Former Super Eagles goalkeeper and Atlanta '96 Olympic football gold medalist, Joseph Dosu, speaks to Complete Sports' radio show, Sports Planet's anchorman, TUNDE KOIKI, reliving the glorious feat of Nigeria's U-23 team 20 years ago.
Sports Planet: Joseph Dosu (MON), it’s an honour and a pleasure finding time to talk to you again. 2016 will make it twenty years since you and your teammates climbed the podium in Atlanta and picked up the gold medal. Till date, that remains Nigeria’s greatest ever football achievement but first, let me even ask you, where is your gold medal?
Joseph Dosu: I have it in the bank and it’s an achievement which every one of us will never forget. It’s an achievement that has kept Nigeria going, likewise Africa. It is also an achievement that has kept our children and even the unborn ones going. And I think we made Nigeria proud, likewise Africa. Anytime my son comes home and remembers the Olympics, he is always proud of himself, talk less of me.
So, if we have left a legacy for Nigeria and Africa, we the actors should be happy. Twenty years, wow! That’s a long time. I would have wished other dream teams had achieved the same feat like the first Olympic team, but then, we’ve kept on struggling. We hope one day, they will surely achieve the same feat so that much of this interview will go away from us and they will be the current Olympic champions. However,all said and done, it has also opened a lot of doors for us that participated in the Atlanta '96 Olympic Games. It’s an honour to put on the green-white-green jersey. We’ve done our best and most of us have retired from playing football and I think we will keep going.
This was actually my next question. You are Joseph Dosu (MON), Olympic gold medalist. Very few Nigerians can ever claim to be Olympic gold medalists. What would you say that honour has done for your career as a person?
Well, I had a short career in football, but I tell you, for six or seven years that I played the game, I was blessed by God. Successfully, I played in the local league where I won both the league and FA Cup, put on the green-white-green jersey, played in the Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup qualifiers, won the Olympic gold medal, played in Europe as a professional.
It might have been a little time of playing football for me, but then, I achieved a lot. Winning the Olympic gold medal and having an Olympic tag was not just by our own making, it had been destined by God, for sure. We will get there. A lot of people want to go to the Olympic Games and say yes, I was there which is not a do or die affair when it comes to representing your country. When it comes to Olympic competition, if you should win a medal – be it gold, silver, bronze, I think you’ve done so well for yourself. Winning a gold medal is not an easy task, but then, we had the support of Nigerians behind us because when we were leaving, we were only tagged the dreamers and not the dream team.
We played a game at the National Stadium and lost 3-1 to Togo and everybody said we should play another game before we travel. They organized a game against Shooting Stars, I think we won 2-0 and when we were going, journalists gave us a name, The Dreamers. Ever since we won the Olympic games, the name, dream team has stuck with us and every Under-23 team has been dream team one, two, three, four and so on. But for sure, I am happy because my name is written in gold and not in silver or bronze and forever, Nigerians will say yes, there were 22 players that won this Olympic gold medal. Even for those who didn’t play a single game at the tournament, the record is there that their names are written in gold.
Cast your mind back to twenty years in Atlanta. What was going through your mind when you were climbing the podium to be issued your gold medal? Can you remember what was going through your mind? Some people say that their minds were completely blank, they were numb, but you, what were you thinking?
I tell you few of us were even joking. Sunday Oliseh and I, for instance, were just joking. We didn’t think much that we had won a gold medal. We just went up there, collected our gold medals and left, that was it.
When we knew we had done something for Africa was when we made our first stop-over at Guinea. The Guineans were out enmasse to support us. You know when you are in a foreign land with that crowd, then, how would your own country be? I think that was when we realized that we had done something great for Nigeria and we were looking forward to getting to Nigeria immediately when we saw what happened in Guinea and I tell you we were not disappointed. When we got to Abuja and saw the crowd that came to receive us, I tell you, this is the first time I’m saying this – I shed tears. Wow!, unbelievable but then, it’s something we will remember for life, I won’t lie to you.
