Despite being drawn in a group considered by football pundits as a very tough one, Sunshine Stars and Super Eagles defender, Solomon Kwambe believes the Eagles are fired up to go all the way in South Africa. In this exclusive chat with Shot! the soft spoken defender who had his debut for the Eagles against Venezuela said those who feel the Eagles are living on past glory should wait till the end of the 2013 AFCON. He also spoke on his career and what he hopes to do, if given a shirt to represent Nigeria in South Africa. Excerpts:
How happy are you being part of the Eagles team that is preparing for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations?
First of all I want to give thanks to almighty God. I am very excited because it is a great opportunity for me. I am very happy to be here and I am going to do my best to be part of the team that will represent Nigeria in South Africa.
You had your debut for Eagles against Venezuela. How will you assess your performance in that match?
All I can say is that it was a fantastic feeling. I think I had a good game. Although I have not watched a replay of that match, many people have called me to give me words of encouragements. They said I did very well. All I can do is to give God almighty thanks for giving me that opportunity for a greater performance.
How inspired are you by such words of encouragement?
Certainly, many people called to advise me that I should keep my head down. I should not feel that I have already arrived and I also know that I have a long way to go. I am working hard so that I can achieve my aim of playing at the 2013 Nations Cup.
But very soon the foreign based professionals will come in and the final struggle for shirts will commence. What can you say is your chance?
The Big Boss that is Coach Stephen Keshi has said that for you to find yourself there, it is in your hands. He said if you are here, you should show him that you are equal to the task. Definitely you will be there. All I have to do is to work hard so that he will see the seriousness in me. If in the end I am selected, I will give my best.
Considering that the Eagles are in the same group with defending champions Zambia, what can you say are the chances of the Super Eagles?
All I have to say for now is that with God on our side, we would be the top team in the group. Actually, if you look at it, it is not an easy group but we are going to take one game at a time. But the result in the first match will be very crucial. It will to a large extent determine how far we would go. That's all I have to say.
Nigerians want Eagles to go to South Africa and win the trophy. Do you think such expectations will put the team under pressure?
No, we won't be under pressure. We are all professionals and the Big Boss has already told us that he is not going to put us under any form of pressure so we should not allow anybody to give us unnecessary pressure. Definitely, it will be up to eight or nine matches for us, if we do not lose any definitely victory will be ours. After one match, we move to the next.
You sound confident but most critics of the team say Eagles are living on past glory. What do you have to say?
All I have to say is that such people are entitled to their opinion about the team and can say what they feel like saying. But what I know is that Eagles are not living on past glory because all the boys the Big Boss has assembled are ready to give their hundred per cent. Everybody is fighting to represent Nigeria. Moreover, the team has been winning matches so I don't know what the talk about living on past glory is all about.
Under Keshi, home based players have been given enough opportunity to play for the Super Eagles. How motivated are you by this new development?
It's been very very encouraging. In the past, I never had this kind of opportunity and experience. So all I can say is that Keshi is taking the right steps in the right direction. Most of my colleagues feel the same way. So it is a great opportunity for us in the NPL to prove ourselves.
Would you the NPL stars in Eagles camp are the best or can the coach get even more quality players, if he combs the league harder?
Actually, there are so many good players out. For example I can't say I am the best player in the NPL in my position. There are so many others who are better than me but I am here by the grace of the almighty God. So if they are identified, they will do even better than most of us here. This is my time and that is why I am here. When their time comes, they will be here.
What is it like playing under Coach Stephen Keshi?
He is a great coach. I never worked under him before. On the first day I worked under him, I thoroughly enjoyed him. He is very friendly to his players and his players are ever ready to give him more than hundred per cent commitment. We call him the Big Boss but he does not intimidate anyone of us. He is like a father to all of us.
Let's talk about your club, Sunshine Stars. After a poor start, nobody gave the team a chance to go far in the CAF Champions League but you got to the semi-finals. How did it happen?
That was a collective activity. After the opening loss at home, we went back to the drawing board. The coaches and the management did their best. The players gave their cooperation on the field of play and so we were able to move on.
After the recovery, many of your fans expected you to get to the finals and possibly win the trophy but that never happened. What went wrong?
It was very unfortunate that we couldn't get to the finals. We were not destined to win. However we have to give thanks to God for taking us that far. We felt bad because of the result we got in Egypt. If we got a good result there, definitely we could have been in the finals and with God on our side we could have lifted the trophy. I personally felt bad that we could not get to the finals.
How did you start your football career?
I started out from Gboko Local Government, in Benue State. I played for Mighty Juniors FC, an unknown amateur side. From there, I moved to Plateau United. I played two seasons there. I played one season in division one and we got promoted to premier. I played premier with United but we were relegated the same year. From there, I moved to Sunshine Stars. This is my second season in Sunshine.
Why did you choose football out of so many other games?
I chose football because that is where my best is. I am good in football. However, if not football I would have opted for either volleyball or basketball. But I have great passion for football and I am satisfied with what I have achieved so far.
Who was your role model when you started?
My role model right from time has been Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid. He inspired me so much. I want to play like him. I learn a lot from him. He is a good player especially when he moves upfront
What was your best match in the past NPL season?
My best performance last season was in the match against Akwa United at home. I played very well and I can say I played my best match of the season that day.
What about your worst match?
My worst match came against Warri Wolves. Although we drew the match 1-1, we were all disappointed because we did not play a good game.
As a defender which player in the NPL do you dread most?
He is not my opponent, he is my team mate. I always find it difficult to mark him even in training. Dayo Ojo. I have found it difficult to mark him.
If you were not playing for Sunshine, which other club in the NPL would you like to play for?
If I were not playing for Sunshine, I would like to play for Enyimba. Apart from the club's rich history, I like the way they play football. There are so many good players in Enyimba and every player wants to play for a club with great players.
If you have an opportunity to play abroad, which club would you like to play for?
I would like to play for Arsenal of England because I love the way they play football and they have a rich youth development programme. I like coach Wenger because he believes in developing young players.
Do you have any superstitious belief?
I can say I am not superstitious but normally when I want to put on my hose or boot, I usually start with the left leg but it is not for any special reason. Once my left foot settles well into my boot, I have a good game.
What is your favourite jersey number?
I like to use jersey number 5 because I am the fifth in my family. But here in the Super Eagles, I will accept any number that is made available for me to use.