Abiodun Baruwa, to many who followed the Nigeria Dream Team captained by Nwankwo Kanu to win the Altanta’96 Olympic gold remains a key figure of the team despite not being in goal all through the football event.
But 23 years on, the goalkeeper now resident in the United Kingdom gave an insight into the real reasons he never got on the pitch. He revealed that the medical crew of the team under Coaches Johanness Bonfrere and Willy Bazuaye (late) gave false advice about his state of health and fitness which forced him out of the picture.
Fondly called ‘Omo Alhaja’, by his admirers, Baruwa also reveals that the Super Eagles goalkeeper crisis can be resolved with players in the domestic league given confidence to stand between the poles. He also believes that the Super Eagles are good enough for a medal place but that Coach Gernot Rohr will have to give the players that extra push for them to excel.
Enjoy the interview.
How it all began
I remember I got into goal for the first time one day during my Primary School days. It was during our break period and one of my friend just said: “Why don’t you get in goal for us and to my surprise, I did well. From that day, I remained in goal.
The big move to 3SC
Going to Ibadan was a dream come true for me. Everything I want to achieve in football happened in 3SC. The four years I spent will remain indelible for a lifetime.
Motivation as a young player
Actually, when I was growing up, I didn’t have a particular idol but I was often fascinated by the big players in the Super Eagles and always told myself I would get there someday. To help my dream, I joined a football academy at the National Stadium in Surulere. Our group of players were about 14 years old and that was where I first met Sunday Oliseh. We trained all day during holiday periods and had our meals right there at the stadium. Gradually, our team formed the core of players that played before major matches.
Rivals in goalkeeping
I actually don’t look at my teammates as rivals. I only focus on how I can be better and make a success of my career.
First call-up to the national team
My first call-up to the national team was with the U23 National team under Coach Willy Bazuaye in 1995.
The Atlanta’96 Olympic Games and the emergence of Dosu Joseph and Emma Babayaro ahead of you.
The true situation what happened was that I fell sick as soon as we arrived the training camp in Florida.
And when Bonfere jo asked our doctor then before he sent his final names to the Nigeria Olympic Committee, the Doctor told him I won’t be fit on time.
The Doctor didn’t ask me or check me before he made that decision and the next day when I started training, Bonfrere Jo was amazed. He called me into his room and told me what exactly happened and what the Doctor told him. I was sad for days but it is what it is. I leave them to God. This is the true situation. If you have access to Bonfrere Jo, please ask him.
Nigeria’s Olympic gold medal
It’s was the best feelings ever. We were young and well looked after, though we didn’t get everything that we were promised but it’s all ok. As for me I always have that bit that I was cheated. Bonfrere Jo can confirm this story for you. I was in his Room when he told me he is very sorry, it’s the doctor that told him I won’t be ready. But it was a different story when he saw me training
Life in United Kingdom
I help some of the lower league clubs I have played before with their young goalkeepers and my son plays in goal too, I am a registered intermediary (players Agent) here in UK. I have my certification in goalkeeping and outfield here but hopefully one day soon and in near future, I might come and work for a good football club, academy or even with our national teams if situation is right. Regarding my son, I think I influenced him a little bit. But he is just going to turn 7 in April. He can change his mind at anytime, he always told me he likes Neymar, that’s unusual for a goalkeeper, but he once told me he wanted to be like the Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. And some day I will be happy to see him in goal as an adult doing his own thing.
Super Eagles chances at AFCON 2019 in Egypt
In all my experience watching our national teams in all age categories and to the Super Eagles particularly from when I was a kid and when I was playing in those teams myself and now that am retired, we always produced great teams, but for some reasons that I don’t understand, we always lack that extra yard when we get into the main competitions.
However, with the set of young and big talented players that we have now, we should win the Cup in Egypt and nothing less premature retirement of Vincent Enyeama and the cancer situation of Carl Ikeme.
Uzoho is not a bad goalkeeper. He is tall enough and young, but I am not sure about his dominance in goal. I meant like when a goalkeeper is goal you know he is in good control of that area. If he can work on his control of the goal area, he can be a complete and super goalkeeper. Nevertheless, you see those home talents, all the coaches need to carry them along. I meant those that did well in our beloved Nigeria league. They have got that base in them. All that travelling across the country to play other teams makes you become a better player and your mind and heart so big.
We need someone that come up from the league and give them ample chance to play games, not just to be part of the team. If you look at the era Peter Rufai, all the goalkeepers were from the league, they learn their trade in the league in Nigeria before they all moved abroad and when you look at my time too, all the goalkeepers we had played for many years in the Nigerian league and that includes the Vincent Enyama era too.
What am saying in essence is that goalkeepers in the Nigeria domestic league have a strong base and that is how great goalkeepers were made.
Role of NFF
We need to look deeply into the domestic league and encourage the goalkeepers. NFF should do more by organising goalkeepers session for nationals teams where 20 goalkeepers or more are brought to camp and thrilled.
Do it twice a year or more depending on availability of funds. For two weeks at a time. Just all the goalkeepers in the league that you think they got potentials. Just goalkeepers only for two weeks with your best goalkeeper coaches i within all national teams. That will help with the answers.