July 18, 2020

IKE SHORUNMU: I stooped to conquer

IKE SHORUNMU: I stooped to conquer

• I was jittery in my first outing for Eagles despite keeping a clean sheet
• Why Nigeria under performed at Korea/Japan 2002 World Cup
• How he battled German coach for Nigeria’s sake

Ike Shoeunmu rose from the Mushin/Oshodi axis in Lagos to national prominence through hard work and commitment. A thorough bred professional whose self belief and the ‘I can do it spirit’ took him to far lands.

As a goalkeeper of the national team, Shorunmu exhibited patience in the belief that everything has time. He waited for his turn and when the opportunity came he wrestled it with both hands. Shorunmu spoke with Jacob Ajom. Excerpts:

When and how did you start playing football?

I started playing football from the streets; playing from house to house. I was born in Mushin. As kids, wherever we met we could play, even when we were sent on errands. We could set every other thing aside and play football.

In my primary six, my family moved to Oshodi; that was in 1978. I continued street football as I soon mixed up with the kids there. One remarkable thing that shaped my future was the location of a school in front of our compound at Oshodi, the Ikeja Grammar School. There was a club, BEREC Football club, based in Isolo, which was participating in the Ikeja Divisional League. They used the secondary school pitch as their training ground. Their coach took interest in me. He called me one day and told me he would want me to join them, but as I was still small, he would keep me as an understudy of the senior goalkeepers. After school hours, I would join them in training from 4 pm to 6 pm. During practice matches the coach would bring me in towards the end of the match and I would feature for about 10 to 15 minutes. He did that for sometime, then in 1984 I signed by the club and I officially became a BEREC FC player.

Did you win any honours with BEREC?

Like I said earlier, the club was participating in the Ikeja League. But they won the Manufacturers Cup. It was a competition played among manufacturing companies located in Isolo, Oshodi and Ikeja industrial Areas. We had the likes of Afprint, PZ, Berec, WAPCO, etc. But I was not part of the team that won the Manufacturers Cup.

Berec coach, Philip Omokwale was a Leventis United player who used to come and coach us on a part time basis. Even Andrew Uwe used to come and play with us at his spare time.

After playing a lot of matches with BEREC, I moved to Abeokuta in 1986 and signed for Housing Corporation Football Club of Abeokuta. That was my first real club. I stayed there for three years, from 1986 to ’89.

I then moved to Stationery Stores Football Club of Lagos where I was signed to be a reserve goalkeeper. The first choice then was Presley Berthold. Something happened. Berthold did not play well in a previous match. I don’t know whether it was because of the shame of not having performed well in a match that made him stay away from training the following day. At that time, the Nigeria Football Association(as NFF was called) used to organise a match, considered as a prelude to the start of a new season. That match usually came one week before the new season. In 1990, the match was between Stationery Stores and Iwuanyanwu Nationale. In the absence of Berthold, Coach Augustin Ofokwu called me to dress up for the match and it ended in a draw. In the season’s opening match, we travelled to Kano, where we faced Pillars, I was declared Man Of The Match. That was the necessary boost I needed at the time to cement my place in the team. In between, we won the Challenge Cup against almighty Rangers.

In January 1990 I was invited to the national team for screening for the ECOWAS tournament, which was like modern day CHAN, a tournament for players from the domestic leagues of West African states. Other countries too came with their own home-based players. The tournament held in Lagos and you know 95 percent of football fans in Lagos were fans of Stationery Stores Football Club. When they saw me in the national team colours, they felt proud that one of their own was also in the national team. The fans were all behind me and that gave me a lot of confidence.

During the tournament, Coach Clemens Westerhof was watching me and after the tournament he invited me to the main Super Eagles. There I met the likes of Alloy Agu, David Ngodigha and one Abdullahi Danjuma from Ranchers Bees of Kaduna(who was invited the same time with me).

As time went on, Westerhof had me in mind. I was always called to camp, understudying Agu, Rufai, Wilfred Agbonivbare.

When was the first time you were called to dress up and man the post for the national team? And what was the experience like?

It was a Senegal ’92 qualifier, I am not too sure of the country we played against and what match it was but a qualifier in Lagos. The team had been announced by the coach and I was to be on the bench for Agbonivbare. I left our hotel without the match gloves because I felt I was not going to play. Really, I thought I had no chance because Agbonivbare was a big shot from Europe and very popular then. I zeroed my mind that I would remain on the bench that day. When we got to the stadium, the stage was set for the match. Twenty five minutes after kick-off, Wilfred got injured and Westerhof turned to me. He called me ‘Ike. Warm up, warm up.’ And I said, ‘coach, he could still get back to the game’. Westerhof insisted I should warm up. Do you know Agbonivbare never went back and I was asked to go man the post. Because I was not ready for the match, I had to beg Wilfred to ‘give me’ his gloves and even my boots were soft studs, I had to take the ones he brought for the match because they bore hard studs.