Interestingly, I know there were so many memories from that Olympic games; the team’s camping, the 4-3 win over Brazil, the 3-2 win over Argentina in the final and even the 1-0 loss to Brazil in the group phase. What was your abiding memory in that Olympic Games – the one that you still remember, maybe it was something off the pitch, maybe it was something small, but what is the memory that you will never forget twenty years on that still resides within you?
What we see from outside of the Super Eagles is not what you see from inside. What the public read is what they swallow, but when you are in the camp with those guy – your teammates, e no dey easy oo! (Dosu reiterated in pidgin English). I was in their midst as a young player but when you enter the bus and say good morning sirs, the next thing you will hear is (shey we senior your papa), meaning in English 'are we older than your father?' (Dosu and Tunde bust into heavy laughter). But the following day, if you keep quiet and decide not to greet them, they will say 'good morning oo! We be your mate (Are we your mates?). You will just ask yourself, 'how do I greet them?'mThe only thing we the young players did once it was getting to 8a.m training, by 7:30a.m we would have gone into the bus and sat in front while putting our heads down and once they pass, we would raise our heads so they won’t accuse us of not greeting.
But then, it was fun all the way, even in trainings, crises and so on. But when you go through all those things, it gives you thick skin to say yes, we want to perform. We had quarrels in camp, even the bonus issue and so on but then, we were not looking at the bonus at that time, and some of our players going and coming like Nwankwo Kanu who was trying to get his contract sorted out at Inter Milan, Tijani Babangida flying back and forth to make sure he got his contract with Ajax sealed.
Everything was just in and out, but I would also pick the first game against Hungary. Even before the game, we molested the Hungarians at the hotel. If they were eating by 1p.m, we would also do the same and divided ourselves. If two of them were sitting in one place, we also joined them and once we kept doing that, they will just carry their food and leave. Through that, we tried to intimidate them and we got it. We needed the first game, but we struggled before we got our only goal against them as we won 1-0.
The first game was a surprise to me, but I knew I would surely get my chance to keep. When our coach, Bonfrere Jo did his post-match analysis, he didn’t mention the goalkeeper, so every player left and he told all the goalkeepers to stay. He then said Dosu in goal, it was shocking, but I knew at the same time that I could do it. You don’t write other goalkeepers off; Abiodun Baruwa and Emmanuel Babayaro were also great guys. We had met several times in the Nigerian League and I respected them as human beings and also as goalkeepers.
And I said to myself wow! Will Nigerians believe this team list – Dosu Joseph, why not Babayaro? We won 1-0, no pressure, nothing, I had a clean sheet. The next game was against Japan, we won 2-0, and I think I was under pressure and still asked myself if Nigerians would ever believe in me. The Brazil game came and I think that brought the best out of me, though we lost 1-0 and from that point, I said to myself that I had sent a message that I could do it like those other two goalkeepers. But then, Babayaro was impressive and after every game, he would come to the room to praise and help by correcting me and I really appreciated that. That’s what has kept our friendship up till date. Although, we’ve not seen each other for ages, we talk on phone, we send each other messages and I think that is okay by me.
Subsequent Under-23 national teams have never managed to achieve the same results that you had. They came close a few times like in 2008 Beijing Olympics, Samson Siasia’s team lost by a lone goal to Argentina, that was the closest we’ve come so far to emulating that feat and there have been so many reasons ascribed to it as some say that maybe the name, dream team is too heavy for subsequent teams to bear. Some say the teams are not as talented as the original dream team. Some say they didn’t have your kind of preparation and coaching, but in your opinion, what do you think is the reason we have not been able to replicate the success of Atlanta '96?
I would have been the happiest man if the dream team had won that Beijing Olympics, I would have been proud to say I had four players in that team that won the gold medal. We (My club, Westerlo) had players like Dele Adeleye, Olufemi Oladapo, Ambrose Vanzekin and YinkaAdedeji. I would have been proud to have won an Olympic gold medal and also produced players that equally won it but then, that is God’s wish.
