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National U-23 goalkeeper, Emmanuel Daniel, tells Idris Adesina about his career and Olympic plans in this interview
Enugu Rangers have begun the season so well and you are presently second in the Nigeria Premier League table. What has been the secret of the club’s good start to the season?
The season has been quite good for us and the secret of our being where we currently are is nothing other than God and the hard work we are putting into what we do. The team have been taught to take each match as the final match of the season. It is even painful that we are second now because we have determined that we would not leave the top of the table once we are able to get there but it is still possible for us to achieve our goal which is to win the league this season for the seventh time.
How did you become a footballer?
I started football in my father’s compound in Kaduna. My family is made up of my late father and my mother. I have three brothers and a sister, who is now late. My father doesn’t like us playing football on the streets so he bought football for us which we played in our compound. Sometimes, when he was in a good mood, my father would join us and he would play along with us. Despite his insistence, we still played a few times on the streets. One of my brothers is also playing football but he has yet to get a club.
Why did you choose to become a goalkeeper as against other positions on the field?
Some of my friends encouraged me to become a goalkeeper because I didn’t start as one. I used to play as an attacking midfielder or striker. When we played the local football that is usually called set, my friends who are familiar with me would push me to the posts and deny me a chance of playing in my favourite positions. They later made it a routine to make sure I keep and from there I developed a liking for goalkeeping.
In Nigeria’s football history, Kaduna has produced quite a number of footballers for the country – like Daniel Amokachi, Tijani Babangida, Efe Ambrose and many others. How would you describe football and Kaduna?
Kaduna is a really good place for football to grow. The place – especially the southern part has a lot of football talent milling around. The people of the state love football and will allow their children to play football especially in areas where I come from – which is like a ghetto. There are many grass root clubs and teams there which train and grow footballers. What is lacking is the adequate infrastructure to nurture these talents into international recognition. For us to come out of there, it is really a tough journey but I will say there are more talents lying there to be discovered as it is the case all over the country.
As a young goalkeeper, what are your plans for your education?
I have plans to complete my university education very soon. I would have done that but I had thought that I would not stay for long with Rangers but now that I am well settled, I will work towards getting at least a Diploma and see what follows after that.
You have become a household name in the local league and also the national U-23 team. When did you sign your first professional contract?
I began playing professionally in 2009 with Ranchers Bees. Before then I was with Borough United and it was after we played against Ranchers Bees in the final of the Kaduna State FA Cup that I was invited and signed by them. From Ranchers Bees, I joined Shooting Stars before I joined Rangers three seasons ago.
You are the current first choice of the national U-23 team. How will you describe your journey into the team?
I was a part of the first set of players invited when the qualifiers for the 2015 U-23 Africa Cup of Nations were to begin. I can say it was God who made me get into the team because when we were first invited in 2015 ahead of the qualifiers, I was sick and reported to camp late but the coach gave me permission to go back home. When I got better, I was called again for the qualifiers and since then, I didn’t miss any chance to prove myself and that was how I grew into the team.
Nigeria qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics by winning the U-23 AFCON in Senegal last year. You were in good form at the tournament – especially in the semifinal against Senegal. How would you describe that tournament?
Senegal 2015 was a competition that I won’t forget in a hurry because I as a person, started quite slowly. In the first match against Mali, we won 3-2 but we didn’t put up the performance that was expected from us. We went on to draw our next two games when everybody believed we should have won – especially against Egypt when we were leading. Coach Samson Siasia told us after every match that we had been given the opportunity to prove ourselves and we should not fail. That was the mindset I had going into the semifinal against Senegal because we all knew what was at stake. If the players did their bit and I couldn’t do mine, then we may have not been talking of the Olympics today. Overall, the tournament was a learning point for me.
Now the team have begun preparations for the Olympics. Nigeria have been drawn in a group that has Sweden, Japan and Colombia. Sweden have named Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Colombia have also named James Rodriguez for the Olympics. Are you afraid of meeting these big names?
I am not afraid to face anybody at the Olympics if I make the team. I believe that thinking of these names will give me undue pressure and will make me to focus only on them and eventually I will make mistakes against their team. But since I don’t focus on any single player, I will focus on my own strength and that of the Nigerian team. The best way to play against big names is to play as a team and expect the best.
Nigeria have won the gold of the Olympic football event once – in 1996 – and the silver once – in 2008. Do you think the team can bring the gold back again this time around?
Coach Siasia is a mentor and a father-figure to us all in that team. He tells us that we should always have the mindset that nothing is impossible if we set our hearts to it. With the determination we have, the Olympic gold is what we can bring back again to Nigeria this year because every player wants to have his name in history and also in gold.
What challenges are the local league facing in Nigeria?
The major challenge we are facing currently in the league is that of transportation. It has not helped especially when we play long distances away from home. We usually have matches on weekends and we arrive at these venues a day before or on the match day. It affects the performances we put up because before the body is fully rested, the match would have been over. The other aspect has reduced drastically and that is hooliganism. We can now get a draw away and leave the venue in peace.
Who is your role model in the profession?
My greatest role model and source of motivation is Vincent Enyeama. I like the way he commands his goal area and arranges his defenders. I want to play for as long as he played and I hope to be the first choice goalkeeper of the Super Eagles some day soon.
Which is your toughest match so far?
I have played a lot of matches both for the national team and Rangers but the one I will describe as the toughest so far is the friendly match we played against Brazil in March. Although we won the match 1-0, the Brazilians were very technical and I had to be at my best to keep them from scoring when they shot at goal.
Many Nigerian players from the local league have gone to Europe and are not really doing well. Are you also thinking of going there or you want to stay at home?
Since the first day I became a professional, I have dreamt of playing in Europe. I know one has to be careful about the club one chooses to avoid killing one’s career. I will like to play for clubs in either Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, England or Italy. If one chooses the wrong club and goes into oblivion, his career will suffer at the end of the day. For now, I want to be the best I can be and take things easy from there.
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Source: Punch News