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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Life’s boring without football – Duke Udi

Former Super Eagles midfielder, Duke Udi, retired from the game three years ago after playing for 11 clubs in Nigeria and four in Europe. For him it is difficult coping with new life style but leaving around Awolowo Stadium keeps him close to what he likes doing. Above that, prudent savings as a player has made him a comfortable man.
He says, “I wake up at 6 o’clock and thank God for giving me football. If not for the game, I probably would have been nothing today. Whatever you achieve in life will come through what you like to do.”www.mannastores.com

“Everybody cannot succeed at the same time in the same profession. I played football with joy and I made a good harvest. For three years, I have not worked. My last paid employment was at Niger Tornadoes. I left football in 2008 and since then, I have not received anything in wages. But I made good savings when I was playing.
“As for my daily routine, I train in the morning at the Awolowo Stadium and return home in the afternoon to rest. Football is my life and I cannot leave it. My daily routine looks boring but I put competitiveness into my leisure by staking a prize during training. It makes me work harder because I don’t want to lose.”
Udi says he trains with kids because he is willing to nurture their growth by encouraging them to succeed.
“The youths I train with learn a lot from me because I put in all my best on the pitch. I don’t have the energy to go all the way like before but I still have the skill and they can pick some things from it.”
It was not Udi’s initial decision to live a lonely life. He actually trusted in some friends when he returned home but he said it was a move that cost him millions of naira.
“After leaving football, I tried to do some businesses with friends but I was shocked that they cheated me. They made me to realise that I should put my trust only in God.”
The former SK Slovan Bratislava returned to Nigeria in 2002 to play for Kwara United, Lobi Stars, Shooting Stars, Sunshine Stars and Tornadoes. He said experience drew him to the conclusion that players in Nigerian clubs were unlikely to make a decent living unless they strive to move abroad, blaming insincerity of club owners in Nigeria as one of the reasons. 
“I will not stop telling those young players that the only way to secure their future is to find their way to Europe to play professional football. Playing in the Nigerian league will make you cry. In Europe football skill is much more appreciated,” says Udi, adding that players who move to smaller leagues earn better income than their colleagues in Nigeria. 
“Some players go to some countries where the league is not strong. But what people do not know is that those countries are eager to develop their football, so the clubs pay heavily to attract good players from all nations. Nobody will ask you a question about where you play if you don’t come back and start begging for food from your friends. 
“I am not saying this because there are no clubs that can accommodate these players in Nigeria, I am saying it because the clubs are badly run. The coaches teach nothing so the players find it difficult to make simple passes. I watched a game recently and I felt bad that on a good turf, both Premier League clubs could not complete five passes.”
In his days as a player, Udi was always in the news. Some of the reports revolved around his constant disagreement with club officials, which resulted in moving from one club to the other. Despite his skill, he did not play in England, Spain, Germany or Italy, limiting his sojourn to Israel, Russia and Switzerland; countries where little football is played. He said stubbornness had nothing to do with the clubs he played for.
“It has nothing to do with what I have achieved in football. In 1995, I was with Grasshopper in Switzerland and played 75 minutes against Real Madrid in the Champions League. I also played against Arsenal and big clubs in Europe. I am satisfied with that because I can always look back and thank God for what He has blessed me with. I don’t have to regret what I cannot change. Every player wants to play in big clubs but what do you do when they do not call you to come and play? Those who say that stubbornness stopped me from playing in big clubs say so because I did not compromise my position to favour their wishes. 
“As an adult, I take responsibility for all my actions. In Europe, the clubs are sincere, they respect contract but in Nigeria, signing contract is nothing, the clubs have a way of cheating players. I prefer being called a stubborn man to being accused of cheating people or stealing their money.
“When I moved to Krylya in Russia, I was aware that some people said it was a wrong move. But I am bold to tell you today that most of my properties were purchased with the money the club paid me. The house I live today and the happy retirement I enjoy is because Krylya did not cheat me.