We all pray to be successful, but if God says it’s not yet your time, then it’s not yet your time. I think we have the players that can win the Olympic gold medal in abundance but then, how do you bring them together? That is just the problem, but when you are talking of coaches, I believe we have coaches who can do that too. Samson Siasia has been in the pictures for ages, he won the FIFA Under-20 World Cup silver in Holland 2005, he has been with the Super Eagles for some time and has been drafted again to the Under-23 team. He has qualified the team for the next Olympic games in Brazil. So all he needs is just that self-belief and determination which will surely give you what you want in life.
This present Under-23 team has the players. All that Siasia needs to do is to bring in one or two over-aged players that will give him that experience just like Bonfrere Jo did. Bonfrere Jo had an over-aged player each in the defence, midfield and attack. But if you look at the present U-23 team, it depends on the coach himself, but if I can advice him, I would tell him to go for Odion Ighalo as a striker and one of the over-aged players, look at the defence again and see who he can choose to give him the much needed defensive experience and look at the midfield to see who he can bring in to give that experience too because playing at the world stage is different from playing in the qualifiers.
Maybe we the first set wouldn’t have won the Championship, but I think the glory also should go to Uche Okechukwu. He is truly a gentle giant, but on the field, he communicates even better than me, he tells you what to do, he keeps saying hold the ball, lines behind you, pass the ball. When I had the ball and kicked it out, he would shout at me, don’t, throw the ball and with that, I understood him that if the goalkeeper or the defender has the ball and keeps bumping it, it’s coming back to you, but when you have someone who is communicating hold the ball, pass the ball, that means when you are passing the ball, you are holding it for some seconds or minutes before you move forward. I think Siasia would need such a player in his team. For him, he shouldn’t sit, he should keep on shouting and talking to them because we have different kind of players. Some will just be on the pitch without even knowing what to do, but when you shout at them, they know somebody is on their neck. I believe and hope if the camping is right and the time is right as well, the present U-23 team can do something.
Back to the Olympic games proper, I think I mentioned it before, the 4-3 golden goal win over Brazil and the 3-2 win over Argentina in the final, those were easily the two most difficult games on the path of the fans, but for you on the pitch playing these games, which one of the games was the most memorable and most difficult?
If we had lost the first game to Hungary, I don’t think we would be here talking about our feat in Atlanta 96. The first game was important. We won and it kept us in the Championship and even when we played Brazil in the group phase, if we had drawn or won that game, the Brazilians would have been out of the Championship. The coach wasn’t happy when we lost that game, he injured his toe when he wanted to kick a water bottle, he was so angry because he knew that if we had defeated Brazil then, they would have been out which means one of the strongest teams in the competition was out, but then, we never knew we would meet again but beating them 4-3 was something even we the actors and Nigerians will never forget. We were 3-1 down and we were going for pep talk, we were attacking and abusing each other…(Tunde cuts in).
It’s interesting because a lot of people actually want to know what went on in the dressing room at 3-1 down. A lot of people regarded the Brazilian team as the best side in the world at that point in time. They had even beaten a combination of the world eleven just before coming for that tournament and everybody thought it was a sure thing for Brazil to win the Olympic gold. In the semi-final, Nigeria was 3-1 down, what went on in that dressing room?
If you go back to watch those games, I think Nigeria played beautiful football. We were down 3-1 but we just kept on going, knocking the ball, playing just to enjoy ourselves. In the dressing room, we didn’t say much because the place is meant for coaches to analyze the game, but when we were going to the dressing room, we were arguing and abusing each other, but when were going back to the pitch, Bonfrere to me: 'Dosu, I turned the defence into a three-man defence, if they don’t score, we will win, and I said to myself even when we were four, they scored three and now that the coach is turning the defence to three, then Brazil will kill us. I then asked Taribo West what he felt with Bonfrere’s decision and he said he too was surprised, but he asked me to tell Wilson Oruma not to go forward a lot more because Mobi Oparaku was removed for Oruma whom we know as a number ten player.
