Super Eagles midfielder John Ogu spoke with completesportsnigeria.com's JAMES AGBEREBI about his return to the national team, the AFCON qualifiers, his sojourn in Israel, and comparisons with accomplished footballers…
The Super Eagles kicked off their 2017 AFCON qualifying campaign on a winning note against Chad. What are your thoughts on the game?
To be honest, we knew nothing about the Chadians before the game. We actually thought it was going to be easy, but the coaches told us not to underrate them. I think when our coach (Stephen Keshi) was in charge of Mali, he played against them and said they are a good side and also a difficult side. I was really impressed with them, they play good football, tactically and physically they were good. But in games like this, you don't want to make mistakes after what happened to us in the last qualifying game against Congo. So we had to be focused and prepare for this game and I thank God at the end of the day we came out victorious.
You’ve been out of the Super Eagles for a very long time. How does it feel getting invited back to the team?
I feel blessed. After being out of the team for like one year, I am now back in the team. I just hope I am able to prove to the coaches that I have what it takes to be in the team and show Nigerians what I can offer.
There is this belief that the winner of your AFCON group will be decided between Nigeria and Egypt. Do you share in that belief?
Everyone is writing off Chad and Tanzania but football is not like that, we need to approach every team with 150 per cent. We made a mistake during the last qualifiers when we had a group like this and we underrated our opponents and eventually we didn't make it to AFCON. We don't want to make the same mistake, so we are going to give everything whenever we come up against these countries.
How has the experience been like for you since you joined Hapoel Be'er Sheva?
I want to say a big thank you to God because without him it wouldn'f have been possible. I remember what I went through in the past, before I moved to Israel where I was shown love from the fans. I am really grateful that everything has turned out the way it should be. I really want to thank Hapoel for the belief they had in me and I hope to continue like this for them.
After a wonderful season with Hapoel, you didn’t do well in the Israeli State Cup. What happened?
We didn't concentrate enough during the Israeli State Cup. The expulsion of the former coach wasn't the reason why we crashed out. We conceded two cheap goals in the game that got us knocked out which really affected the moral of the players. So I think it is a big lesson for us now, the new season is coming up, we need to learn from what happened to us last season and try to improve in the new season.
And how does it feel after being named in the Israeli team of the season?
I thank God for being named in the team of the season, I feel blessed. Coming home and people congratulating me, for me it was a big achievement because after what I went through in Portugal and being out of the national team for a long time and now getting this accolade, for me it is great. So it's now left for me to continue working hard and prove to the people that I have a lot to offer them.
Any contacts from other clubs?
I don't know anything about my future, all I know is that football is a game where anything can happen. Presently I am in Hapoel Be'er Sheva, the people love me, they appreciate my football. If any club want me, I think they should speak to Hapoel Beer Sheva, because they are the only ones that can ask me to leave.
You will be featuring in the Europa League next season. How are you looking forward to it?
We have the play-offs in the Europa League, coming up in July. The pre-season has started so I want to go back to my club and help them qualify for the competition proper because this is the kind of competition most players would like to participate in. So I hope when I get back, with the new coach and the players we have, we can achieve this.
You are being likened to football greats like Yaya Toure and Patrick Viera. How do you feel about these comparisons?
Being compared to the likes of Yaya Toure and Patrick Viera is a big motivation for me. For instance, in Israel everyone calls me Yaya Toure and when I hear things like this, I watch Yaya Toure and try to do things that he does because it is a plus to me especially when compared to a big player like Yaya Toure or Patrick Viera. But I don't allow these comparisons to get into my head, I just try to focus on my game, try to improve on it.
Ogenyi Onazi will miss the qualifying games against Tanzania and Egypt. How do you think this will affect the team?
Onazi's suspension is going to be a big loss for us because we know what Onazi brings to us in the team. He is a good player, a fighter, we will definitely miss him. But the truth is we wouldn't depend on this as long as the coaches have the belief that the other players can do the job. We need to qualify for the Nations Cup; we need to bring back that image where everyone knows us as the best in Africa. So whoever gets the chance will do everything not to disappoint.
How has the experience been playing in a country like Israel where there has been unrest for years now?
I moved to Israel when the war had stopped. Since I have been there, I have never come across anything like war, it has been peaceful, the people are nice, they do their own thing, they give respect to people. So for me, they are nice, peaceful people, because if I don't think if I had sensed anything different, I don't think I would be in the country. To be honest with you, I didn't want to go to Israel but I spoke to Austin Ejide about the club and he said they wanted me. It was like a risk for me, but when I thought about the fact that I have most of my colleagues there, people like Nosa Igiebor, Ejide, I just said why not. So like I said, it's a peaceful country, and I hope to continue showing the people that I am there to play football and also put smiles on their faces.