“Grasshopper may not be a big club in Europe but I also built a house with the money they paid me. I am not begging today because I played for those clubs. I also played for ten other Nigerian clubs with nothing to point to as achievement.
“Russian clubs may not win the Champions League today; but watch it, they are experimenting with a programme that will improve their league. They have opened up the channels for sponsors to come in and they are there already. That is why most of the clubs now sign foreign players. There are many Nigerians there and I don’t blame them since they can negotiate good contracts for themselves.”
While he was in Israel, Udi was said to have disagreed with the manager who facilitated his move from a Slovenian club. He explained the circumstances that led to his action. 
“I did not quarrel with my manager in Israel. His name is Ayal Raz from Israel but he has businesses in Nigeria and sometimes when I needed to send money to my family in Nigeria, he acted on my behalf because he was closer to them here while I was there.
“In 1997, he took me to Hapoel Ironi Rishon of Israel but I was not playing regularly while Patrick Ovie was a regular player there. I was ready to fight for a position but he said I should go on loan to another club, I did not like it but he explained to me and I accepted his recommendation. He is in America today and whenever I go there, I visit his home to say hello to his family. He also took me to Krylya in Russia.”
Despite his dislike for Nigerian clubs, Udi finally returned in 2002 and signed a contract with Kwara United. Five more clubs also employed him before he called time on his career three years ago. He said playing for the clubs did not erase his doubts about the bleak future of the Nigeria league.
“I returned home to play in the Nigerian league again because I wanted to help young Nigerian players improve their game and make the right decision,” he said.
In South America and South Africa, their players return home to help the young ones. They do not always retire in Europe. That was what I wanted to achieve. 
“Unfortunately, Nigerian coaches are threatened when an ex-international plays in their club. They collect bribe to field players and that is why the league is on the slide. When a coach is employed by a club, he comes with his own players even when he inherits good squad. I have been in the system and I can prove it. This thing is happening up to the national team level. Today we cannot name ten players in the national team because the coaches just bring in their own people, whether they are good or not. In the past, players were chosen based on merit.”
He narrated his experience under former Eagles coach Clemence Westerhorf who invited him to the national team and dumped him on the bench. He calls for a review of the way players are invited to the national teams today.
“At a time when I thought I was good enough to play in any team, Westerhorf put me on the bench. I was the youngest player in the team and a star of the Nigerian league. I was annoyed but when I saw what he was doing, I accepted it and had my chance later.
“Today, most of the players in the national teams are managed by the coaches who invite them. We were in Angola for an African Nations Cup qualifying match and Osaze Odemwingie was invited by Coach Christian Chukwu from a Belgian club. I was playing at home but Chukwu used merit to feature me while Osaze watched from the bench. I did not have any relationship with Chukwu and he never demanded anything from me. I was playing in the U-20, U-23 and the Super Eagles at the same time and that was because at the time, my work was appreciated. It can only happen today if you can buy your way. I am talking like this today because I suffered to be where I am now. 
“I grew up in Oshodi in Lagos where I begged friends to give me accommodation. I know the pain and it is unfortunate that today, players who deserve more are offered little in Nigeria. Apart from Chukwu Ndukwe whose parents are wealthy, all other players in Nigeria came from poor background.
The former midfielder said he had his best moment in the game while in Europe but pointed out that his most cherished day was when a small club in Nigeria gave him an opportunity to express himself. 
“There were many great moments for me in Europe but my greatest moment was when I was given a chance to play football at Nigerdock of Lagos. I played for Lagos State football academicals but nobody knew me afterwards. I was rejected at Julius Berger but my friend, Ambrose Duru told me to come to Nigerdock; that was how it all started. I am grateful to coach Obi, who accepted me. When I was moving to Concord, he said he was convinced that I would make it in the game.”
And he made it as predicted.www.mannastores.com

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