On the pitch I was jittery. I was mentally and psychologically not prepared for the match and it showed, throughout the first half. Thankfully, we did mot concede any goal. At half time, Westerhof came to me. He shouted at me, ‘Ike, what is happening to you? I have seen you keep before. Wake up because I know you can do better.’ That pep talk gingered me up At the end of the game we won 2-0. What happened that day in 1991 helped to shape me for the rest of my career: to be ready for a match at all times. One must be ready always as long as one was named in the team. It helped me when I got to Europe. In Europe the coaches always go for the serious-minded players. There is zero tolerance for errors.

Biggest moment in your career

My greatest moment as a footballer was when I went to the FIFA World Cup, Korea/Japan 2002. Every footballer throughout the world prays to go to the World Cup. Not because of the monetary value but because it is the ultimate place to be as a footballer. That is where the best in the world gather every four years to showcase their skills in defence of their countries.

READ ALSO: Super Eagles legend demands guarantees as condition to coach in NPFL

In 1994, I missed going to the World Cup by the whiskers. I was with the team throughout the qualifiers. After we had qualified, Peter Rufai emerged from nowhere and he was doing well. There was so much pressure on Westerhof. When we got to Portugal, Westerhof said he had to drop one goalkeeper. Alloy was number 1 then. I was the youngest and I was eventually dropped. Nduka Ugbade, Isaac Semitoje, Edema Fuludu, myself, and a few others were dropped dropped. Before the World Cup, the coach took me with the team to Tunisia, although I was not registered for the tournament.

In 1998, which I thought rightfully belonged to me, I was stopped from going to the World Cup by injury. I got injured in my club a few weeks to the end of the season and was laid off for 6 months. So my biggest moment came in 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup.

Talking about the Korea/Japan 2002 World Cup, the Super Eagles underperformed. What is your take on Nigeria’s outing in Korea/Japan?

I don’t want to castigate anybody here. Life is like a riddle which no one can easily unravel. The problems we had at Korea/Japan 2002 started from Mali 2000. Not all the players that took part in the qualifiers made it to Korea/Japan. In Mali, I was injured during the quarter final match we played against Ghana. I was rushed to the hospital because I was unconscious. Thank God for the Oxygen they put me on in the ambulance, I was resuscitated before we got to the hospital. After regaining my consciousness, I was taken to the hotel. I got there before the rest of the team arrived from the stadium. They were all happy to see me on my feet. The Sports Minister then, late Mark Aku was in Mali. In fact, he was at the stadium when the incident(my injury) occurred but never bothered to visit us at the hotel to find out how I was doing. Not even the leader of delegation, Dr Patrick Ekeji visited.

In the semi-final, we were to play Senegal. The Minister came with his entourage, including Ekeji and Coach Onigbinde. After the minister addressed us, they asked the captain of the team, Oliseh to respond to the minister’s address.

Oliseh cleared his throat, looked the Minister in the eye and said, Honourable Minister, we are not very happy that you have not demonstrated enough care for us, your children. One of our prominent players in the team was injured and stretchered out into an ambulance and you never cared to visit our hotel to check how he was recovering till this moment that you are charging us to go all out and beat Senegal.

This caused a lot of ripples, particularly, among the government delegation and the NFF. Incidentally, we lost that match to Senegal. There was so much talk about a mafia in the Eagles and that the players had become disrespectful and uncontrollable. When we arrived from Mali, they disbanded the team and sacked the technical crew. Most of us returned to our clubs.

Now they were looking for a coach to take the team to the World Cup. At the end of the day, they decided to give coach Onigbinde the job. For anyone who was in Mali to play at the World Cup, one was expected to call coach Onigbinde first before one was invited.

Meanwhile, chief Onigbinde had called up young players like Austin Ejide, Vincent Enyeama and others to camp, ahead of the World Cup.

One of your senior colleagues, Ade Somefun of the Tribune called me and asked that I should call Chief Onigbinde. I asked, what for? And he reminded me of how I had suffered over two previous World Cups and recalled my 1994 and ’98 misses. He said if there was anyone who qualified to be between the post for Nigeria at the Korea/Japan World Cup, that person was me.

I weighed his advise and decided to call chief Onigbinde. But before I called Chief, I first called my guys, Finidi, Oliseh and a few others so that it won’t be seen as a betrayal of trust. They encouraged me to call Chief Onigbinde, saying that my case was different. By then they had been to two World Cups so they were not bothered. Finidi, Oliseh and a few others refused to call the Chief. When I eventually called Chief Onigbinde, he answered me politely and asked me, ‘Are you ready to play for me?’ I answered in the affirmative, ‘if you invite me’.. He was pleased by my gesture and promised to get back to me. Two weeks after, to my greatest surprise, Nigeria’s official list for the World Cup was out with prominent names like Babahgida, Oliseh, Finidi, Ikpeba among others missing. These two goalkeepers, Murphy Akanji and Ndubuisi Egbo were not included. They sent an invitation to my club and I flew to Lagos. The team had already departed to Ireland for the pre-tournament camp. I joined the team there. With Chief Onigbinde as head, were Coaches Fany Amun, Henry Nwosu, coach Ekpenyong and one other coach from the north. Coach Ekpenyong and his counterpart from the north were the two goalkeeper coaches we had.

