.Photo: Oduokpe in action during a Nigeria Premier League match. –
By Tunde Oyedele –
Bayelsa United footballer Oghogho Alexander Oduokpe’s profile keeps rising as one of the best players featuring in the Glo Nigeria Premier League. Oduokpe, popularly called ‘Raul’ by his admirers, impresses with his robust touches on the ball. He uses both legs incredibly but his left foot is more deadly.
The dark-skinned football star, who is blessed with speed, is a good passer of the ball. Oduokpe’s goal scoring abilities earned him the Wonder Goal Award, instituted by the League Management Committee, LMC, for his goal against Dolphins Football Club of Port Harcourt on Match Day 5 of the 2013-2014 Glo Nigeria Premier League season.
“The award is actually the best thing that has happened to me as a player, I have been waiting for this special award since I started my career and I believe it has come at a good time. It is an icing on the cake for my performance in the league this season”, Oduokpe told eyeonthesports.com.
.REWARD: Oghogho ‘Raul’ Oduokpe (second right in photo above) poses with his Match Day 5 Glo Nigeria Premier League, NPL, Wonder Goal Award.
Oduokpe, who joined Bayelsa United in a mid-season transfer from Sunshine Stars Football Club of Akure this year, started his footballing career at Royal Eagles, a local side in Oleh by middle of the new millennium.
Back then, the owners of an amateur division one team, Isoko Tolopia Football Club (formerly Delta United’s Feeder Team), heard good things about this skilful Delta boy, who was running rings around opponents, and signed him from Royal Eagles.
At first sight, there was little to suggest the teenager would go on to impress at the club but Oduokpe soon proved himself. And, following the promotion of Delta to the Nigeria Premier League, the team’s name was changed to Warri Wolves Football Club, with Oduokpe signing an elevated contract in 2009 to scour shoulders with the big boys in the NPL.
“He was a great player who does not joke with his duties. Warri Wolves was forced to sign him from the Feeder-Team when the management saw his potentials, and everyone liked his fighting spirit”, Lawrence Omorwho, Warri Wolves’ scribe told eyeonthesports.com.
Some officials and fans of his previous club added that Oduokpe was a genuine footballer during his days at Warri Wolves. He scored brilliant goals for Wolves in the NPL as well other competitions he featured in. After about three fulfilling seasons at the Wolves, another NPL side Rangers International of Enugu signed Oduokpe for the 2012-2013 season before he joined Sunshine Stars of Akure for the current season (2013-2014).
He was just settling down in Akure when Bayelsa United officials came for his signature but Sunshine FC only released him on loan during the mid-season transfer window, and he is expected back in Akure at the end of this season.
Oduokpe’s mental and physical strength come from his strong faith in God, revealing he has jealously guarded his dream to reality despite not getting any support from his parents to become a footballer right from his tender age.
“Honestly, my father never supported my idea to play football and mom did not consent to it as well. I was asked to pursue my education, but thank goodness, I have no regret playing the game today because I’m doing well as a footballer. Only recently, my father called to congratulate me for winning an award and he prayed for me. That’s an indication that he is proud of his son and I give God the glory for making things happen for me”, Oduokpe disclosed to eyeonthesports.com.
Oduokpe was not really born with a silver spoon, but his family is comfortable; “I was born like any other Nigerian boy out there and my parents tried their best to bring us up, but we are not poor and I thank God for this grace.
On his experience in the 2013-2014 NPL season, Oduokpe says; “My best game this season was the match I played for Bayelsa United against my former club, Rangers in Enugu. It was a great game for me because I promised we were going to pick at least a point from the match and we did. At some point in the match, the home team and their fans were scolding me, saying ‘Oduokpe, you were not playing like this when you were with us, now you want to beat us at our home ground …’ (round of laughter) … I won’t forget the match because it was like a training session for me.
“And on the officiating of the games, I think the referees performed well this season, the officiating has been balanced in most of the matches, though there were instances where the referees were intimidated at some remote venues”.
Oduokpe also shared the highs and lows of his career this season with eyeonthesports; “On my move from Sunshine to Bayelsa, well, that’s a different ball game entirely, but I thank God for everything that has happened because the Bible says ‘Give thanks in whatever situation that you find yourself’.
“I had my best moment at Sunshine Stars this season, that’s where I enjoyed my time on and off the pitch. At Sunshine, things are done in a professional way, no complaints about money or travelling for games. There are recreational facilities where we play sports such as table-tennis, scrabble and chess whenever we are free from NPL engagements. Don’t forget I won the NPL Wonder Goal Award while playing at Sunshine as well.
“But, to my surprise, I got to Bayelsa to meet an entirely different situation. At Bayelsa United, things are not right with me I must confess, the players are complaining about sign-on fees while things are in disarray. The promises made are not kept by the club management, and I was shocked to hear that some players are being owed sign-on fees for two seasons. It is ridiculous because if you want players to perform for your club, you must fulfil your obligations to them.
ON COURSE: Oduokpe shows his deft touches on the ball during a Glo NPL match. He is expected to return to Sunshine Stars when he leaves Bayelsa United at the end of the season.
“I expect the Nigeria Premier League to have outgrown this level, but I must commend the League Management Committee, LMC, for its re-organisation of the league. The LMC has done well with its resolve that players in the NPL be paid an enhanced salaries instead of yearly sign-on fees. Although, some clubs are not doing that but it’s a good development if the idea is fully implemented”.
“Aside from that, the position of Bayelsa on the NPL table is not our making as players, because we played our hearts out during the games we played, especially the home matches. But things did not just work as planned. Bayelsa will bounce back someday, that’s football. Having said that, I shall return to Sunshine as soon as the season is over to continue with my next plan.
What’s on Oduokpe’s mind as the New Year beckons? “I want to start a new chapter in my career next season, and my next destination is Europe. I have had enough of the Nigeria Premier League, and must move on with my desire to play abroad”, he enthused.
Having revealed his pride at donating some of his earnings to charity, ‘Raul’, as Oduokpe is fondly called by his admirers, is already counting his blessings, even as his dream to play for the national team is yet to materialise.
“One major thing that gives me joy is donating to charity, that’s a great achievement for me. I appreciate God for what He has done in my career. However, playing for the national team has been my childhood dream, but the chance is yet to come. I know I’m good to play for Nigeria and I will realise that dream someday by God’s special grace”, Oduokpe stated.
Oduokpe recalled that one of his teammates gave him his nick-name; ‘Raul’ during their days in the amateur division one club. “Back then, I used to put on jerseys of big stars, who are my favourite stars such as Ronaldo, Figo, Raul and Ronaldinho just to mention a few.
“But, I like putting on this particular ‘Raul jersey’. So one day, I put on the jersey for a game, as we were playing, I used my left foot to score a goal and my teammate ran to me and said; ‘from today, your name shall be called ‘Raul’ ‘. That’s how my fans started calling me by that pet name till today”, the ever smiling Oduokpe recalled while narrating his story to eyeonthesports.com.
Despite joining the big guns who are making waves in the NPL, with a pet name ‘Raul’ to complement his style of play, Oduokpe remains his humble self; “Whatever I have achieved is by God’s special grace. I will continue to work hard until I achieve my ultimate aim”, he said.
This bundle of talent appears unstoppable and desperate to achieve even more success with his personality, beliefs and determination.