved to belong to this new generation where things have gone so sophisticated that computers even play football.
During our time, there was nothing like computers playing football. In fact, there is a gadget now that can give details likes how many headers a player made during the game, how many jabbing, how many passes made and all that. We didn’t have that during my own days. Football in 2020.. 2021 is not like our 1991 football, you cannot equate the graph at all.
PT: Looking at the performance of the Super Falcons at the last World Cup, were you impressed or disappointed?
Well, for me, these present Falcons’ team are the best generation of players we have ever produced as a country and they were given the best preparation ever, they were given everything. In my own opinion, I felt we should have gone further but man proposes and God disposes. I think we have gone, seen but not able to conquer. I hope next time we would be able to do better. But I tell you, that team had many things going on well for them. They had many friendly matches, they played together as a team, just that one or two things went wrong. In football, you either win, lose or draw, so they have tried their best. But I am telling you that in the history of female football when you count one, two or three, this Super Falcons had the best preparation ever.
One of the stars for Nigeria at that World Cup was goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie. What would you advise her as she seems to be the next big thing after you in that role?
For me, she is a fantastic goalkeeper, the future is bright for her if she can keep her head down and not deviate into one or two things. She should just focus on improving her goalkeeping talent, listen to what they are teaching her and… she would come out in flying colours.
If you look at it, she is definitely one of the best we have now. I was with her one time and I tried to talk to her; keep your head low, talk about discipline, determination and the desire to always improve. If she has all then she can go places. If you are doing well and you are still calm, people reckon more with you than when your head is not down, they won’t give a damn about you even if you are doing well.
Personally, I see her growing to become one of the best goalkeepers in the world
Do you think still playing in the league here in Nigeria (NWFL) will not affect her chances of getting to rub shoulders at the world level?
But this is where she came from. From the league, she went to the World Cup and did us proud. If she is not good she won’t be considered. Talking about rubbing shoulders with her mates across the world, she can even do that while still playing here. There is a huge chance that she would be scouted and get a move abroad. Everything is about time, we should look before we leap and not run faster than our shadow. I remember I was invited over by Arsenal in 1999 after the World Cup but I was denied a visa. I would have been the first Nigerian to play abroad. But for me, in every disappointment, there is a blessing, so I did not allow that to deter me.
When it is her [Nnadozie] time she would move abroad, she should just keep her head down and be focused so she does not go astray.
What is your take on the proposals by CAF to increase the AWCON to 12 teams and have a continental female club competition?
It is a good one because it would give us more exposure at the club level. At that level, you can say you are playing against an Egyptian or a South African team. It is a good platform for exposure and players can be picked from there. Many clubs will see you, coaches will see you and from there, it will help the national team coaches to even see more of them; not just at the AWCON. I pray the plans are implemented soon because if they do that, it will further open up women football in Nigeria and across the continent. Most countries are already catching up with Nigeria so we have to be very, very careful and open more doors for more women to join the game
PT: You appear trendy always, tell us about your fashion taste.
I am into fashion, I am a fashionista, I own a boutique and when you own a boutique you need to dress well and everyone wants to see you. You can’t be selling clothes you yourself don’t wear. If you are selling shoes you don’t wear, nobody will buy. That aside, I like looking good at any point in time. It is not hidden, everybody knows I am a fashionista and before you count one to five, I should be part of it.
PT: Thanks for sharing your time with us.
You are welcome.