•What Eagles must do to win 2019 AFCON trophy

By John Egbokhan

Former Super Eagles striker, Victor Agali has seen it all when it comes to life at the top playing the round leather game, which brought him much fame, fortune and a privileged lifestyle, reserved for just a very few and lucky blue bloods in Nigeria

Victor Agali
Victor Agali

Not born with the proverbial silver spoon, Agali grew up the hard way in the then rustic village of Okpanam, on the outskirts of Asaba in Delta State, but miraculously used football to free himself from the stranglehold of the hard-knock life that millions of Nigerians are used to.

Standing at an imposing 6ft 4inches tall, Agali started his professional soccer career with Princess Jedege in 1995, from where he moved to Nitel a year later before he finally got his first major breakthrough two years into his professional career when he crossed the Atlantic to join Marseille in the French Ligue 1.

At that time, Marseille were the team to go to in France and although he did not get to break his duck after making five appearances for the team, Agali ultimately broke his duck at Toulon, which he crossed over to from Marseille some months late, finding the back of the net 15 times. He earned 38 caps for Toulon.

With a peak record of playing for 11 different foreign teams, it is a no brainer that Agali has seen riches and should be living a lifestyle of opulence, which rather ironically seems far from being the case.

A Bundesliga legend, having starred for Hansa Rostock between 1998 to 2001, then Schalke 04 from 2001to 2004, before returning to Hansa Rostock in 2007 to 2008, Agali cumulatively netted 32 goals during his time playing in the German top-flight, from where he caught the eyes of the Nigerian public and was rewarded with an international call-up in 2000. He stopped playing for Nigeria in 2004. He was a member of Nigeria’s Olympic team to the 2000 summer Games in Beijing.

With such a rich resume, draping with stints with 11 teams in Europe and Asia, Agali, now 40 years old, is back in Nigeria, where he has started a football academy to help unearth and mould the next generation of football stars, who  will blossom into the  top player that he once was but who he prays will not make the same mistakes that he made during his time at the top of the pile.

Eagles to play three friendlies before 2019 AFCON

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Saturday Sports Vanguard in Asaba, during a training session of the Super Eagles at the Stephen Keshi Stadium last weekend, Agali said he ventured into the tough world of football academy in order to mentor young talents and provide a clear roadmap to the very top of the game.

‘’I run my own football Academy in Badagry. It is called the Victor Agali Academy. And it is all about giving the young ones an opportunity and trying to put them through not only to succeed but also not to make the mistakes people like us made in the past.

‘’If you want to work with young players in Nigeria, you must be humble and ready to go down to the most vulnerable because you are talking about grass roots and you have to go deep to places that others would not want to go to. I am also passionate about the game and I love to stay in the game, which working with our youths help me do and I am just so privileged to be working with them. I am enjoying it, it’s fun for me and I am proud of it’’, added Agali.

It was at Cyprus side, Anorthosis Famagusta that Agali had what perhaps was the lowest moment in his pro career when he was arrested on 27 December 2009, at Schiphol airport near Amsterdam for carrying fake passports. He had just joined the Cypriot team from Greek side Skoda Xanthi. Unfortunately, the deal failed to fly and the Nigerian star left without playing a game as a result of the passports mess.

Agali said he was on a mission to stop the new generation of players he is moulding at his fledgling football academy from making career-threatening and tumbling mistakes that will cast a slur on the careers of young players.

‘’Everybody makes mistake in life but the important thing is to learn from your mistakes. And if you have younger ones under you going that way, you correct them. I have been through this road and it is not the best but if you are not there with them, you can’t tell them all these things and help them out. It is not about rebuking them and chasing them away but we have to correct them before they get out of hand’’, counselled Agali.

Super Eagles were the cynosure of all eyes between March 22 and March 26, when they played Seychelles and Egypt in a 2019 AFCON qualifier and prestige international friendly, which they won 3-1 and 1-0 respectively, to lift up the hopes of a sceptical home crowd, still weighed down by the team’s first-round exit at the last FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Having raised the hopes of the country that they were ready to break the jinx that has prevented them from qualifying for the quarter-finals, not a few home fans expected the Eagles to beat record seven-time African champions, given their not so impressive performance against minnows Seychelles at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba.

But the Coach Gernot Rohr held their own to inflict a  first defeat on Egypt in as many matches since new coach Javier Aguirre took over from Hector Cuper.

With less than two months before the first ball of the 2019 African Cup of Nations is kicked in Egypt, Agali, a Nations Cup campaigner does not doubt the quality in the present Eagles side but warns on the dangers of inviting new players into the team now that there is within the boys and the technical crew.

‘’You could see the unity and harmony amongst them. They are like families, we need that first in a team and then you can’t doubt the quality of the players because they are coming from good clubs in Europe. It is important to have that unity as a team and you see the happiness in them and it is showing here in the training, they are enjoying it.

‘’The understanding needs to be there and it is happening. I don’t think we should be looking for other players to invite but to encourage the ones that will have that have been scoring in their clubs and be patient with them and they will also score goals’’,, added Agali.

He also called for cautious optimism on the team’s chances of winning their fourth AFCON title in Egypt.

‘’’We should be careful about what we say before going to the Nations Cup, We have to keep everything on a low. We have quality players and the team are playing well. We see how we complete our passes in the game but it is important we don’t bring the pressure from outside into the team.

‘’The players need to relax. They know what they want, they always want more for themselves and the last thing a coach will want to do is to put pressure on his team. It is too early to say you are going to win the Nation Cup.  It is better to take it match after match, look forward to the first match of the Nations Cup and try to get maximum point and see where you go from there.

‘’I believe in keeping everything on a low key and continue to work very hard, they are not kids.

I want the maximum for them, I am a Nigerian, I always want to be a champion but always without pressure. You need to be in a relaxed mood when playing football. It is just a game and the more relaxed a player is, the more they give in terms of performance Nobody wants to play under a tensed atmosphere, so don’t put them on pressure that they must win. I strongly believe in them but we must take it one match at a time ‘’, added Agali.


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