I had three-day massage after kicks from Chelsea players – AFCON 2013 winner, Igiebor

Ex-Real Betis midfielder and AFCON 2013 winner Nosa Igiebor talks about his English Premier League regret, winning Man-of-The-Match against Barcelona, bossing the midfield versus Real Madrid, and his time with the Super Eagles, in this interview with KELVIN EKERETE, and posted by THE PUNCH.Information Guide Nigeria

What was the feeling like the first time you got the call-up to play for Nigeria?

I had butterflies in my stomach. It is the greatest honour for me to represent my country. For the years I was there, I will tell you that it was worth it and I really appreciate everyone that felt I was good enough to play for Nigeria, and Samson Siasia who gave me my first national team call-up. It was an honour to represent Nigeria.

Were you jittery on your Super Eagles debut?

My national team debut was a bit easy because I had represented the nation at junior levels, so, I had a bit of experience with the national team. But I became jittery when I knew I was going to be playing with the big boys like Joseph Yobo, Ike Uche, Vincent Enyeama, and Mikel Obi. Getting to play with them for the first time was another experience entirely because these were guys I watched on TV and now I was in their midst. The way they talk is different from how they do it now. When Enyeama talks to you, when Yobo shouts at you (laughs), I think it’s different these days. The big boys helped me on my debut. They told me to relax, do my thing. They said they’ve seen my potential and I was a good footballer. So, that gave me confidence and I blended in quickly because of the way they backed me up. After the first two games, playing with the big boys became normal.

If the 2013 AFCON-winning Super Eagles team, of which you were a member, were to play this set of Eagles, who do you think will win?

(Laughs) I think the 2013 AFCON winning squad will win. I don’t want to say some things, so, it’s not taken out of context, but if I want to start the analysis position by position, you will understand better. We had Vincent (Enyeama), who is one of the best goalkeepers in African history, Joseph Yobo, Emmanuel Emenike shooting shots in attack. I’m sure you know what that means; you have Mikel Obi in midfield. The stars were just too much. The current players are young and they have the quality, but experience will always win at the end of the day.

What’s your favourite Eagles moment?

Winning the AFCON trophy was something special, there was no better feeling playing for your country than winning championships for them. It’s something you’ll be proud of for the rest of your life. I also remember the match against Ivory Coast in the quarter-finals of the competition. Before the game, they already thought we would lose and we heard that they already bought our tickets to return home, but we shocked them. That is something I will never forget. The joy we felt after winning the match was extraordinary.

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What was the transition like, moving from the Nigerian league to European leagues?

From a personal perspective, coaches of all the teams I went to in Europe always told me I was skilful, talented and athletic and so on. But the biggest problem I had was tactical and that is the complaint most European coaches have against Nigerians and Africans. Till date, most European managers complain about this. They say most Nigerians are talented but lack tactical discipline. They know we can change things in the game and we want to do everything but sometimes the managers just want you in one place and some of us just feel we’re too skilful to be in one place. I was benched a lot because of this but I learned.

How disappointed were you missing out on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil?

I was really disappointed but I will not like to go into the politics of what happened. Those in charge couldn’t look at me after calling the names of those that made the cut. I was disappointed and sad but life goes on.

What was the feeling like playing in the UEFA Champions League, Europa League?

It is something special. I watched the Champions League on TV and dreamt of playing in it and suddenly you’re there playing against teams like FC Porto, CSKA Moscow. I can tell you that the feeling is something special and it can’t be explained. You have to be a footballer to understand. You’ll get goosebumps listening to the Champions League anthem and if you’re not strong, your legs will shake. The anthem alone is something special.

Which was the toughest team you played against in the UCL?

The toughest team was Chelsea. Those Premier League teams are physical. I think they eat something different from what we eat (laughs). I wasn’t expecting the level of strength I saw from them and coming from Israel where the league was less physical made it more difficult. Kurt Zouma was like a rock. The Chelsea players were so fit and fast. When I went back home, I was getting massaged for the next three days because I got hit from every angle. The toughest opponents I played in the league was Barcelona when I was with Real Betis. I played against a Barcelona midfield that had Xavi, Andreas Iniesta, Messi, Javier Mascherano and the likes but the funny thing was that I won the Man-of-The-Match against them with the crop of players they had in midfield. It was just God. That was the most challenging game I ever played.

What was it like preparing for Barcelona?

Truthfully, the match I won the Man-of-The-Match against Barcelona, I was supposed to be on the bench and inside of me, I was happy because I was like probably I’ll come in for the last 20 minutes when the Barca players were already tired and I can run around. Suddenly, one of our midfielders started having a running stomach, which I think was due to fear also. He hates running and he knows what will happen in the game. The coach looked at me and said, ‘Nosa, put on your shoes, you’re starting this match against Barcelona!’ I wanted to start purging to be honest, but I can’t because they’re just going to sack me. I told myself there was nothing to lose and as I went in, God was with me. All of my passes were correct, my dribbles were good, my runs were timely, and even my tackles were perfect. I just give glory to God. My game against Madrid was very good too. I bossed the midfield. I hit the bar twice. I played against Luka Modric and Sami Khedira and I bossed the midfield.

Do you wish you had played in the Premier League?

I’m disappointed I never played in the EPL. I had two offers when I was with Real Betis but they didn’t let me leave because they wanted too much money for me. Fulham were interested in me. We played a pre-season game against them and I scored the only goal. Their manager at the time waited for me after the game. He said he liked my game and asked if I’d like to play for them and I said, ‘yes.’ The following week, Betis got an offer but they turned it down, saying the money was too small. I think Everton was the second team but I’m not sure they made a concrete offer. The club didn’t tell me about it. After Fulham made the offer, they called me and told me to go and meet my club director but he told me the money was not enough. I was so disappointed because it would have been an avenue for Nigerians to really see my talent. I think I would have done really well there. The Spanish league is very tactical.JAMB Result

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Emediong Ekpe

Emediong Ekpe is a graduate of English. A professional Sports journalist/analyst, and a spoken word artist. He is passionate about decimating information and putting smiles on people's faces via news writing.

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