Member of victorious Atlanta 1996 Olympic Dream Team and former Super Eagles winger, Tijani Babangida has said he was inspired to play football after watching the legendary Edison Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pele in action for the national team of Brazil. The former Ajax of Holland star said Nigeria can go places in football, if the players are given all the necessary encouragement. Babangida who is chairman of FC Taraba also spoke on his life in retirement and what it means to be a star. Excerpt:
You had a successful football career. How have you been able to manage your popularity?
Well as a football player whatever you do or wherever you go people tend to have their eyes on you, so it's really very difficult because most times there is bound to be invasion of your privacy and you can't do the normal things you are used to doing. It can be annoying sometimes but I guess it is all part of being popular and we have no choice than to get used to it.
What inspired you to go into football?
The giant of Brazil tape I watched some years back when I was quite young. The tape was about Pele and Brazilian players playing in the world cup. After seeing that tape of which I watched over a hundred times all my dream then was to be in the world cup against Brazil one day. That was how my passion for the game of football started and grew stronger from that day onwards.
As a kid did you have a role model? If yes, who was he?
Naturally Pele of Brazil was a role model for me and I always aspired to be like him if not better one day.
If you did not take to football as a career, what would you have been in life?
My dad wanted me to go to school and become a banker or a lawyer. So if I hadn't found a passion in football I might have been either of the two.
What were your dreams as a child?
Being a child was fun and I had so many aspirations but the one I really worked towards was to become a professional footballer which I thank God I was able to achieve. I am so grateful to the Almighty that my dreams as a child finally came through.
What do you miss about growing up?
Growing up was fun which I miss a lot especially being my mama's boy. I was a spoilt child. A mother's love cannot be compared to anything (Laughing) hey but we all grow up, right!
Looking back at your chosen career, would you say football has been kind to you?
I can conveniently say that my breakthrough in my career came through being part of the Dream team in the 90's which was considered as one of the best team in the world then. Playing for this country with a wonderful set of players brought about my career breakthrough. Looking back to that era I think I can gladly say I have got it all, I can't ask for anything better. I won't mind giving anything to be part of that team all over again.
Many people feel the need to try their hands on something new after they retire from professional football. What do you do now?
I am very much involved with professional football. Apart from my position as Chairman of FC Taraba, I am into youth football development. But at the same time doing contracts in Abuja. I have my own company in which I have to grow.
What would you describe as your most memorable day in football?
The day we won the Olympic gold medal would definitely be the day because we were able to prove to the world that Nigeria could actually come out tops in whatever we put our hearts to achieving.
You are a father has your popularity had any negative impact on your kid?
Lucky for him not really, I stopped playing football when he was very young. So he got his life to live in peace.
Is your son also looking forward to becoming a professional footballer?
Funny enough yes he loves football. I hope he can reach his dream because he has got the talent in him. I think with hard work and my support he will get there God's willing.
The football profession is seen as one that is meant for drop outs, is that true and was that the case for you?
If you talk of football back in the days, yes it was true because losers were referred to as footballers. But from the 80's the whole thing changed. It was seen as the easiest way to get rich but these days it is not the case you have got to have the intellectual training to be good in the game of football. That notion is fast fading as even with education everyone wants their child to be a professional footballer. Being a footballer is all about having the talent and skill just like every other job.
Do you have any other hobbies asides sports?
I love travelling and discovering the culture of other people. I love adventure.
In your opinion, what do you think is the biggest downfall of becoming star?
Becoming a star is great but when you allow it get into your head then you are sure that you will not be a star for long. Without the right composition and charisma, your stardom disappears almost immediately.
What is the one thing you would love to accomplish this year?
To be able to touch more lives positively.
Where do you see Nigerian football in the next five years?
I think right now we are on track with coach Keshi, soon Nigeria will be back on the world map of football. Our players need all the support they can get to put in their best.
What would you love to share with your fans?
I want to thank them for all the love and support they have shown to me over the years. I am glad they gave me the opportunity to serve them. I will always love them and may God bless them.