*Calls for early preparations for Olympic qualifiers
By Ime Bassey
Due to his frequent goals at training sessions for the Dream Team V prior to the Kumasi showdown last weekend, Atlético Madrid young star, Otubanjo Olaitan was picked as part of the starting eleven that battled the Black Meteors of Ghana but lost 2-0 to miss out of the All Africa Games. His football techniques and pace showed on the pitch before he was substituted in the second half of the encounter. After the match he spoke with Sunday Vanguard Sports at the team’s hotel. Excerpts:
You finally wore the Dream Team V jersey today, how do you feel?
I want to thank God for making it possible that I am part of the Dream Team V, especially to even make the starting eleven. I feel happy being welcomed to the team despite our loss.
I have been looking for an opportunity to be part of the national team. I am very grateful to God that he made it possible for me after a long wait that is why I used all my heart to play the game because I do not know when another opportunity will come my way.
What was on your mind when the team conceded the goal in the first half of the game?
Football is a game that you cannot predict because anything can happen in the cause of the 90 minutes. The early goal gave the Ghanaians strength to put more pressure on us and it actually demoralized us despite our fight.
How do think we should approach the Olympic qualifier coming up in December?
The Ghana game is over, so it is time to look forward to the Olympic qualifier. I believe if we can start preparing early, we will not miss out of it. Also, we have to use all our chances as they come on and off the pitch. I know the coaches will examine our failure and see how to face the task ahead of us with precision.
Are you optimistic that your club will release you for the games if invited given the time frame?
I cannot say for now, it depends on how early the invitation gets to my club and the pressure put in by the NFF for them to release me. For me, I want to play for my country every time because I love my country and all the national teams. Representing my country gives me a lot of joy and pride among my teammates in Atlético Madrid. I always talk to my club management about my interest in playing for my country, so I do not think they will object to it when it comes, except of course it comes late.
Nigerians will like to know, who is Olaitan Otubanjo?
I was part of the silver winning Obuh-led U-17 side in 2009. I was not given enough playing time during the tournament due to the caliber of players in the team. Well, even with the few games I played, some persons still saw me and that is why I am here today. I give thanks to God for the strength he has given me to work hard knowing that, someday, I will bring joy to my family and country.
Did you ever have any spell in the Nigerian Premier League before leaving for Europe?
I had a brief spell with Gateway FC in Abeokuta before I left for Atlético Madrid. I played few games with them because I was at the verge of my transfer which I needed to be I in good shape.
How was it like settling down in Europe?
I believe in the saying that, there is a price you have to pay for anything you want in life. So, I think I had to pay the price of adjusting to everything in Spain, especially the weather. It was not easy learning their style of football and adjusting to the life style itself.
Was it easy for you?
I can’t say it was anyway. I had to train extra hard for some weeks to adapt to everything about their game. I knew I had to face it else, I won’t be able to excel in the team. I know that Atlético Madrid is a stepping stone for me to the top.
Nigerians would want to know your emergence to Atlético Madrid?
Atlético Madrid is my first professional club in Europe. I have a contract with the second team which most people do not know. I joined the team towards the end of the season but I believe that as the new season starts, I will make my way into the first team.
So, what is the feeling like playing for Atlético Madrid?
I used to watch Antonio Reyes, Diago Forlan and Sergio Aguero on Television but today, I see them everyday and I feel elated to know them closely in reality. There is nothing special in the fact that I play in a club like Atlético Madrid, I just believe that if one should rest all in the hands of God, the sky will just be the beginning.
By the end of this coming season, what would you like Nigerians to relish of you in Atlético Madrid?
They should expect a top performance from me in Atlético Madrid with God on my side coupled with their prayers.
In the next five years, where would Olaitan be?
I would be in a better club where I will be playing regularly and scoring goals.
Do have an eye on the English Premiership?
Every player in the world now does, because it is seen as one of the best leagues in Europe.
What has been your most challenging situation since you got to Europe?
It is the effort to prove to myself that I can play the game outside the country because my elder brother played it more than me but had to quit.
Which part of Nigeria did grow up?
I was born and brought up in Ijube Ode in Ogun State and I started my playing career there. Later I moved to Lagos in pursuit of a better life. I stay in Lagos now.