All over the world, the game of football has turned the fortunes of many families around for good. In Nigeria, examples of families whose stories have changed from grass to grace abound.
One of them is that of Super Eagles and Chelsea of England midfielder, John Mikel Obi. His elder brother and Heartland FC of Owerri’s goalkeeper, Ebele Obi, made the confession in a no-holds-barred interview with TSW in Owerri recently. The former Enugu Rangers captain also spoke on the celebrated Kidnap episode of his father, his relationship with Mikel, his love life and Mikel’s, his football career and many more.
Football in my family
Actually football runs in my family. It is something we inherited from my Dad because he was a great player in his days as a youth. At the moment three of us are into football; I, my immediate younger brother, Mikel, and our last born.
|Ebele Obi - Mikel Obi's Brother|
The game of football has really impacted on my family.
From, hitherto, a humble background, football has taken my family to such a great height that we never imagined. Today, my family is popular both in Nigeria and the world over, particularly, as a result of the fame of my younger brother, Mikel.
Before now, ours was a family that fed from hand to mouth. We were living in two-room apartment in Jos not because my Dad could really afford the rent but because he was the care-taker of the compound. The truth is that we had nothing to offer then. But today, the story is different; thanks to football. Apart from Mikel that is playing big time professional football in Europe, I’m also playing professional football here in the Nigerian League and my other younger brother is also a footballer. Football has really done us a lot of good. We now have houses and cars of our own. So, I give God the glory. How we started our football career When we were growing up, I was the first to start playing football with a team called Greater Tomorrow before I joined the Pepsi Football Academy. Not quite long, Mikel joined me at Pepsi Academy. And that’s how we started our football career. Our younger brother, the last born of my parents is also playing football.
Relationship with Mikel
Mikel is my younger brother. I’m two years older than him and so he’ll continue to be my younger brother. He respects me a lot as his elder brother and I respect for him too even as my younger brother. We reason together. If there’s something he has for the family he seeks my advice and we discuss it and agree on what to do. And then I pass the information to my Dad and Mum. We get along very well and I pray we continue that way.
Encouragement from Mikel
I must confess that Mikel has really encouraged me in my football career and I’m grateful to him. I cannot deny the fact that he has done so much for me and the family as a whole. Each time he’s coming home, he buys me training kits. He brings me the kits of Chelsea’s goalkeeper (Peter Czech). He also buys me clothes, shoes and many other things. He calls me to wish me well whenever I have a match.
He has been doing a lot to encourage me in my football career.
Mum is a Chelsea fan
My mum watches Mikel whenever Chelsea has a match. Even when she travels, she would be rushing back home to watch Mikel play. She is a Chelsea fan.
Father’s kidnap episode
The incident happened when I was still with Enugu Rangers. The management of Rangers did everything to encourage me during that trying period. I was on top of my game then so the management couldn’t drop me from the squad. I recall that we (Rangers) were playing in the continent then. Both the management and my teammates kept encouraging me to continue to play assuring me that my father would come back safe. It was really a difficult period for me but I thank God that at the end of the day my father was released without a ransom paid to the kidnappers.
Actually the kidnappers demanded for a huge sum of money because they heard that Mikel is paid in thousands of pounds.
Lessons from Dad’s kidnap
In life, we learn from our experiences. Initially, we were very free with visitors in our home. We used to welcome everybody into our house but little did we know that some of the people we welcomed into the house were planning evil against us. But since that kidnap episode, we have tightened the security within and around the compound. Now before you come into the family, we must ask who you are. Whenever my Dad goes out, there are usually security details that keep watch over him.
The same applies to my Mum and every other member of the family. You may not see the security operatives but they are always there monitoring every move around members of my family wherever we are. Even when we move with our private cars, the security details will always follow. When I’m with my friends, I’m always conscious. In a nutshell, my Dad’s kidnap episode has really opened our eyes to be security conscious at all times. But in all, God has been our ultimate security; the author and finisher of our faith.
It’s not been easy. Each time I have a good game or training session and sleep and wake up the following day, I would tell myself that I’m not supposed to be plying my trade here in the domestic league. I should be playing in Europe. But I know that it is difficult for goalkeepers to make it to Europe unlike the field players that easily secure contracts with clubs abroad. But I know that my breakthrough shall soon come. I keep praying to God and keep on talking to my brother and other interested agents that would like to export me abroad. My brother is working very hard for me to get a club in Europe.
I know that I’m a good goalkeeper and I’m working very hard but I’m not going to kill myself. I can only work hard and pray to God to help me get a club abroad.
Invitation to national team
Everything depends on God and I know that God’s time is the best. I’ve never been invited to any national team before; be it U-17 or U-20 not to talk of the senior national team. It’s not as if I don’t want to be there, I would love to serve my country. I would love to make my family and fatherland proud. But I believe it’s only a matter of time for me to get my chance. Perhaps, that time would come under the present coach, Stephen Keshi and it comes, I shall grab it with both hands.
I cannot talk about any other goalkeeper on the issue of discipline. I can only talk about myself. I’m not undisciplined. But people tend to misunderstand me sometimes. For instance, when I was the captain of Enugu Rangers, whenever I made a case for the welfare of the players, it would be interpreted as indiscipline. But I don’t know about other goalkeepers regarding who is disciplined and who is not. In any case, I wonder why goalkeepers are always made to look like scapegoats. We are not different from the field players. It is wrong to paint the goalkeepers black.
My assets/qualities as a goalkeeper
I believe with God all things are possible. I do not claim to be the best goalkeeper in the country. But I’m sure when the opportunity comes for me to be in the national team, I would grab it with both hands. I’m only praying for the call-up to come first. If it comes, I’d work very hard to make sure that it does not slip off my hands. My strongest point as goalkeeper is the ability to deal with pressure. I’m usually very calm in goal no matter the amount of pressure. When you expect me to make mistakes, I don’t because I’m not there to make mistakes. I’m very calm and calculative. Above all, I’m very prayerful. I pray a lot before I go into a match. And when I cannot pray, I have some pastors that intercede for me so that I can have a good match.
Target with Heartland
I left Enugu Rangers because I wanted to face fresh challenges and I believe that Heartland FC offers me that challenge.So I’m not in Heartland for a jamboree. I’m here to work.
Sex and romance
As a footballer and as a popular figure, one must learn to cope with every situation that comes his way. Concerning my social life, I’m currently into a relationship and I don’t want to be distracted. I want to be focused and keep on praying that everything works out fine so that I can settle down with the same person I’m into a relation with. I’m not carried away with my brother’s wealth. No doubt girls come around me but I remain focused on my career. Mikel too is into a relationship at the moment right there in the United Kingdom. When you stick to one person at a time, I think it saves you a lot of trouble. But when you jump from one today to another tomorrow, you create room for every other girl to come in. We are not on that track at all.
Mikel won’t marry a white lady
No, no, no! We cannot advise Mikel to marry a foreigner knowing full well what it involves. We’ll make him realize that if he gets married to a foreigner, whatever comes out of the marriage, he should be prepared to take it. I wouldn’t want my brother to be a victim of a failed marriage.
Even when I visited him in London, I warned him about white ladies. I told him that even if he’s having a relationship with a white lady, it should stop at that; he should not allow such relationship to end up in marriage. I told him whenever he wants to settle down in marriage, he should come down to Nigeria and pick a wife. If he’s thinking towards the direction of getting married to a white lady, we are not in support of that. My parents are not in support of him getting married to a white. If he’s in a relationship, that’s just a relationship.
By EMMA NJOKU [Suns News Nigeria]