ABUNDANTLY gifted international footballer, Victor Ikpeba has since retired from active footballing. Now in sports media, giving back to the game that brought him fame and money, we asked him questions bothering on the state of our football, his career and private life.
What has been happening to Victor Ikpeba?
Nothing much. It’s the way you see me. You can see what I am doing with Larry Izamoje with this Countdown. We do a lot of television stuff nowadays, I have a column in 4422. I am an agent. I am also involved in Super Sports. So, I can say I am more into the media world than the coaching aspect of footballing. Apart from that, everything is okay. I and my family are fine.
Most of your colleagues go into coaching when they stop playing, why are you not into coaching?
No, it is not that I am afraid of being a coach. You don’t need to have a Ph.D degree in coaching to be a good coach. I can always be a good coach because I know the game very well. I can read the game very well. These are the basics you need. We know around the world that some coaches don’t even have the license but they coach some of these clubs in Europe and even national teams. So, all of us cannot become coaches at the same time. We have to do other things. There are other ways you can give something back to footballing.
So, what are you giving back to footballing?
I am involved in grassroots football. Sometimes, we are invited for tournaments. We express our feelings about football, how it can get to the level it used to be in the 80s and 90s. So, these are the ways we can play our own roles. At the end of the day, it depends on if the NFA would listen to what we are talking about. Because we know in Nigeria, everybody is crazy for football. We want our teams to do well, it is not necessarily about winning. Everybody wants to see Nigerian teams playing good football.
What do you miss about not playing active football any longer?
I don’t miss it anymore. I have paid my dues after 15 years of professional football. But I can say I miss scoring goals sometimes. I miss the atmosphere, there is an end for everything you do in life. You are not going to play for 20, 25 years, but I have been privileged to play for 15 years. It is enough. I think I enjoy my retirement life. I can have time to spend with my family and friends.
When you were playing active football, what and what did you do to succeed?
Whatever you do in life, you have to work hard, be disciplined. You have to believe in yourself that you can get to that level. And I think I worked hard to get to that level. I can be proud of my achievement.
You won the African Footballer of the Year sometime in your career. How do you feel that no Nigerian has been able to win the trophy more recently?
It is sad. Maybe we had something extra during our generation that these guys don’t have. But then that was the big period of Nigerian football. In the 90s, we were in the World Cup, we won the Olympics. So, it is just normal that the best players would come from that period. I was opportuned to be one of them. So far, so good, I am proud of it.
Among the people you played with in the national team, who are you still friends with?
I see Daniel Amokachie most of the time. When we see, we discuss football. I still see Okocha once in a while, I see Siasia. The list is long. Jonathan Akpoborie, Emmanuel Amunike, I keep in touch with Taribo West. Even though we don’t see all the time, we call ourselves.
Who amongst these guys is your closest friend?
I can’t really say I have a closest friend. In this world, I can’t have a close friend. I think everybody is my friend.
How do you feel about the way Nigeria fumbled and wobbled to qualify for the World Cup?
I would not say we fumbled, the problem is that you people in the media don’t educate Nigerians that qualifying for World Cup is not just a walkover. It is difficult. The awareness was not there. I can understand because of the big period it was very easy but it has never been rosy. Let them know it is not easy any more. Look at Argentina, they struggled to qualify. Ghana was not there ten, fifteen years ago. Now, Ghana is there. So, we have to do our homework properly, because Nigeria should be the number one team in Africa.
I don’t know whether you people back then used to go and see some prophets to qualify?
Recently, Shuaibu Amodu said they went to Synagogue and that it was after the man prayed for them that…
I don’t believe in that. I don’t believe that players make you to win games. I don’t believe there is miracle in football.
So, what is the magic?
You work and train well. You have a good team, you will beat your opponent, I don’t believe that a prophet made us to qualify for World Cup, that is rubbish.
How does it feel to hear that a national coach is saying this?
I will blame it on his lack of intelligence. We have Christians and Muslims. If we get carried away by religion for sports, then, we have a problem. These boys will now start flocking to the church, why didn’t they win the Under-17 World Cup? That means it has nothing to do with God. I think it has to do with imagination. It shouldn’t be a trend because during our time, it was never a trend. We didn’t go to churches for us to win games. Before any crucial game, we do our prayers. And that was all.
You have played a lot of matches. Which of them do you still keep a fond memory of?
One of the most memorable games was when we played to qualify for Olympics. That is beating the Egyptians to get to the Olympics.
What must one do to succeed as a footballer?
He has to be dedicated, disciplined and hard working. And he has to believe in himself.
Why is it that some footballers often get carried away either by drugs, women…
There is life after footballing. Don’t you like women? So, it has nothing to do with us. Musicians also like women. So, I don’t think footballers are really worse on that. They train and play and maybe after that they have to go and have fun. They are human beings, you want to restrict them? There should be life after football, they should be free to have fun as far as they have given 100 per cent to their club sides or national teams.
How did you cope with female attention when you were in active football?
It was not a big problem. I was married and lost my wife. I think it was very important to have a very stable relationship. The advice I will give to my younger colleagues is to have a stable relationship because when you are single and you are playing for top clubs it would be difficult for you to have a stable private life. So, it is advisable to get a stable relationship because having a stable private life helps a professional player a lot.
You lost your wife…
I have a fiancée in France. We are not yet married, but we have two kids. I am not completely there, but I am there.
So, when are you going to be there completely?
I don’t know, time will tell.
It is obvious that God has been nice to you, what more do you want from Him?
Long life, to be healthy. I don’t think money is everything, because if money were everything, I wouldn’t have lost my wife some years ago. That shows that life can be very short. It is how well you live it that matters. I think I want to have a good health and spend time with my little ones, family and friends. I think good health is something that someone cannot buy.
- AZUH ARINZE