The Super Eagles won the AFRICA CUP OF NATIONS for the second time in 1994 in Tunisia, with a team largely dominated by players plying their trade abroad. However, among the 'Gang' was one quiet home-based lad called Edema Fuluda. He speaks to Kunle Adewale on his inability to ick a shirt in Nigeria's USA 94 World cup team, upcoming Nigeria-Malawi match, the local league and other salient issues concerning Nigerian football.
Like every male child growing in a non-affluent neighbourhood, football is the easiest accessible sports and that was how Edema Fuludu joined the bandwagon in Warri.
"At age 10, we were playing inter-street matches across Igbudu, Essi Lay out, Okumagba Layout, Dawudu, Cemetary, Iyara area and the likes in Warri. It actually was the only pastime then and we loved the game at that tender age. I played for my primary school from age 11 to 13. Primary schools football competition existed then," Fuludu recalled. Most parents those days their wards taking to sports as they saw it as pastime for dropouts, but not for the University of Benin business administration graduate.
"I had no obstacles from my parents. The only caveat from my dad was that my school work was non-negotiable and I thank God for it because education became an integral part of my living and am better for it. I am aware of parents who then refused completely their wards touching football because it was seen as meant for drop-outs or never-do- well children. Nobody then thought football would become a source of financial empowerment and public goodwill if you excel.
"My parents were only concerned about my duties at home and attending classes and that was enough discipline. If I fail in my household duty or school report then I will know that 'June is different from July'. Teach a child the right way forward and when he grows, he will not depart from it. That's what the good book says," he said.
Though Fuludu went on to captain University of Benin in football, he did not gain national limelight until he joined the defunct New Nigeria Bank FC of Benin.
"National limelight was actually at club level with New Nigeria Bank FC of Benin in the 1986/87 league season. I had gained admission to UNIBEN in 1983 and immediately broke into the school's team and part of its team to National University Games-NUGA '84 at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). By the following year, I was made captain of the team and led the team to NUGA '86 at the University of Ibadan. The coach of the team then, Godwin Izilien, who also doubled as coach of Union Bank FC of Benin had in 1985 signed me for his team on a monthly allowance of N50, which was very big money to me then. I won the Bendel State league with Union Bank FC and emerged as the highest goal scorer even as a midfield player.
"By the 1986/87 football season, Izilien got a contract with NNB FC and naturally took me with him on a vast salary of N6,000 per season, which was huge money then. So, it was at NNB that I became known and even got invited to the Flying Eagles preparatory to Chile '87, but my degree exams disrupted that honour of representing the country at the 1983 World Cup in Chile. And most people were not too surprised however that I had a second class upper honours in business administration.
"In 1991, senior national team invitation came after winning the Mandela Cup with BCC Lions of Gboko. My first cap was on January 7, 1991 against Burkina Faso in Quagadugu, in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifier to Senegal '92."
The Super Eagles of 1994 is still a reference point considering the calibre of players that were on parade. Therefore, for a home-based player to make the team it was no small feat.
Fuludu recalled: "The feelings in camp at that level especially for us vainly called 'home-based' was one of excitement mixed with trepidation of being dropped without explanation whatsoever. But the preparation in Faro Island, Portugal and then Papendal, Holland, was rigorous and productive.
"Team spirit and the quality of talent in the team gave tremendous confidence to fans and technical crew. It was in Tunisia that the division in the team began to manifest but we had been ordained to win."
Asked what his feeling was after the victory over Zambia in the final, he said: "Who would not be happy to conquer Africa away from home? This was 14 years after Nigeria won it at home. It was euphoric coming home to see a mammoth crowd waiting and dancing. Victory and success has a lot of fathers, mothers, brothers, vast relations and friends. Fail and you are a pariah."
After the team's triumph in Tunisia, Fuludu had set his mind on the United States where the World Cup was to be staged, but it was not to be and he reacted thus: "Disappointments are a part of life and can become stepping stones to success. Yes, I felt disappointed because some internal intrigues emanating from the pressures Clemens Westehoff faced culminated in putting the screws on the home-based tag. I immediately had a contract in Turkey and in retrospect life can deal all kinds of cards to you and you should be prepared for the good and the bad. Life has dealt much more good to me. I was fortunate to represent my country. I had team mates and football acquaintances who were better talents from primary school and youth football levels, who were never heard of. This was due to no fault of theirs. It was the card of fate that dealt them."
