Erstwhile Super Eagles’ defender, Seyi Samuel Ogunsanya has revealed some secrets that halted his football career. The former Enyimba and 3SC defence strongman, in an Instagram video conversation with Saturday Sun Sport, said he dumped Russian side, FC Spartak Moscow, despite inspiring the club to the 2002/2003 UEFA Champions League season, due to racism. The Chicago-base A licenced coach also disclosed how he disguised like an old man to escape from die-hard fans who almost took his life in an Ibadan hospital.
Ogunsanya, who bagged the 2003 LG Cup player of the tournament award, further spoke on how he got a national team call up for the 2004 African Cup of Nations qualifying series, his perception on corruption in Nigerian football and his dream of coaching the Golden Eaglets and more.
For the sake of new generation readers, who are you?
Well, I am Seyi Ogunsanya. I grew up in Shomolu Lagos. I attended Gbobi College, Yaba. I’m a Nigerian born footballer who retired in 2010 after achieving some successes home and abroad. I was also a member of the 2004 CAF Champions League winning team during my days in Enyimba Football Club of Aba. I never got the chance of playing in Europe before I got my national team invitation. I was so good in defence to the extent of wining an award as the player of the tournament during the 2003 LG Cup. I remember in Lagos, where we played against Cameroon, my record at the tournament also earned me more invitations to the national where I played series of matches during the 2004 AFCON qualifying stage. I also played in various clubs in Nigeria, including Enugu Rangers, Shooting Stars, Kastina United, Enyimba, Sharks and Dolphins F.C.
You played for FC Spartak Moscow in Russia during the 2002/2003 UEFA Champions League season, how was the feeling back then?
One can’t compare the foreign league with our league here in Nigeria. It was a big experience for me playing against Liverpool, Valencia and another top club in Europe. I inspired my side to a 2-0 victory over Valencia. I felt on top of the world because I knew my fans at home were watching how I guided my goalkeeper to a clean sheet. I also helped the team finish well in the domestic league, but I never spent many years featuring for an European club side.
What led to your short spell in Europe?
It’s a long story I always feel sad talking about. Racism was the major thing that almost destroy my career in Russia. You know that awkward moment fans boo a player despite playing for them. They did it because I’m black. Even when I took my time to explain to them that I was for them, they wouldn’t listen, instead they would join the opposite team to reign insults on me. I decided to quit and opted for where I would be loved. I returned home to join Enyimba of Aba where I won the CAF Champions League.
What were the challenges you faced playing in the NPFL?
I’m from a very good Christian home, a member of the Christ Apostolic Church who grew up with the mentality of facing challenges in order to be successful in life. I returned to Nigeria to play for Enyimba. The then coach never wanted me, but all thanks to the then Governor of Abia State, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, who always charged the coach to feature me in order to get result. Whenever the coach snubbed me, Uzor Kalu would insist on my presence because he had confidence in me. Then, I was the most experienced defender in Enyimba. Whenever I featured for the club, they got the desired victory. The reason why the coach didn’t want me remains unknown to me till date. I also faced same challenges during my days at Sharks and Dolphins FC. Both teams were owned by the Rivers State government. Unfortunately, Sharks were relegated and I was lured to play for Dolphins. The then coach also tried to sideline me, but thanks to the then River State Commissioner for Sports. I remember how he ordered the coach to register me for continental tournament. At Dolphins, I was just training all days, the coach had his own boys he wanted to promote but the commissioner always fought for me. I remember how I changed the team’s fortune against El Kanemi during a cup final. I was initially benched in the game which victory fetched us a car reward each as promised by the then River State Governor. Like I said earlier, I serve a living God. My teammate was red carded and the foul he committed cost us a penalty which was converted to a goal. I was called upon by the commissioner to replace my suspended teammate and I changed the game for good, we equalised and won by penalty shoot out. That was in 2008 before the Manchester United team visited Nigeria to play against the team. I left Sharks before then, but I got the car reward.
Can you recall your saddest moment in football?
My most difficult moments was when I disguised to escape death from some die hard fans. It happened on September 9, 1995. Coincidentally, it was the day Igeniwari George, younger brother to ex-Eagles’ winger, Finidi George, lost his life. It was a rivalry game between Super Stores and Rangers. I played for Rangers and I couldn’t finish the game because I collided with an opponent 10 minutes before the end of the game. I was rushed to a hospital in Ibadan where the match took place. Few hours later, I heard that Igeniwari George was cut down in crowd violence at the match venue in Lekan Salami Stadium in Ibadan. I heard before his teammate rushed to him, it was discovered that a bullet had pierced through the bus and hit him. Incidentally, his corpse was rushed to the hospital I was admitted. The Stores fans who heard I was receiving treatment in same hospital wanted to revenge by assassinating me, but thanks to some Rangers officials and the doctors who disguised me as an old man and rushed me out to another ward. If not, I would have been killed.
Can you recall your most memorable moment?
My most interesting moment can only come if the present Governor of Oyo State, Engineer Seyi Makinde can help me secure the release of the parcels of land promised me and my teammates as a reward for winning the 1998 Nigerian League. It was that same season we won the WAFU cup. We were all given parcels of land by the then military governor of Oyo State, Amen Oyakhiri.
Shortly after that, a civilian governor, Lam Adesina took over. He (Adesina), however, failed to release the parcels of land to us till date. The reward, which includes N2 million each and a plot of land is yet to be given to us. Some of my teammates of that golden era are now late, while their children are yet to receive the reward on behalf of their fathers. I learnt the then Chairman, Elder Bode Oyewole never stopped patronising the new governor’s office. But with the look of things, I’m sure Engineer Seyi Makinde will hearken to our lamentation. If he can help do that, I will forever be grateful.
What inspired you playing for the national team?
I was inspired by the then Super Eagles’ captain, Sunday Oliseh. I was a home-based player when I made my debut. Oliseh, who I saw as a great leader, told me to be confident. He always made me realise there was no difference between home and foreign based players. Although I wasn’t the only home based player who was invited to the national team, I did not know why he chose me as a close friend in camp and some of his words kept me moving till I got to an enviable height in the Super Eagles squad of that era.
What can you say about the likes of Taye Taiwo, Chinedu Obasi and others who accused late Super Eagles coaches, Keshi and Amodu of bribery?
Don’t mind those guys, they are all cowards. Why coming out to say Stephen Keshi and Shaibu Amodu were corrupt while you knew the duo are late. Why didn’t they speak while they were alive? I can’t say Nigerian coaches are corrupt. You and I can only speak for ourselves. As for me, I never bribed my way into Eagles. I was chosen based on merit and hard work. What I think the Nigeria Football Federation can do to tame corruption is to keep respecting our indigenous coaches as they do to foreign coaches. They should give them free hands to operate. No one should impose players on any coach. We all witnessed what happened at the last Under 20 and Under 17 FIFA tournaments. It speaks volume on how our politicians and top NFF officials impose players on coaches. Those are part of the things killing our football.
Since you retired a decade ago, what are you into?
I now base in America with my family. After my retirement, I went for a grade A coaching course here in USA. I’m currently coaching global soccer academy in Chicago. I handle their under 18 team and we’ve recorded some good results and won laurels.
If you’re being called upon to coach any of the age grade national teams, will you honour such invitation?
Yes, I will, but I will never lobby for that. I have never lobbied for any post in my life. My work will speak for me when the time comes. But if given the chance to handle any under age team in Nigeria, I will surely do.