Super Eagles invitee for the crucial FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifier against Zambia in Uyo next Saturday, Dele Ajiboye, who was in goal when Nigeria won the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2007, in this exclusive interview with Completesportsnigeria.com’s JAMES AGBEREBI gives his thoughts on the Uyo clash, his WAFU Cup experience, Plateau United’s NPFL triumph and his regrets as a footballer…
How did you receive the news that you have been included in the Super Eagles 23-man squad to face Zambia after your first call in the qualifiers against Cameroon?
Though I wouldn’t say I was not surprised by the invitation, I am very happy that God did it for me again.
What would you say was responsible for being invited again by the Super Eagles coach?
I believe anything we do in life, we need to be prayerful and also hardworking. I believe the coaches know who is hardworking and I think that was responsible for my invitation.
What are your expectations for the game against Zambia?
My expectation for the game is victory for the Super Eagles. Everybody knows that it is a must win match for us. Yes, we beat them at their place, but they will be coming to Nigeria with the mindset of winning. But by the grace of God we will beat them.
The Zambians defeated Algeria both home and away, don’t you think that should be a cause for concern for the Super Eagles?
That is Algeria, this is the Super Eagles we are talking about. The style of football the North Africans play is different from what we in West Africa play. So like I said, we cannot afford to miss this opportunity. We will beat Zambia, I am confident about that.
What do you think are your chances of being in goal against Zambia?
I believe whoever is picked to be in goal against Zambia will give his best because everybody wants to sell himself. Daniel Akpeyi is doing well in South Africa, Ikechukwu Ezenwa has been doing well, me too I have been performing. So it is left for the coaches to pick who they feel is worthy to be in goal.
What is your relationship like with the Super Eagles players especially the foreign-based players like Mikel Obi, Victor Moses, Leon Balogun and others?
The truth is you will never differentiate between the home-based players from the foreign-based players because everybody is carried along, especially by Mikel. Aside from Mikel, even someone like Kelechi Iheanacho, you will not know that he is a foreign-based player because he jokes with everybody. So for me, the relationship has been fantastic.
Let us look at the WAFU Cup which you were part of with the home-based Eagles. Unfortunately you lost to Ghana in the final. What is your assessment of the tournament?
For me, I see the WAFU Cup as a training tour for us. Before we left Nigeria, we did not have a proper preparation. But I’m really happy because we did well. Because, despite the lack of proper preparation, we went all the way to the final. I believe we will have a proper preparation for CHAN, at least one month preparation compared to what we had before going for the WAFU Cup.
You have come a long way since back in 2007 during your time with the Golden Eaglets. What about your teammates back then, do you still keep in touch with them?
I still keep in touch with some of them. For example, someone like Gsniyu Oseni who plays in Vietnam, whenever he comes around, he calls me. Haruna Lukman was around a few days back and we both talked on the phone. Aside from Haruna and Oseni, others like Yakubu Alfa, Ishola Kabiru and Uche Okafor, we still call each other once in a while, but not everybody. But I believe everybody is okay.
Looking back from 2007 to 2017 which makes it 10 years, did you ever believe you would still be invited to the Super Eagles?
I always believed that my time would come. But one thing I believe in life is that everything has time. For now I may not be the first choice but I believe I will get my chance and Nigerians will see the best of me.
Don’t you think the reason why you were not invited in the past was as a result of other goalkeepers who the coaching crew felt were better?
I believe so because I remember when Vincent Enyeama used to be in goal for Nigeria, he was very good which made it difficult for other goalkeepers. So I believe my time will come.
Plateau United won their first ever league title in the just concluded Nigeria Professional Football League. Did you ever believe you would be crowned league champions despite the presence of teams like Enyimba, Kano Pillars and Rangers?
I remember when I was negotiating my contract with the General Manager of Plateau United, he told me Plateau United would win the league and I am really happy that it came to pass.
What would you say was the secret of Plateau United’s success?
I believe hard work and fasting and prayer was the secret to our becoming league champions for the very first time.
And after the league title, you will represent Nigeria in the CAF Champions League, and for some time now Nigerian clubs have not been doing well in CAF club competitions. What should we be expecting from Plateau United?
I believe we will perform very well in the CAF Champions League. Though I don’t know what the club’s programmes are but I believe the coaches and management know what they are doing. And to do well on the continent, they need to sign players, experienced players who can help the club do well. I am optimistic Plateau United will go far in the CAF Champions League.
And looking at how MFM performed in the league, do you think they will do well also on the continent?
MFM play good football but going into the continent, they will need to buy at least five players to be able to come up against big teams like Al Ahly, Zamalek, Sundowns and others because the CAF Champions League is a different competition from the Nigerian league.
Coming back to you, any plans to join a foreign club?
I had the chance to sign for a foreign club when I was with Wikki Tourists but because of what happened back then, the deal did not work out. If God wants me to go back definitely I will go.
And which team was that, which country and what division?
The club was Pontevedra in the Spanish second division. The team is very close to Deportivo La Coruna.
So what led to the deal falling through?
What happened was that I believed Nigeria would qualify for the 2012 London Olympics so I decided not to go ahead and sign the contract, believing I would get another club which never happened. Unfortunately we failed to qualify that was how the whole deal collapsed.
Could that be described as your biggest regrets?
Honestly, that is the biggest regret of my life.
Finally now, how would you describe you career so far?
It has not been easy but I thank God for everything. I remember when I left 3SC I went to Nasarawa United. In 2015, I was supposed to sign for Kano Pillars but I ended up not signing for them which left me clubless for one year before travelling to the United States to meet my family. When I returned, I was signed by Warri Wolves. And I believe the good job I did in my previous clubs is the reason why I am in Plateau today. I really thank God for everything.