When Oruma came in, we were trying to talk to him but he told us to leave him alone but we kept going. We had a penalty which we lost and I looked at the time which remained fifteen more minutes for the match to end and I said it was over. Nigerians must have put their television sets off and started abusing us, that was what I was thinking. Victor Ikpeba scored our second goal and I looked at the time, I said three minutes to go, it’s finished. We had a throw-in and Austin Okocha went for it, long one from me, Teslim Fatusi missed it, the ball back to Fatusi who tried to shoot but he didn’t get the ball right and the king himself, I can’t take anything away from that guy, he is a skillful player, an entertainer, a player every country would wish to have, Nwankwo Kanu himself, the way he scored that goal, an ordinary player can never, he just picked it up and hit it. Where I was, I couldn’t believe it was 3-3, we came together for pep talk. I never knew there was anything called golden goal (Tunde showed his surprise at Dosu’s confession).
We were playing and a long one – from Okocha to Ikpeba to Oruma, and the ball hit Ikpeba’s back and fell kindly for the king himself (Kanu). All he did was push the ball a little, pretended as if he wanted to shoot the ball with his right and drafted it to the left hand-side. Even if I was the one in goal for Brazil, that would have been a goal, what a goal! Yes, fine. I ran out to jubilate with them and I saw Okocha pull off his jersey and throw it to the fans and I asked him why as we were still playing. Okocha called me a fool: that we had won via the golden goal, but I asked him what he meant (Tunde and Dosu laughed again).
There and then, we wanted to be in America forever but then, we were not citizens so we needed to come home. As I said earlier, we enjoyed the memories till they lasted and up till now, we are still having the fun of it. Lagos State Football Association hosted the Olympians on Sunday, February 21, 2016. Twenty years after, I saw one or two for the first time, we laughed, gisted and brought back the memories. That was just the purpose, we appreciate the state, we were happy to see everybody together. I wish Nigeria can have another team that can win it so the pressure would be off us.
I know it’s Lagos State that did this, but would you like the NFF proper to organize something to mark twenty years of Nigeria’s greatest ever football achievement?
This is the first time a state is doing it or any other person, I think we have been celebrating ourselves. You don’t wait till we are no more before you celebrate us but then, we keep celebrating ourselves. Every year, we call to congratulate each other since the very first year and soon, it will be twenty years and we tell each other it’s been that long. If the federation is willing , fine afterall, we are not the first but there should be a forum where they will say on this very day in each year, we will be bringing those that have won laurels together so that we will appreciate them.
Things in life are not all about money but when you appreciate your people, it goes a long way. We always do it between Ike Shorounmu and I, we just bring some of us together and go somewhere to eat, laugh and that is just the purpose. You are celebrating an event and you invite people, it’s the love they have for you that would make them come in the first place. If the federation can do it, I’ll say kudos to them, but I believe Lagos state has done well by celebrating the Olympians at Campos last Sunday.
Finally, twenty years now like you said, what message do you have for all those millions of Nigerians and Africans all over the world who celebrated and rejoiced all through the night of Africa’s greatest football achievement? What words do you have for them?
First of all while we were in the Championship, we heard that a few people lost their lives when they were celebrating, I will say may their souls continue to rest in peace. And for those who are alive and supported and prayed for us, I also pray that whatever they lay their hands on, they will surely be successful.
I also pray for those supporting our various national teams, that God will continue to bless them. Like I always tell some of my friends who keep complaining about Nigeria, the Americans also have their own problems, but once they wake up, they say God bless America. We have a problem, but let’s just keep praying that God bless Nigeria. When you think of what is happening, a lot of Nigerians are angry, it’s only football that brings everybody together and I hope and pray that one day, politics will also bring us together, not in quarrel but we will be laughing when it’s going on just the way football keeps smiles on the faces of Nigerians. To every Nigerian fan and Nigerian, I will say God bless them and God bless Nigeria.
Dosu Joseph (MON), Olympic gold medalist, thank you very much for your time.
That MON you just called makes me want to beg President Buhari to just add 'EY' , to make it Money (Dosu and Tunde bust into laughter again). Thanks bro, it’s okay.
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