Filed in Sports by on April 30, 2011

Little Messi tag suits me – Okoro
Saturday, 30 Apr 2011


Stanley Okoro came on as a substitute for the Flying Eagles in the second half of the game against the Scorpions of Gambia on Sunday. It took him 10 minutes to unlock the Gambian defence. He tells KAZEEM BUSARI in South Africa that the standard of play in the Africa Youth Championship is great

For a player who aims to be among the world best in the near future, Stanley Okoro is on the right track to hit the limelight of world football. The 19-year-old started his professional career in Heartland of Owerri where he shot into prominence and later represented Nigeria in the U-17 World Cup hosted by Nigeria in 2009.

As one of the three footballers in a family of six children, the Edo State-born attacking midfielder said it was only natural that he followed the path of his brothers, Osas and Charles, at an early age.

“I love playing football and it started a long time ago. I would follow my brothers to the playing ground to watch them play, even during school hours. It was like I gave up everything for football,” said the Almeria of Spain player.

Okoro lost his father early in life, but his mother ensured that the children had good education. For Stanley, it was a different story as he preferred football to education.

He said, “My mother did her best to encourage us finish secondary school education but I was too stubborn. I love football so much that I disobeyed her several times. She gave up on us and had to support us in our career when it was apparent we wouldn’t change. She now loves football.”

Okoro’s mother had changed her mind about forcing them to go to school when Stanley was selected in a team to play in an Umbro-sponsored football competition in England. Since then, she had given them all they needed to excel in the sport.

“My mother has shown several times that she loves the game. She has been encouraging us.

“I can’t say we are a football family. Only Osas and I are the professional footballers; my other four siblings have their interest in other things. In fact, the two of us are Manchester United fans so we rarely clash on interest when it comes to supporting teams,” he said.

Okoro has been instrumental in the Flying Eagles’ success in the African Youth Championship in South Africa. His first goal came in the 65th minute of the match against the Scorpions of Gambia on Sunday but the winger believes Nigeria could have done better if the pitches were better.

He said, “That goal really boosted my confidence and I felt like the game had just begun. It is really important to score goals in matches because it gives you the mental strength ahead of the next games.

“The AYC has been okay for us. The rating of the tournament is very high because there is a lot at stake for the players. The challenges we’ve faced so far are very tough; you can’t take anything away from all the teams that are participating in the event. They have all given their best.

“I’ve seen many good players in this championship but many of them have not been able to bring out their best because the pitches we use are bad. I wish CAF and SAFA would change the venue for us.

“Since we qualified for the semifinals of the AYC, my mind has been on the U-20 World Cup in Colombia. It’s difficult not to think of it.

“I pray that very soon, I play for the Super Eagles. When I finish with the U-20 World Cup, I’ll concentrate on my club because it is my performance at the club that will determine my inclusion in the team.”

Okoro joined Spain’s Segunda Division B side Almeria in 2010 and has featured in some games for the club but he is still awed by the standard of football in the land of the Armadas. He was so impressed when he saw Barcelona forward Lionel Messi play that he concluded that his nickname, Little Messi, was good for him.

“Going to Spain has been a remarkable experience to me. There are challenges in terms of learning the language and adapting to the food and the cold weather,” he said.

“I have a special teacher taking me on Spanish but it has not been easy because it is like starting life all over again.

“The first three months in Spain was tough for me. I was fed up at a point I felt like returning home. I almost did but football kept me there; they play beautiful football in Spain, I enjoy it and I want to be part of it.

“The winter and the language problem in Spain made life difficult for me initially but I find time to relax with my friends and girlfriend. The Spanish girls love it when you play good football; they appreciate your efforts.

“I don’t mind when people call me Little Messi. I’m comfortable with the nickname because it reminds me that the fans want more from me just as they see Messi play in Barcelona. It’s a pleasant thing to be compared with the best footballer in the world; I don’t have a problem with that.

“Messi is a wizard on football and I’m not at that stage yet. I know with consistent play and big challenges I’ll get there. It’s not impossible.

“My target in football is to play like Messi and Samuel Eto’o put together. I want to be world’s best. I think I did the right thing by choosing to play in the Spanish league; that’s where you get flair and creativity to be at your best.

“Watching Eto’o has been an inspiration to me. His career displays before me how an African player can achieve success at the big clubs in Europe. He has always been a star in the clubs he has played. I see him as a true son of Africa who has never disappointed any team he has played.”

Okoro said his focus in football changed after watching the stars of Spanish football prove their mettle before him. He said, “Three days after I signed for Almeria, the senior team played against Real Madrid and I saw Cristiano Ronaldo in action. Two weeks later, we played against Barcelona and I saw Messi play. It was a wonderful experience seeing people you admire on television right there in front of you.

“Watching the two games made some things clear to me. The first is that I can be whatever I choose to be. I can play against these superstars and make my mark if I’m focussed.

“The second thing is that I understand what pressure could be like in high-profile matches. When Messi and Ronaldo play, the fans want them to put up extraordinary performances; they play to enjoy themselves. So I reckon if I must play at that level I should be ready to deliver the goods and satisfy the fans.

“What I saw made me believe I did not make a wrong move to play in the Spanish league. But I’ll love to end my football career in England.

Okoro, who believes European football is far ahead of what obtains in Nigeria, advises Nigerian players to have a feel of football in Europe to improve their game.

He said, “There’s a big difference between Europe and Nigeria. We play with strength in Nigeria while they play skillful and tactical football in Europe.

“When I was in Nigeria, I complained alongside some other players that the national teams had too many foreign-based players, but since moving to Europe, I’ve realised why this is so. Playing in Europe is the highest level of football in the world.

“I don’t blame the coaches if they decide to feature foreign-based professionals instead of the domestic league players.

“If the players must remain at home to play their professional football, the league must be improved upon. I watched the South African league games and I was impressed with the quality of their football.

“I believe Nigeria has better players than South Africa but we don’t have the facilities to help our players improve. If the players do not improve, the fans will not come to the stadium to watch.”


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