Filed in Sports by on March 3, 2012

I had no club when I got national team call –Ogaba
March 3, 2012 by Olufemi Atoyebi

Peter Ogaba attracted a global attention when he appeared in the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 1989. He was not only the youngest member of the Nigerian team but also the youngest at the event. Twenty-three years on, the Benue State-born former Lokeren midfielder says he never felt overwhelmed competing among older players.

“I have always competed with older players since my days in primary school,” he begins.

“I was born in Jos but I started schooling in Oturkpo in Benue State. When I moved to Makurdi as a kid, I continued playing until I returned to Oturkpo, where I completed my secondary school. My development as a youth player was aided by the people around me. They encouraged me to grow fast and instead of playing with the boys of my age, they made me to play among older people, who were stronger than me. But it was a challenge I found amusing because I was a very young boy. In the end, it was in my advantage.”

Like most athletes of his generation, he played in school and on the streets for the fun of it. But having developed so quickly, he says something struck him that football could earn him income. But even when he was invited to the national team at 13 years, he struggled to come out of his schoolboy skin and embrace the new status as a star in the making. He retraces his path to stardom, picking Wahab Adesina as his local hero.

“The first major step I took into football was when I was selected to play for Benue State in the National Sports Festival,” he recollects.

“I also played in the All Nigeria Secondary School Games; that was when I realised that there were some coaches who wanted to meet me. When I was invited to the U-17 national team, I was not serious with my game. I thought football was still at the secondary school level. I was young and it was magnified by my attitude in the camp. Other teammates just laughed at me when I talked.

“I was later taken to the U-21 team when I played in the 1989 FIFA World Youth Championship.

We lost in the final to Portugal. In fact, it was when I got to the Golden Eaglets in 1986 that I joined the youth team of football club called BBL Hawks, which is now Lobi Stars. They were in division three at the time.

“I knew that I had the skill and I only had to show the passion for me to be famous in the game. I remembered coach Usien, who worked with the Benue State Sports Council. He used to beat me with a stick whenever I made a wrong pass or made any other mistake on the pitch. I attended the same school with Wahab Adesina, who was in the senior class when I was admitted. He was a fantastic player and I looked up to him at the time.”

He agreed that he was exposed to international football too early in life. In fact, he did not have a club experience until he was invited to the national team. But Ogaba says instead of suffering psychological breakdown from towering teammates, he benefited from it.

“I was truly exposed so early to international football but it did not affect me negatively. I was young among teammates, but I had good advisers who kept guiding me. The national coaches were fantastic in managing my development. As a small boy competing for position with bigger boys, the coaches made me realise that I was better. It was a psychological boost which helped me a lot, even when I played abroad.”

After securing a dream move to Belgium, his career suffered a hitch when he was injured in a Belgium FA Cup match. He managed to complete the match but the injury would later end his career far away in Singapore.

“The biggest injury I had happened when I was at Lokeren in Belgium. I injured my knee ligament in 1991. It changed the course of my career and made me retire from the game when I suffered a relapse in 2006,” he explains.

“But after the match, the doctor checked and said that it was not a good injury. It took me eight month to start playing again. But I was not at my best immediately. I spent four years at Lokeren but during the period, I was sent to Finland where I played for Oulu for a season. I later joined MSC Duisburg in Germany, 1993. From there I went to Spain, where I played for Compostela. I also travelled to Portugal, and then to KS Leiftur in Iceland. In Denmark, I played for Holstebro for two seasons before I moved to Singapore, where I was advised by a doctor to rest for four years because the injury I suffered in Lokeren relapsed. That was when I decided to stop playing in 2006. I returned home immediately. If it were today, I would have moved to Qatar or Dubai to play more and earn some more money.”

A journey that started in Benue, through Bank of the North in Kano, ended in Asia but it was the short time he spent in Iceland that paid most.

He says, “Despite playing in the big leagues of Europe, I earned my highest income in Iceland. The club needed my international exposure and wanted to boost the ranks of the international players they had. They were sponsored by a shipping and oil exploration company so they paid good money to players. I was the first black man in the club and I was treated well. It was like what is now happening in Asia. Football in China, Qatar and Dubai may not be as competitive as in Europe, but Chinese clubs pay good money today.”

His sojourn around the world gave him a multilingual status as Ogaba now speaks five international languages, apart from English.

“I speak French, German, Spanish Portuguese, Icelandic and a bit of Russia because I travelled around a lot. I met different people and different cultures. It taught me to accept people the way they are and accommodate people of good intention.”

Ogaba has settled down in Nigeria and says he is involved in businesses around football and out of it.

“I am a sports marketer and football agent now. I manage a football academy in Abuja now but outside football, I am also active. I have a TV reality show that will hit the screen soon. I am also involved in other businesses,” he says.


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