He however holds no grudge against anybody. "Westerhoff was a good man who had top government contact to execute his programme. That was one major reason he succeeded."
In spite of the Nations Cup victory in 1994, his best moment as a footballer was winning the Mandela Cup with BCC Lions which coincidentally happened in Tunisia four years before the Nations Cup triumph in Tunis.
Former Colombia captain Carlos Valderama will forever linger in the memory of Fuludu as he is one player that really gave him a tough time.
"All good footballers are difficult opponents on the field but Valderama gave me a lot of work to do during the 1995 U.S Gold Cup competition in the United States," he recalled.
Fuludu will always be grateful to two coaches that really helped in developing his game - Godwin Izilien and Amodu Shaibu.
"Izilien was the one that converted me from right wing attacker to an attacking midfielder. He was responsible for my exposure and giving me the opportunity to play in the national league without disrupting my academics. He is a father to me. Then Amodu Shaibu, who improved on my ability to take on any opponent. He is a football instructor, coach and friend."
Little wonder Amodu-led BCC Lions will remain one club Fuludu will always recall with nostalgia.
"That era was one of playing football without pains. Unfortunately, like all Nigerian clubs, there was no continuity. They were not built on solid ground. Clubs should be community based and then they would survive the test of times."
Reacting to the current state of football in Nigeria, he has this to say: "Times are not static and we must move with the global village. Our stadiums got empty due to dearth of talent from grassroots football and also because our failure to package the league. Players graduated then from youth or school football to the leagues. Then, publicity like radio commentary made people to be excited and also because the players grew from the ranks. School sports should be revived and state leagues need to be focused on development.
"That is why Delta State has started a state league played on a home and away basis which no other state is currently doing. I am the chairman of the league board working hard with other members with the blessing of our football association chairman, who doubles as the executive chairman of Delta State Sports Commission Amaju Pinnic to revive the lost glory. European football is brought live into our living rooms and our league no longer holds attraction. We need to improve security at our stadia, do promotions to bring people back to the stadia and put our games on television.
Thank God for the Nduka Irabor-led League Management Company for the Supersport sponsorship. The players and all stakeholders will be better for it. Packaging makes the European and Brazilian players of same capacity talent wise cost 500 per cent more than the Nigerian player."
Ahead of Super Eagles qualifier against Malawi, the former Algay Sports Club, Izmir, Turkey player is confident the Stephen Keshi-led side will defeat Malawi without difficulty.
"I have no fear concerning Malawi, except that our players might be complacence. Keshi knows what is at stake and the coach of Malawi is even helping us by his utterances."
On whether his football career was an accomplishing one, the player who broke into his secondary school team as a Form Two student said: "Accomplishment is a function of perception, because success is getting what you want but happiness is loving it. I like what I got through football. It paid for my university education and made me see the world. It gave me goodwill money cannot buy."
Fuludu, who is the chairman, Delta State Football League Management Board said the state has a 16-team division one league currently running made up of two groups of eight teams each. The teams play on Wednesdays and Thursdays and it's powered by Zenith Bank as title sponsors but is trying to get a telecommunication giant to brand the teams.
"It is a quality league that is exposing talents across the Delta State," he said.
For the Warri-bred footballer, wearing the national colours is his greatest achievement as a footballer. "Considering the abundance and pool of talent available in the most populous black nation, I think wearing the national colours is a great achievement."
Asked if there was any decision he regretted taken and would have wished was not taking, Fuludu had none. "No regrets. Every decision is a function of the time or moment. If you regret, you taint your future. Mistakes are like the rear view mirror of a car and I don't dwell on it. The windscreen is the future. See how big it is."
Edema, who is married with three sons, says his wards like football but the problem of having less play time due to contemporary society wahala of good school and boarding school reduces their interest.
"It's their life and I will guide them if they show more enthusiasm," an enthusiastic Fuludu said.