10 November 2012

Nigeria: Playing for Eagles So Soon Is a Surprise - Emmanuel Ajia

Photo: Aliyu Adekunle/Vanguard
Nigeria 's Super Eagles targets 2013 Afcon final


New Super Eagles invitee and Lobi Stars youngster, Emmanuel Toryila Ajia has said he dreamed of playing for the Super Eagles but seeing it happen so soon in his career is a pleasant surprise. In this exclusive chat with Shot!, the silent operator in the heart of Lobi Stars midfield spoke on his experience in Eagles camp and his blossoming career. Excerpts

How did you start your football career?

I started playing football right from secondary school. I attended Government Model Secondary School Makurdi in Benue State. My school represented Benue in the Shell Cup and I was part of that team. After my secondary school, I joined an amateur club, Jasper United in Onitsha. It was former Green Eagles goalkeeper, Wahab Haruna that discovered me. He said I am a good player and if I keep my head low, I will be successful in my chosen career. So I concentrated on my game and after a year, I returned home and my present boss, Mr. Dominic Iorfa gave me a chance to start with Lobi Feeder team. From the Feeder team, I got promoted to the senior team where I am playing presently. I have spent less than three seasons in the topflight.

You are one of the new additions to the Super Eagles camp. How happy are you with this opportunity to represent your country at the senior level?

I am very happy because everything is by opportunity. The opportunity for me has come at this moment so I have to thank God and grab it with two hands. I am still young enough to play for the youth teams. Honestly, I always believed I may start from the junior level before coming up here but God in his infinite mercy has decided otherwise. It is a pleasant surprise and I give him all the glory.

What was your first reaction when you received the news?

In anything you are doing, you must have a surprise. When I was called up for this first national team camp, I was pleasantly surprised and overwhelmed with happiness. I prayed to God that when I come here, he should give me the courage and confidence to impress the coaches. I want to give out my best to the Big Boss.

You are with the senior team presently but will you accept to play for like the National U-20, if given a chance?

Why not? I am still within the age and if the coach feels I have something to offer to his team and he invites me, I will gladly join the team. Like I said, I am still within the age and it will be another opportunity to play for my country at that level. I won't be the first person to do so. Remember, at a time, Ahmed Musa shuttled between the Flying Eagles and the Super Eagles.

You are just coming into the national team. Do you think you stand any chance of picking a shirt ahead of other players who have been here before you?

I agree that many of them have been here before and many have played in some of the big games that Eagles have played under the Big Boss. It means they are good and they got such opportunities on merit. This means if I can give my best, I stand a good chance of playing as well. The big boss has made it clear that selection here is strictly on merit. I always pray to God that he should give me the strength to give out my best just the way others have done.

As a young player did it ever occur to you that at this age you will be in the senior national team?

No, I never imagined that at this stage of my career, I will be in the senior national team. But I still thank God who has given me the opportunity to be here at this age. I pray to God to open up my confidence to play to even a greater level than this.

If selected to play against Venezuela, do you think you will cope with the pressure of playing at that level?

As far as it is going to be a game of football, I don't think I will disappoint Nigerians. My fans should expect the best performance if I am given the opportunity to play against Venezuela. I won't disappoint, I will give my best. Already I have developed the confidence to play at this level.

How will you describe the atmosphere in the national camp?

The atmosphere here is truly fantastic. Everything is okay. It's been a wonderful experience like I said. Everything here is different and based on professionalism. The training here is very very professional. The pace here is fast and highly technical. You need to be physically fit to cope but as a young man, I am doing my best.

In specific terms, what will you say you have learnt that is going to impact positively on your game?

I have learnt so many new things. I have developed my professional attitude and it's very important for me. I have learnt that before you play in the national team, you have to be fast, you have to think fast and you must be confident at all times. You must be able to make split second decisions.

What can you say about Coach Stephen Keshi, the man you have repeatedly referred to as the "Big Boss"?

He is doing exceedingly well. He is a big coach who knows what he wants. Working with home-based professionals is not an easy task but he has willingly assigned that responsibility for himself. Since he was appointed as Eagles coach, he has kept faith with the local players and I commend him for this. I pray he continues with this policy of giving opportunity to local players because there are still so many good players out there.

Let's move back a bit to Lobi Stars. What is the secret of Lobi Stars success this season?

It's very simple. It was total concentration. We all concentrated and listened to our boss, former international, Dominic Iorfa. He trained us well and told us that for us to make a name, we must be disciplined and dedicated. So with such dedication, discipline and commitment, we were able to play in the finals of the Federation Cup and also came third in the league.

You played so many matches in the season that has just ended but which match would you describe as your best?

My best league match was against Niger Tornadoes in Minna. I scored a goal in that match. It was a fantastic goal and I was very very happy. The goal gave me courage and confidence to go out and do more things in the league. Then in the Federation Cup my best game was against Heartland in the final. I was given a chance to play and I gave my best in the few minutes I came on.

What about your worst match in the season?

Without doubt, my most disappointing moment was against 3SC of Ibadan when they held us to a 1-1 in our home. We did our best but we could not win. It took me days to get the result of the match out of my mind.

Most Players in the NPL are changing clubs. Are you leaving Lobi or you are staying to play in the CAF Confederation Cup?

I still want to play for Lobi because it was with Lobi that I got a continental ticket and being my third year in the NPL, playing in the CAF competition will boost my confidence and profile. It is an opportunity for me to show my skills on the continent.

Who is your best player in the NPL?

I admire the guy who plays in the same position with me. I am talking about Reuben Gabriel of Kano Pillars. He has just won the best NPL player award and I think he deserves it. I so much admire the way he plays. He works hard and his tackling is also good. I am learning a lot from him.

Which midfield in the NPL do you dread most?

I can say I have played against many midfielders and midfields but I can say that the most difficult to play against is Kano Pillars. They are very difficult to play against because they are all hard working and they do not easily give the ball away when they are in possession.

Your nick-name 'young money' is something of interest to me. How did you come about it?

(Laughs hysterically) It sounds funny but it was given to me by my team mates when I told them that I am going to make money out of football. Apart from 'young money', they call me wonder boy. I have no problem with the nick-names.

If you have the opportunity to play abroad, which club will you like to play for?

I like to play for Arsenal. It is the club I support and if I can play for them I will be happy. Arsenal makes football easy so I want to play for the team. Even if they are not winning trophies now, I don't mind because football first and foremost is about entertainment and that is what the fans like. By not winning it does not mean Arsenal is not a good club. I hope to play for Arsenal one day.

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