Soname, Club chairman speaks on domestic football, Qatar 2022 failure

By Jacob Ajom

In a country that prides itself as a capitalist state, but where the government owns almost everything in the public space, including, of course, sports facilities, there are still exceptions. Although there have been calls by a few individuals that sports should be left in private hands with government providing the enabling environment for sports to thrive, the majority of Nigerians still believe there cannot be sports without government involvement, especially funding. Yet, despite the millions of naira sunk into the maintenance of sports facilities across the country, most of them are in very dilapidated state.

Not wanting to let their passion die because of the rot and stagnation in the development of facilities, some individuals have taken to putting their money where their passion lies.

In the outskirts of the quiet town of Ikenne in Ogun State, has sprung a state-of-the-art facility, the Remo Football Academy. It is owned by Kunle Soname, proprietor of Remo Stars Football Club. The club which competes in the Nigerian Professional Football League is one of the surprises of the ongoing 2021/22 football season. This is the club’s first season in the topflight after gaining promotion at the end of last season.

The club is run like any other modern football club anywhere in the world.

They have an academy which feeds the main club with fresh legs. Beside the main turf where matches are played, they have several acres of land that accommodate four other standard  pitches.

To cap it all, the academy has a standard hotel within the complex. Other facilities include a clinic, a gym, tennis and basketball courts with several hostels where the young academy players stay and feed for free. It is tuition free as well.

On a recent visit to the academy in Ikenne, we spoke with Soname who expressed delight in what he was doing.

“For me, whenever there is a will, there must be a way.” He said, “I do this strictly because of my passion for football. Whenever there is passion you put everything into it.”

He said because of his love for his young academy players, he moved back to Ikenne in order to keep a close eye on them. “I enjoy seeing little kids play. For me, it is a great pleasure to watch them play. Throughout the week, I watch U12, U13, U14, U15 play and I see them growing. That is what gives me joy”.

He wouldn’t be dragged into the politics of Nigerian football, saying, “it is only in places like this that the NFF is more glamorous than the league itself. We have made being in the Football Association a big deal. What we need to address is the league itself, the NPFL. Once we get it right, every other thing will fall in place. Until we settle the issue of structured football in Nigeria – like the NPFL, the NNL, indeed all the leagues, that is when we can make a headway. 

Yes we have been recording some successes but it has been sporadic. Today we succeed, tomorrow we fail. For us to achieve sustained success, every tier of the league has to be very strong. Today we go abroad in search of talents. Yes we get them to come and play for us but it can never be the same as those of us who live here. Even if I play abroad, when the season ends I will come back here and people will shout at me or mock me. We need to have places like this(the academy) so that people here can be better trained. It is the only way.”

Soname said he felt disappointed that Nigeria couldn’t qualify for the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup but added, “On a second thought, I think it is good for Nigerian football. It is a wake up call, a time for us to take a step backward and think properly about how to restructure this whole thing. Like I said earlier, it must start from the league.”

Soname’s football haven will not be allowed to rot like government facilities as he said, “this is a private enterprise and we will expect it to be well maintained. We have a structure in place to ensure it remains in top condition.”

On Remo Stars FC, the flagship of his entire project, Soname said he was not disappointed that his club that recorded an 11 match unbeaten run at the beginning of the season suddenly found themselves 3rd in the NPFL table.

 “This is our third attempt in the topflight. The first attempt, we came up and got relegated immediately, the second attempt the same experience. So our objective this year is clear: we must not be relegated. Even if the season ends and we are in the 15th position, we will go to church and thank God that we survived the drop. What we want now is to maintain our status. The problem with Nigerians is that we don’t consolidate before we start looking forward. We have just returned to the Premier League and you expect us to be number one?”

As impressed as we were with the facilities, the only minus we found remains the fact that all the pitches, although lush green, are all synthetic pitches. It is our hope that one day, the management would think in the direction of dismantling all the artificial pitches for natural grass, which offers the best turf for playing and mastering good football.

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