Former Nigerian international midfielder, Seyi Olofinjana is steadily moving up the coaching and management ladder at English Premier League side, Wolverhampton Wanderers and he believes he’s acquiring so much knowledge that would be useful to manage the Super Eagles in the future,
It’s indeed a season of introspection for Seyi Olofinjana, former Super Eagles’ midfield Trojan and one of the very few Nigerian footballers with sound academic background. In a career spanning a period of 11 years between 2000 and 2011, Olofinjana had an impressive 56 international caps under his belt but he surmised that his debut in an international friendly against Malawi under the late coach Shaibu Amodu would forever remain indelible in his memory.
“There were so many wonderful memories playing for the ever beautiful Super Eagles but none would be compared to that very first time wearing the national jersey and singing the national anthem with millions watching,” Olofinjana , a storied product of the Nigeria University Games Association (NUGA) began in an exclusive interview with The Nation. “Amodu was a great coach and my confidant and his management skills were second to none.
“He gave not just myself but all new players the belief that that we were talented enough and have merited selection.”
Though it looked like yesterday when Olofinjana made that debut against the visiting Malawi at the Abacha Stadium in Kano, he remains nostalgic about 4th June 2000 which is just a year away from two decades.
“4th June 2000, I was in the team led by Shaibu Amodu and Musa Abdullahi (both late); the feeling was and is still is indescribable. Just pure grace,” noted Olofinjana who would be 39 on 30th June.
“I feel blessed to have donned the colours of my country 56times in a career that spanned a decade.
“With almost 200million people with almost a quarter of not more capable of occupying that position, being favoured by God to be selected for that long is still a mystery. I’d be forever grateful to God and people he used for such an important privilege.”
Olofinjana has indeed had a seamless transition from being a player to administrator and this might not be unconnected with his educational background as recently hinted by erstwhile president of NUGA and former Vice- Chancellor of University of Benin, Prof. Osayuki Oshodin.
“You must have certainly heard about a player called Seyi Olofinjana who played for the Super Eagles ; it was during my period as president of NUGA that he became a household name in Nigeria,” Oshodin, the professor of health education once told The Nation. “Olofinjana was discovered in the team that I took to China to play when he was a student of LAUTECH; that was where the scouts saw him and he started playing for Nigeria.”
It is not as easy as that though; but Olofinjana’s career is an ideal one for any aspiring footballer to follow as he perfectly combined education with his football career even at retirement.
Apart from graduating with a degree in chemical engineering from the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) in Ogbomoso, Olofinjana recently graduated from The Master of Sport Directorship (MSD) programme at the Manchester Metropolitan University as he continues to chart his road to the top.
“I have been asked this (how easy was it to have combined academics at LAUTECH and playing for the Super Eagles) so many times and sometimes,I wonder how I did it as well,” explained Olofinjana that played for a number of European clubs including SK Brann in Norway; Wolverhampton Wanderers, Hull City, Stoke City, Cardiff City and Sheffield Wednesday in England. “Obviously, God played a major part and contrary to the notion of many people that I had it all planned.
“It was just a divine intervention possible for anyone willing to commit himself or herself and more importantly focus. In was tough but the focus was always on the goal and preparations for life after football.”
Since his retirement in 2015, Olofinjana has since been working at Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Academy and was recently named as Loans Pathway Managerat the English Premier League side.
“Transition from playing to management has come with its challenges – life style change, family balance, working hours and all sorts, but I must emphasise that education has played a major role in preparing me as well as dedication,” stated Olofinjana in his usual candour. “The Master’s degree is another step towards preparing for life after football and stressed my passion not just for coaching but administration hence the application for the loan and pathways manager’s role as it’s all encompassing.
“Prior to my new role as the loans and pathway manager, I was the U23s coach and while I am still part of the coaching set up, I do less coaching for now.
“How soon I can deploy this knowledge to the development of Nigerian football? I’d say NOW!
“Without a shadow of doubt, managing the Super Eagles or administering the game in Nigeria is part of my future dreams.
“I would again be honoured to (manage the Super Eagles);after all, I have learnt and still learning and would be ready to help the nation realise its full potentials in whatever capacity.”
Of course, Olofinjana can looked back at his career with satisfaction as widely reported, he began his career with local sides Crown of Ogbomoso and Kwara United before moving to Europe with Norwegian side SK Brann.
After two seasons at Brann he moved to English club Wolverhampton Wanderers and became a regular at Molineux right from the first season. His second season was curtailed by a back injury that also forced him to miss the 2006 African Cup of Nations (AFCON).
However,in the 2006–07 seasons, he finished as the club’s top league goal scorer as they made the play-offs under Mick McCarthy. He netted Wolves’ opening goal of the following campaign in a 2–1 defeat to Watford but could not repeat his goalscoring level of the previous season, scoring only twice more. He missed part of the season as he competed in the 2008 AFCON in Ghana where Nigeria lost in the quarter-finals.
“It is always a beautiful time together when the AFCON comes to town,” recalled Olofinjana who played along with the likes of Austin Jay Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, John Utaka, Obafemi Martins and a host of others.“Different egos, talents, individuals and weirdos come together and being compelled to work together for a period can be both fun and challenging.
“How as a group we never won the Nations Cup is baffling with the talents we had in the squad .But as I’ve always said, Super Eagles’ problem isn’t about players but administration.
“How well you’d go in a tournament isn’t determined just on the field but preparations put in place prior.
“As a matter of fact, winning any tournament is always a by-product of good all round organisation. A lot saw the talents and wondered why but what goes on behind the scenes was witnessed by very few.”
Incredibly, Nigeria has only won the AFCON thrice following victory on home soil in 1980 with a team that included Captain Christian Chukwu, Mathematical Segun Odegbami, Adokiye Amiesimaka, goalkeeper Peter Okala and others.
The country had to wait till 1994 to add a second title in Tunisia under Dutch coach Clemens Westerhof-led squad that is commonly referred to as the Golden Generation complete with late skipper Stephen Keshi, late sensational striker Rashid Yekini, Emmanuel Amuneke, Daniel Amokachi, Sunday Oliseh among others .Again, there was a long period of interregnum until 2013 when late skipper ‘Big Boss’ Stephen Keshi made history as the second person in the history of the AFCON after Egyptian Hassan Shetata to have won the continent’s most sought-after trophy both as a player and coach.
This June, the Super Eagles return to the continent again in search of glory for the first time since their last success in South Africa and Olofinjana believes the current team being managed by German coach Gernot Rohr can go all the way in Egypt if some of the pitfalls of the past can be mitigated upon.
“If some or all I’ve highlighted earlier can be looked into, the challenge for the talented boys would be to win the AFCON in Egypt having giving a good account of themselves at the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018,”affirmed Olofinjana.