Former Super Eagles captain and ex-Deportivo La Coruna F.C of Spain goal stopper, Peter Rufai has many firsts in his illustrious career.
While he ranks among Nigeria’s safest hands in his playing days both on the domestic and international scenes bagging several awards, the goal stopper has a long term borne regret that constantly bugs his mind.
In this interview with Saturday SunSports, Rufai reveals that he was torn between abandoning his football career at a point in time for the Kingship of his community but he decided to stick to the latter.
The born Prince of Idimu Community in Lagos State also bares his mind on the present Super Eagles team under coach Gernot Rohr, his perception about the headache Nigeria is currently facing in the goalkeeping department, his sweet and bitter moment in the round leather game, how FIFA ranking which placed Nigeria behind World Cup group rival, Argentina, Croatia and Iceland can affect the team morale in Russia and the challenges he faces before ranking the longest serving Nigeria national team goalkeeper.
Rufai also speaks on his believe about Voodoo and the stage he believes Nigeria would get to at the forthcoming FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Coach Gernot Rohr has hinted he will be going to the FIFA World Cup without Nigeria’s most capped footballer, Vincent Enyeama, what’s your take on this?
Rohr has not been inviting Enyeama and he is also not showing the interest of returning back to the national team. I don’t really have much to say about the issue, but I believe Rohr knows the best for himself. Our People keep clamouring for the call up of Enyeama, forgetting that Rohr qualified for the FIFA World Cup without Enyeama. You can’t rob Peter to pay Paul. It won’t sound nice if Rohr should snub the likes of Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Dele Ajiboye and others who have been there for him during the days of difficulty. I am not imposing any players on the coach but am only saying the right thing.
If Rohr recalls Enyeama, do you think he can still be great as before?
That is a very difficult question. It’s been long Nigerians saw him keep and besides, age is something a man can’t cheat on. Let me use myself for instance, I was not really in good shape during the France’98 FIFA World Cup, then I was already aging, but the coach decided to include me in the final 23-man squad. I didn’t perform up to expectation during the tournament and it was due to my old age and fatigue.
I hope this won’t reoccur if Rohr should consider begging him for a return, but everything is left for the coach. Enyeama is a great goalkeeper no doubt. I just hope Rohr also urges other goal keepers to step up their games because the tournament is meant for the best players and teams.
In FIFA ranking, Nigeria is currently behind World Cup group rivals, Argentina, Croatia and Iceland, do you think this would affect the country’s performance in Russia?
I think the FIFA ranking has nothing to do with expectations about the performance of the Super Eagles in any competition. The ranking involved some technical aspects. It has nothing to do with our performance, because the team is doing well presently. All that matters now is our preparations for any competition. At least, we qualified even before most of the best-ranked teams in the world did. All we need now is to be focused and I believe that, one day, we will break the jinx again just like we qualified before most of the better-ranked African teams.
With technical ability of the coaches, do you think The Super Eagles can soar high in Russia?
We have good expertise at all levels of the technical leadership of the team. Our case is just like saying that Nigeria should employ a pilot that will be flying our planes. From outside views, I don’t have what I can tell an expert to fly a plane. I would only wait to get a report from an expert. Then, we all can rub minds together to determine whether it is safe to fly, if the weather is good or not. The pilot should know if it safe to fly or not, we can now start to deliberate. It is the same thing in football. Giving advice does not mean I have played football before. If I am there, I can introduce my initiatives. But if an event occurs, and we have contents, then, we can deliberate on the contents.
Now, we have Gernot Rohr, and we have Salisu Yusuf. They also have many people at the Technical Department of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF). So, they are the people responsible for giving the team more technical advice than I should do. I think the Technical Department has everything available to it to lead us. It is only when they give us the contents that we can deliberate on it. That is my take, and so far, they are doing very well.
Looking at Nigeria’s World Cup group, which country is capable of giving Nigeria a difficult time?
I can’t really say, but I will be going for Croatia. The Croatia team is very fast and with the fact that we will be playing them in the group opening, shows how determined they will be. The Croatians will see the game as a game of live or death. They already know that, beating Nigeria will put them in a more vintage position to qualify for the next round. I just hope we are able to tame them. They have gotten a lot of experienced players like Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and host of others. I pray we beat them before we meet Iceland and our regular World Cup opponent, Argentina.
You remain the longest serving Nigeria goalkeeper, can you tell us little about your ups and downs?
I have experienced a lot of challenges. Representing a national team is like representing the whole country. As a goalkeeper, we are always under pressure every minute of the game. Aside from the pressure on the pitch, I also receive a lot of pressure off the field. Then, the likes of Aloy Agu, Ike Shorounmu and a host of others are really pressurizing me. They are great goalkeepers who were capable of beating my record. Each time I saw their names on the Super Eagles list, my heart skips a beat, but I thank God I won the coaches’ hearts by becoming the number one shot stopper. It’s not by my power but by the power of God. I felt very sad during my last FIFA World Cup outing in France’98.
As the captain of the team I wasn’t really myself and the whole team was also down and humiliated by Denmark during the second round stage of the World Cup. We lost 4-1 and I wept bitterly after the defeat.
How true is it that you rejected your right to become a king during your hey days, what prompted this action?
Smiles! It’s a family issue any way and I believe there is always a reason for any action. I lost my dad few months before the France’98 FIFA World Cup and besides that, all my plans were on the tournament because I was the then captain of the national team. I see Nigeria to be a very big nation which no one can snub but play his or her part. I never regret turning down the status because I respect my career so much.
Now that you no longer play football, do you still regret snubbing the crown for football?
No… not at all. I made the decision myself so why should I regret it. Football has fetched me a lot of fortune, it has made my name known and people now see me as role model. I believe with that, I have impacted a lot of positive things into people’s lives.
As a son of a king, do you believe in Voodoo?
I don’t know because I believe in God. Everyone has the right to believe in whatever thing he or she wishes, no one can discipline you for your religion, but as for me, I believe in God, laugh!
What do you have to give back to Nigerians and your fans that have been following you for years?
I have a football academy I lunched five years ago. It’s called STARUF Academy. I fund it to help brighten the talents of young players on the streets. I believe it won’t be nice if I didn’t do such a thing to help the future of this country. The academy teaches youngsters basic football skills and I am very glad it is really growing. We celebrated its five years of existence last December. More rewards are on the way and I want to use this medium to appreciate my fans that have been supporting me from day one since my days in Femo Scorpion Football Club of Eruwa, Oyo State.