Former Nigeria goalkeeper, Abiodun Baruwa (MON), popularly known as ‘Omo Alhaja’ spoke to eyeonthesports.com’s Tunde Oyedele on football related issues. Below are excerpts of the exclusive interview;
Q: Let’s start from your BRW, what’s it about?
I am into Sports management. I am the Chief Executive Officer, CEO of my company; BRW Sports Management Limited in London, that’s what I am doing at the moment.
How did you come into football and which local club did you play for before joining the big teams?
I started playing football just like every other kid on the streets. I started by kicking the ball around on the streets, then I started feeling good after every game with my friends. Before I knew it, I was playing for Eko Hotel Football Club. I then moved on to play for big teams such as Stationery Stores, 3SC and the national team.
Being an ex-player of the Adebajo Babes yourself, how did you see the return of Stationery Stores to the Nigeria National League?
I was glad when I heard that they are back in the league, and I think it’s good for the club, the fans and Nigerian football as a whole. I said this because Stationery Stores are a club with rich tradition in the country and I believe their return will boost the game in Nigeria.
What can you recall as a rallying point that made you happy during your days in Stores?
The fans used to be our inspiration back then. The fans were always behind us anywhere we played. Stores have a very large followership.
How did you become a Stores player and your sweetest memory at the club?
Just like every footballer back then, you have to be tested before you could qualify to join any big team. And, it was same for me, the Stores management tested and certified me worthy to play for the Lagos darling team before I joined them. There are memories, but that of 1990 when I won the National FA Cup with Stores still stays with me till today.
Which Cup competition gave you headache to win as a player?
I tried my luck in many Cup competitions, but I will not forget the CAF Champions League competition. I was part of the Shooting Stars Sports Club, 3SC, that almost won the Champions League when we encountered Zamalek Football Club of Egypt, but we didn’t win the cup at the end.
How did you get your first national team call up?
I had my first national call up after a successful season with 3SC in 1994. I first got a call up to the U-23 Olympic Dream Team. That’s how it all started and I went all the way to feature for the Super Eagles.
Who was your regular roommate in both clubs and national teams during your playing days?
I can recollect having different roommates throughout my playing days, and never had a particular player as a regular roommate.
Many alleged that you used ‘juju’ (voodoo) during your playing days. And, you were fond of gesticulating to your opponents who wanted to play penalty kicks against you back then?
Me used ‘juju’? No, no, no, that’s not true. I was only playing a mind game with the players who wanted to play penalty kicks against me back then. All I did was just look into their eyes and tell them I know where they would play it. That alone made the players jittery and changed their minds. I never used or believed in ‘juju’ as a player and don’t believe in juju at all because I am a Christian.
Your nickname; ‘Omo Alhaja’ has come to stay despite the fact that you are a Christian, was that part of your childhood?
I will say yes because my mother was an Alhaja. I was born into a Muslim family before I converted into Roman Catholic Christian. Having said that, most of my friends knew my mother is an Alhaja and have been calling me by that nickname till date.
About my growing up, it was alright as well as I had my Mom and Dad always there every day, including my sister. I grew up in Lagos Island, in an area called Anikantamo Square.
The place is by Adeniji Adele Road. I attended Zumratul Islamiyah Primary School by Broad Street in Lagos. I also attended Falomo High School in Keffi-Ikoyi, Igbobi College in Yaba before going for my higher education at Yaba College of Technology.
Where you born with a silver spoon, and how did you get your first pair of boot?
I will not say I was born with a silver spoon, but we do not want either. My both parents were working, so we always get on with life. My parents are both Lagosians and both were born and brought up in Lagos.
Then, how I got my first pair of boot? (Round of laughter) That’s a funny one, I actually asked my mom to give me money to buy one many years ago, but she declined at first. So, I kept asking her and after disturbing her for a long time, she gave me some money one day. I can’t recollect how much now, but it was not enough to purchase the pair of boot. But, I had some role models around me that time, who gave me some money, which I added to what I got from ‘Alhaja’. That’s how I got my first pair of boot.
Why did you prefer goalkeeping to playing?
Actually I enjoyed playing football more as a right back when I started, but for one reason unknown to me, all my friends always told me to be in goal anytime we went out to play football as a young boy.
I tried to force my way back to play as a defender, but it did not work. All the people I played with won’t let me play my preferred role outfield, so I had to accept my faith as a goalkeeper (Another round of laughter).
Can you accept a national team job if you were called to serve Nigeria now?
Of course, I will be more than happy to serve my country again in the near future. It’s a pity I didn’t finish what I set out to do for Nigeria as a player because of this terrible knee injury, which forced me to retire from football so early. But it’s okay, I am into management now and getting all my Coaching Certificates one after the other. I know I will need the papers whenever I have a chance to serve Nigeria some day.
What’s your regrets and joy as a former Nigerian player?
My main regret as a player was the knee problem which stopped me from playing football. I wish I didn’t have all these injuries, but I am glad I have my own family now with my kids. They are my source of joy.
The football fans back home always ask after ‘Omo Alhaja’, what’s your message to them?
I want to use this privilege to thank them all for supporting me throughout the years. I want you all to know that I do appreciate everything including all your motivating words and the encouragement you gave me during my career. I am still your boy ‘Omo Alhaja, I shall be coming home soon.
What do you think of Stephen Keshi’s role as Nigeria’s Coach since he took over the Super Eagles?
In my opinion, I think Keshi is the ‘Don’. Apart from winning the 2013 AFCON, he has done what many coaches could not achieve in the history of our football since the existence of the senior national team. I hope he gets all the support that will enable him take our dear Super Eagles to win at least a bronze medal at the Brazil 2014 World Cup.