When I joined the team, one of the coaches said to the hearing of a player that ‘Ike has just come to waste his time here. We already have our team.’ When the player told me this, I was not bothered because I had seen worse things than that. I advised him to just wait until Chief released his list. Two days after, when we played Ireland in a friendly, Onigbinde addressed the press and said he had not selected his team yet but that I was the only one whose place in the World Cup bound team he could guarantee. That was after the match against Ireland and I was voted Man Of The Match.

The next day we flew to England, to the Queens Park Rangers ground to play Jamaica, Coach Onigbinde handed me the Captain’s band. After the first half, the scoreline was still 0-0 and he said he wanted to try another goalkeeper and I made way for Ejide. After the Jamaica match, he released his team.

A lot of things went wrong before Korea/Japan 2002. The deed had been done. All that is history.

What was your saddest moment in Super Eagles shirt?

I would say the final of the 2000 AFCON that we lost in Lagos, in front of our fans. We did everything we could but we were not destined to win the trophy. We placed second because we lost out in a penalty shootout. That was my saddest moment in a Super Eagles jersey. But thank God, as a coach we won it in 2013 in far away South Africa and to me that covers my saddest moment as a player. That which I couldn’t win when I was playing, I won it as a coach. I have every cause to thank God. Although one cannot win everything.

After leaving Stationery Stores of Lagos, where was your next stop?

I went to Concord Football Club of Abeokuta in 1993 and in 1994 I moved to Shooting Stars Football club of Ibadan. In 1995 I moved to Europe where I signed for FC Basel of Switzerland. The coach that signed me was sacked a few months after I resumed with the club. The man who took over from him relegated me to Team B. In May 1996 I was loaned out to FC Zurich. Originally it was for a period of 4 months but God performed miracles and the loan became a 4-year deal. After FC Zurich, I moved to Besiktas in Turkey. They had a German coach who said he wanted me to curtail my frequent trips to Nigeria for the national team. He told me he wanted to build the team around me and wanted me to spend more time with the club and less with the national team. I told him it was not going to work that way because any time my country needed me I would answer the call.

I did not know he had gone behind me to the club management and asked that I should be relieved of my contract because, according to him, I was stubborn and he could not work with me. After the pre-season, I resumed. When he saw me, he said I could go, he did not need me anymore. I insisted I was not going to anywhere because I still had a running contract with the club..

He took me to management and we cancelled the contract. But I involved FIFA. It was tough for them because FIFA instructed that they paid all my contractual dues with some compensation for terminating my contract. After that episode I went back to Switzerland where I hooked up with a small club where I played and coached until I hung my gloves.

After your playing career, what is Ike Shorunmu doing today?

When I retired in 2005, I was called upon to come and team up with coach Austin Eguavoen in the national team as goalkeeper coach. We were there with Samson Siasia and Amokachi. We managed the team as ex-internationals. We took the team to 2006 AFCON in Egypt and won a bronze. After the tournament Eguavoen and Siasia were dropped. They brought in Berti Vogts. He retained me. After the Nations Cup in 2008 they dropped everybody.

After working with Vogts I joined Eguavoen again at Enyimba in 2009. In 2010 I joined Heartland of Owerri. In 2011, I was recalled to the national team. Late Keshi said he wanted me, together with Daniel Amokachi and Sylvanus Okpala. We had it very good as we won the Nations Cup in South Africa.

In 2015 we were dropped again and I took a job with Ifeanyi Uba FC. The way they run club football in Nigeria is baffling. I am not used to being owed salary for two months, three months and so on. I don’t feel comfortable with that style at all. After two months we left. In 2015, I joined Ikorodu United in Lagos and the same thing was repeating itself. At Ikorodu United, the man had vision but those around him were making things unworkable. I looked at the future, I called the owner, I said chief, I don’t think I can continue anymore. He pleaded that he needed me around but I stood my ground that I couldn’t continue. I left and just four months after, the team was disbanded.

In 2017, I teamed up again with Sunshine, and at Sunshine too, they started owing salary two months, three months and I said, ah Eguavoen, I don’t think I can work here o. I left. I asked why I should be using my resources for the team in order to achieve results and no money comes from the club. It is not done that way. We walked away.

Since then, I have just been on my own doing whatever little thing I can to keep me and my family afloat.

Thanks for your time.

Thank you.