Football isn’t just a game in Nigeria, it’s a tradition, a way of life, a culture. Its fandom is so ingrained into its followers, on some days as intoxicating and wonderful as the air we breathe.
As blissful as it is to watch, cheer for, and support, its many avenues for livelihood are also well appreciated by Nigerians. The country, our country, boasts sportswriters, analysts, commentators, videographers, players, and of course, coaches.
We were able to tie down one of the more talented young coaches in Nigeria – Head Coach/Head of Football Performance (Alimosho Football Club) – and have a chat with him on the multi-faceted sides of football in Nigeria and how he enjoys the bliss while enduring the hurdles of coaching in Nigeria:
Here is the tea on the convo with our very own Coach Raji Olatunji Yekini:
What made you decide to become a coach, and is coaching a fulltime job for you?
Football for me is life itself. Asides from the passion I have for the game, I have always been attracted to the drama, the goals, the emotions, and everything that comes with football. But talking deeply now, my love for coaching was born out of the desire to impact the game. I see coaches as chess players. Strategic thinking, man-management, tactics and even risk-taking are what endeared me to the sport. Yes, coaching is a full-time job for me.
Seeing as grassroots football isn’t as profitable right now, do you get money to run the team. E.g purchasing equipment, getting training grounds etc?
Alimosho FC has a structure that allows it to run like a business. I don’t believe grassroots football is not profitable, I only believe sports organizations or startups need to have a clear direction of how they want to operate. Alimosho FC as a brand is run by very intelligent young guys and ladies and with the energy, they put in branding, marketing, the soccer schools, publishing and other commercial endeavours, we have been able to stay afloat and we continue to grow. A good instance of a sustainable model for me and my fellow coaches has been the management’s efforts in creating different soccer school centres in different communities around Alimosho. So for equipment, the club continues to invest in this not just for the Elite squad but to service the training needs of the children in our programs.
Football or soccer, what do you call it😅?
In this part of the world, it is called football, so I will definitely stick to that.
Being that there are hardly any leagues for the u-17 and below as we have it in other top football nations, what do you think of the grassroots football structure in Nigeria, and how would you say Socialiga is helping to improve the standard of grassroots football in the country?
This is the major reason sports is at its lowest ebb in the country. School and age-grade sports need to be given the attention it deserves so that we can have the involvement of more athletes at a tender age. This also helps eliminate the incidence of age cheats across the board. There should be a pathway for development even in schools up to the U-17 level. When management proposed the idea of the SociaLiga, we thought it was a great idea. It availed the club ample opportunity to run professionally even with scarce resources. The Socialiga model has not only helped athletes but even the clubs as they now understand the value of creating value through social media, video analysis and even the idea of matchday tickets trilled us.
How will you describe your coaching style and what top football managers you look up to for inspiration?
My style is that of possession football, quick passing, high intensity, and manoeuvring through tight spaces. I’m a big fan of Coach Hakeem Busari of Gateway FC and Pep Guardiola of Manchester City.
What goals are your team players planning to achieve in the coming future? E.g do they have plans to get professional contracts and if so how are they going about it?
Because we belong to a very progressive club that has male and female teams, the direction is quite clear. For the male team, the focus is on intense training and marketability for the bigger leagues abroad. For the female team, it’s about creating a viable atmosphere where female footballers can flourish and earn a living even here in Nigeria as they dominate the female football scene.
If you were the President of the NFF, what will be the foremost decision or reform you will make?
I will create a viable atmosphere for football to flourish and bring in investment. Football all over the world is an intellectual endeavour so it needs to be handled seriously.
What would you say are the struggles of a grass-root team in Nigeria?
Their struggles are simply structure-based. They are not well structured for growth. Most times the direction is not clear. It’s as simple as that.
What coaching badges do you have, or which ones are you looking to get?
NIS Advanced coaching certificate and a wide array of coaching certifications.
Finally, we saw top European coaches teleconferencing with their players during the lockdown, how have you kept your team morale high in the middle of the global health crises we are currently undergoing?
This is our reality now due to the pandemic. However, the major challenge has been how expensive data is in Nigeria today. Management has been more bothered about ensuring the athletes and their families feed well during this hard time by donating food relief packages at intervals so I won’t say it has really made any difference for the elite team. However, for children in our Soccer Schools, we have used ample use of technology in connecting with them. The drills are sent to them digitally and we are currently planning to host Nigeria’s first Virtual camp for them in August.
Committed to the growth of the game, an avid supporter, and a big inspiration to up and coming coaches! The above principles and schools of thought mirror what big aspirations we all have for Nigerian football, as we can only look with anticipation to seeing in flourish in the coming years.
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