I never showed interest in football while growing up — Eguavoen
Super Eagles Interim coach, Augustine Eguavoen, spoke with GOWON AKPODONOR, who is covering the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cameroun on his journey into the exciting world of football. Surprisingly, Eguavoen, who was the stand-in captain when Nigeria won the AFCON title at Tunisia ’94, revealed that he never liked the round leather game, as a child. He also spoke on other issues, including his plans for today’s crucial Round of 16 duel against the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia.
Growing up in Sapele, a commercial city in the then Mid-western Region, later Bendel State and now Delta State, Eguavoen would rather focus his attention on other sports than go near a football pitch.
“I was born in Sapele, but I didn’t like football as a child,” Eguavoen revealed in an interview with The Guardian at the Hotel Le Ribadou camp of the Super Eagles in Garoua, on Friday. “Then, my focus was on athletics, particularly 100m and 200m. I was also playing basketball.”
Then, in Sapele, Eguavoen’s father was working with Africa Timber and Plywood (AT&P), which was one of the biggest employers of labour in the entire African continent at that time.
“My father was transferred to Benin City towards his retirement and then, we had to relocate from Sapele to Benin. I went to the Holy Cross Primary School, Benin. I was staying with my grandmother then. I later returned to the New Railway Primary School, which was closer to my father’s house.”
In line with destiny, Eguavoen’s ‘hatred’ for football changed in 1978, when Bendel Insurance FC won the FA Cup competition, beating Enugu Rangers 3-0 in the final played at the National Stadium, Lagos.
“When Bendel Insurance arrived in Benin after the victory in Lagos, the entire city was in carnival mood,” Eguavoen recalled with nostalgia. “Young boys and girls, old people, market women, school children, civil servants and traditional chiefs lined up on the streets of Benin City to catch a glimpse of the champions, the Bendel Insurance FC.”
The team, which was captained by the late Felix Agbonifo and coached by also the late Alabi Aisien, became the talk of the town in the lips of every football lover across the country and the entire West African region. It was indeed the turning point in the life of the young Eguavoen.
He said: “When the team arrived, the reception was overwhelming, and I fell in love with football, immediately.”
Then, there was a football club close to Eguavoen’s compound and the young lad did not waste time in joining the team. The club, Marathon Youth FC, was where he began his journey into the world of football. He was 12 years old.
As a sprinter, and with the desire to become famous in the round leather game, which was burning inside of him, Eguavoen quickly adapted to the sport. He played in the U-13 and U-16 championships, and in 1982, Eguavoen was included in the Bendel State team to the Gothia Cup in Sweden.
“It was my first trip outside Nigeria, and we won the Cup in Sweden. We returned to Benin City as heroes.”
That same year, Eguavoen was included in Edokpolor Grammar School’s team to the National School Sports competition in Ibadan, which they won, beating St. Gregory’s College, Lagos 3-0 in the final. The victory in Ibadan gave Edokpolor Grammar School the ticket to represent Nigeria at the World Secondary Schools Games in Belgium. Painfully, Eguavoen was dropped on the eve of the school’s departure to Belgium.
“I was dropped from the squad for whatever reason best known to the coach,” he said. “Edokpolor School flew into London only to receive a message from the Nigerian government that they cannot take part in the competition due to apartheid. Reason: Because a school from South Africa was participating. Edokpolor Grammar School had to return to Nigeria.”
In 1984, Eguavoen, who had established himself as one of the promising players in Bendel State, then got enlisted with the NNPC Football Club of Warri, and a year later, he moved to Bendel Insurance FC. He shifted his base to ACB Football Club in Lagos in 1986. It was at ACB Eguavoen that he was invited to the Flying Eagles, which he captained.
Looking back on his journey to the senior national team, Eguavoen said: “My invitation to the then Green Eagles came on July 4, 1987, and in my first match, I came in for Waidi Akanni as a midfield player. That same Belgium, which I was denied during my school sports days with Edokpolor Grammar School later became my home even up till today.”
Eguavoen was in the Green Eagles’ squad to the 1988 edition of the AFCON hosted by Morocco. He recalled: “Having joined Marathon Youth Football Club in Benin City in 1978, 10 years later I played my first Africa Cup of Nations. That means, I had football blood already flowing in me, but something just had to bring it out. Bendel Insurance FC winning the FA Cup in 1978 was the turning point in my football career. As I explained earlier, I was an athlete running the 100 metres and 200 metres. I was also playing basketball. Maybe, if Bendel Insurance had not won the FA Cup in 1978, I wouldn’t have bothered to change from athletics to football.”
Apart from being part of the Super Eagles’ squad that won the AFCON title at Tunisia ’94 under former Coach Clemens Westerhof, Eguavoen led the technical crew to Egypt 2006 edition of the AFCON, where Nigeria won a bronze medal after losing1-0 to Cote d’Ivoire in the semifinal in Alexandra. One of his toughest matches at Egypt 2006 AFCON was the quarterfinal cracker against Tunisia, which the Eagles won on penalties.
Sixteen years later, Eguavoen is back as the interim coach of the Super Eagles. After winning all group matches, including the 1-0 against the Pharaohs of Egypt, his team has a major hurdle to cross this evening in the Round of 16 duel against the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia.
Eguavoen said today’s game at the Stade Roumdi Adjia in Garoua, in northern Cameroun, is a must win for Nigeria.
He told The Guardian on Friday that the Super Eagles will deploy every arsenal into today’s game against the north Africans and also ensure that Nigeria wins the AFCON title a fourth time on February 6 in Yaoundé.
He said: “To lift the AFCON trophy as a coach after I lifted it as a player at Tunisia ’94, will be a dream come true. I will be fulfilled because opportunity like this hardly comes. When it comes, you have to grab it. All the players are focused and I am confident we will beat Tunisia on Sunday (today).”
While Nigeria tops Group D with maximum nine points, Tunisia came into the Round of 16 as one of the best losers, after finishing third in Group F with just three points.
Eguavoen revealed that the Eagles have mapped out different strategies for today’s game, knowing well that the slightest blunder could cause them the quarterfinal ticket. “This is the knockout stage and everybody knows there is no room to make amends. So, we have to deploy every tactic to win. If you fail, you go home. We are not ready to go home now, so we have to win,” Eguavoen stated.
The three-time winners of the AFCON rounded up their training yesterday with players and the technical crewmembers making a vow that the Tunisians must fall.