OGHENEKARO ETEBO: Life in Championship with Stoke is tough

June 8, 2019
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Super Eagles midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo is undoubtedly a grass to grace story but dint of hard work has kept him on the top of the rack for both club and country, reports TAIWO ALIMI.

Nigeria and Stoke midfielder Ogenekaro Etebo is already burning with a desire to give back to his society within a few years of breaking into the main Super Eagles team.

The passion to give back to Nigerian youngsters through his foundation: Etebo Ogenekaro Peter Foundation (EOPF), according to him, is borne out of the tough times he had while growing up in the rough terrain of Warri, Delta State.

For 23-year-old Etebo, his rise to stardom is truly phenomenal. Though, born in Lagos, he returned home for his primary and secondary school education in Warri where he began his youth career with Lord Honour FC in 2011. It was here that Warri elite side Warri Wolves spotted him and signed him up in 2012. He made his debut for the Premiership division in the 2013 league season and within two seasons he had become a household name not only in Warri but all over the country.

A strong playmaker, Etebo often steals into the box to score vital goals. The late Stephen Keshi, the then Super Eagles coach, could not keep his eyes away for long, as he was invited to the Super Eagles in 2014 in a qualification match towards the 2014 African Cup of Nations (AFCON).

From there he was invited to the U-23 Dream Team by Samson Siasia where he was able to show his full potential and helped the team win the U-23 Nations Cup and qualify for the football event of the 2016 Olympic Games. In fact, he scored the winning goal in the final.

At Rio Olympic, Etebo blossomed emerging as the highest goal scorer of the tournament and helped Nigeria take home the football bronze.

In search of a strong holding midfielder, the current Super Eagles coach, Gernor Rohr, looked up to him at the last World Cup and he played in all three matches of Nigeria, leaving Russia with impressive records. FIFA credited him with five of the best statistics at the end of the tournament.

According to a breakdown of the top performers’ at Russia 2018, the Nigerian international emerged the best in five categories: Most take-ons completed (16), most fouls won (11), most shots (7), joint chances created (5) and second most tackles won (11).

Etebo left Russia as Nigeria’s most successful young revelation. Though he had signed a 6.35m Euro deal with Stoke City (a Championship side) before the World Cup, his performance in Russia would have attracted even better suitors.

He went on to win Stoke City Player of the Year award at the end of his first season at the club.  Etebo returned to his birth place: Lagos, last week and was guest of Surulere Local Government (Sportcity) where he gave a pep-talk to more than a hundred youths drawn from the local government area.

The midfielder dug into his bag of experience while toiling the streets of Nigeria in order to achieve a childhood dream of making it big in professional football to encourage them not to give up their dreams.

He told them: “It is good to have talent, but hard work will beat talents any day. You have to go the extra miles and ensure you give your best whenever you are called upon, put God first because he is the Alpha and Omega, be determined, and be disciplined.

“I started out from the ghetto in Warri. If I could go all the way to Europe, you can also do better with time, commitment, hard work and God on your side.”

Meanwhile, the  former Warri Wolves’  combative and creative playmaker here shares some success tips and expectations at the forthcoming 2019 AFCON in Egypt.

Why I’m giving back

The idea to use my foundation to reach out to Nigerian youngsters is a well thought-out one. I’ve used the foundation as an opportunity to reach out to many youth players and what I tell them is not different from what I’ve told those that gathered at Surulere local government auditorium  to listen to me. It is good to have talent, but hard work will beat talent any day. You have to go the extra miles and ensure you give your best whenever you are called upon, put God first because he is the Alpha and Omega, be determined, and be disciplined. I started out from the ghetto in Warri. If I could go all the way to Europe, you can also do better with time, commitment, hard work and God on your side.

I made them to understand that I was like many of them just a few years ago. And that is why I came up with this idea of Etebo Ogenekaro Peter Foundation so that I can be a living example to the many youth who want to give up now. I know how it feels because I went through it. I struggled and at a point our parents could not afford to pay our school fees too. It feels particularly bad when you see other students who have paid. Certainly, there are doctors, lawyers and other professionals that will spring forth from this gathering, because life is not all about football. But, all I am saying is that don’t give up your dreams because times are hard. I did not give up and that is why I am playing for the national team today.

Growing up

Growing up in Warri was exactly not an easy thing. I can identify with many struggling families and youngsters. While growing up, sometimes, I would have to get into the pitch without the correct items such as good boots or even good food. Going to school was even a hard thing for me and my siblings. I remember vividly when my sister and I were sent home due to the fact that our parents didn’t have the capacity to pay. I share that sad plight. I was once in that shoe and I have remained grateful to God for the turnaround and that is why I want to keep giving back to the community that produced me and humanity at large.

In their own little way, my parents encouraged me and gave me the backup to go all the way and I’m grateful to them that they were there for me when I needed them.

Education and football

I am committed to holding a summer camp in Nigeria after the Africa Nations Cup in Egypt. The “Summer Camp with Etebo” will allow many kids to play on the same pitch with me. Importantly, I’m going to talk to them about education and football. Now I have the opportunity of playing football and the privilege to represent the national team, but education is a vital tool to securing a brighter future even after football.

AFCON 2019

I know a number of my teammates and management of my club (Stoke City) will be looking up to me to do well on the international stage when the Africa Cup of Nations gets underway later this month. Stoke is a fantastic club and they make you feel at home at every point in time. After our last game, I was put on the spot and celebrated as a send-off to the African Nations Cup. They are happy that I’m going to Egypt and play ing in the colours of Nigeria.

This is a special Nations Cup. We have missed two editions and that means the whole of the continent will be looking on to us to redeem our image. So we cannot afford to fail. The last time we were there we left as Champions in 2013, so this is the first opportunity to take part in the competition for many of us. We have a young but experienced team with the World Cup and many victories behind us. We have a manager (Gernor Rohr) who is like a father and knows his onion. We also cannot to be complacent even though we are in what looks like an easy group against Guinea, Madagascar and Burundi. In modern football, there is no easy game because many African players now have players all over Europe and they would definitely be bringing something to the table.

Life at Stoke City

We did not have an easy ride in the ended season. The notion that the Championship is easy is a false one. It is as difficult as the premiership and there are many quality players there too. At a point we indeed struggled but our strength lies in unity that permeates within the team, coaching crew and management levels. Unity and togetherness is so important and that helped us to stay afloat.

Also, I must take this opportunity to say to the supporters that they have been so good over the past few weeks and really helped us. I know it hasn’t been an easy time for them because they have expected a lot more from this season, but the support they have shown us has been really good.We need them behind us so much, and I know times have been tough but believe me, as a team, united together; we can achieve so much more success.If you want to be a strong team in this league then you must be solid together, you have to have a real togetherness within the dressing room and you have to have a unity with the supporters too. The Championship is relentless, and it is very difficult, but you see a lot of the teams who are successful have the unity behind them, which, for me, is so incredibly important.We have improved over the past couple of months; there is togetherness here now and what I should say to the supporters is that I really believe that long-term, we will not fail them.

At the end of the day I was adjudged the Stoke City player of the year and I must thank the club for that support. It is really inspiring and a good mentality to take to the Nations Cup.

Transfer rumour

It is still early now to talk about that. I have a good relationship with Stoke and I am happy there.

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