Nigeria is a country with too many football talents- Osagie Ekhator, UPSL FC Manni owner - THE BUSINESS PACKAGE


Saturday, September 18, 2021

Nigeria is a country with too many football talents- Osagie Ekhator, UPSL FC Manni owner

Osagie Ekhator, a guest Commentator and Sports Analyst is not just a football Analyst, but a Principal Stakeholder in the round leather game.Ekhator was in the news recently upon his acquisition of the UPSL FC Manni, Houston in the United States of America.In this encounter with The Business Package, Ekhator Spoke about his love for football right from childhood and why he spent fortunes to acquire the Club among sundry issues. Excerpt:


You are a guest Commentator for Sports and notable Soccer Analyst in the United States, why the interest in buying over the UPSL FC, Manni? 

A: Why I got over the team is that I want to create a pathway for players to be able to go and play professional soccer, that means going to the next level of professional soccer.
I love the grassroots, I love developing soccer from the grassroots for young people, but I realised that a lot of people do not have the right pathway and also the right mentorship to mentor them to be able to move to the next level. So, I bought that team to create the right pathway and also the right mentorship, to be able to move to the next level. So, I bought that team to be able to encourage, mentor, prepare and get players ready to play professional soccer. That’s why I got that team.

Q: How long have you nursed that ambition and how easy was it to finally clinch the deal? 

A: I have always loved the game of soccer or football you call it; I play soccer myself. I was close to playing for Nigeria in the World Cup in the year 2011, when Coach Ogbu was there. I was a team mate with Kenneth Omeruo in that team preparing for Under-21 in 2011. I was kicked out of the National Camp in the last minute. That’s why I didn't make that team to the World Cup. So, I have always been a soccer lover all my life, playing football. Osaze Odemwingie former Nigeria international is my cousin, so soccer is part of a thing that is in the family. I have always had that kind of mindset, so, when I couldn't play anymore, I started sports Commentary for Sky Sports, especially regarding Leicester City on Sky Sports, so I got fully involved in the game of soccer. Along the line, I stated seeing a lot of young players suffering, going through what I went through, not getting the right mentorship to play or to encourage them to get to the next level and I said to myself, why can't I just invest in that aspect of the game and still be relevant and that's when I got the idea to do what I did.

Q: Kindly share with us your experience in trying to make it to the national team, how rough, how bumpy was it really?

A: It was very rough. It was very crazy. You know how Nigeria is if you don't know someone, it not always easy. In my own case, it was really crazy because as at that time, my cousin was one of the best players in Nigeria and he didn't even try to help me to be part of the team. That alone got me crazy because I knew I had so to say the right person to push me forward, but he just couldn’t do it. Today, I didn't have any reason to fault him on  that. It is just how life is. It was not meant to be   I love him very much. He is my cousin, regardless of what happened, we still talk every now and then So, it was difficult, very difficult. It was even a dream come true to make it to the National Camp. It was an amazing atmosphere to be in the National Camp. Although, it was full of competition which is normal because everybody wants to make the final list and be the Coach favourite to take them to the World Cup. So, it was a little lot of backbiting with people saying all kinds of things to get ahead. Such is life, it was a struggle for the future, struggle for life, which shows that nothing is meant to be easy, you just have to keep pushing for it.

Q: Part of your childhood dream was to one day play in the Nigeria National Team; how does it feel now being a Club Owner?

A: I feel excited. To be honest with you, I never thought I will own a Club. What I have come to realise about life is that, the older you get, the more your perspective changes.
So, in life, once you are growing up, your likes and dislike changes. Before, all I wanted to do was to just play soccer, I was never used to like watching football on Television, but the older I get now because I talk about it so much, I tended to watch it more than I play it. So, when I watched it, I was like you guys aren't playing anything, I can play it better and I feel like I wanted to play it again. But, ideas start revolving and like I said, when you grow older, opportunities starts coming your way and you see a need that you can jump in and the feeling would naturally be, why not take advantage of it?

Q:  What state did you meet UPSL Football Club FC and what are you planning to bring to the table in terms of excellent football management and administration?

A: UPSL Football Club FC is a fourth-tier division in the United States. The number one tier division is MLS, from MLS, you have the USL, from the USL you have the MPSL, then it goes to UPSL. But, UPSL FC is more of a developmental league because it has a wider reach and coverage all over the United States. Every region has a set of teams, and when you dominate or win your region, you qualify and move to the next level and you play the regional Champion in the United States and you can become a National Champion. It is also very good because it is Live stream live when the game is on. So, potential big Clubs watch the game and they can come and scout for players from there. The idea is to prepare these boys, get them ready, so that when the time come for any team to come and pick them up, they are ready to answer that call and be able to deliver to play professional soccer. 

Cuts-in: So, what should fans be expecting?

A: Well, it's a brand-new team. As you know, I lost my first game by 4-2 in favour of our opponent that’s kind of sad, because we were winning the first half by 2 goals to one. It is a brand-new team, brand new administrator because the team was originally in California, we brought it over to Houston. So, it’s almost like starting from the scratch. So, it’s going to be difficult. We know it’s not going to be easy. We had our hiccups already trying to get a good team. We bought it three months ago and we got our exquisite team a month ago. So, our preparation has been rocky due to the fact that we had to pick the best we can, but hopefully as time goes on, we will get better in terms of players and administration. We will get there, it is just a learning process, we will get there eventually.

Q: You won the best foreign contributing analyst Award in the year 2018 in the United States, what do you think gave you the edge?

A: Well, I think it is because Leicester City won that season. Because, I was on TV every week talking about Leicester City. I have been supporting Leicester City way back in the year 2000 when Yakubu Aiyegbeni was playing for Leicester City. People hardly know Leicester City then. Leicester City was playing in the Championship. And, the reason why it got my attention was that they said I used to play like Yakubu Aiyegbeni because I used to be very strong and I was a striker. So, because of that I used to go and watch Leicester City to see Yakubu Aiyegbeni, to know if I can really play like him. And, that's how i got involved with Leicester City. So, when I was supporting Leicester City and saying that Leicester City was going to win the Championship or the Premiership, nobody in the world was talking about Leicester City. They were like, these guys are a fluke. They said they were going to lose the next match and all that. But they kept on winning and winning and winning and winning. So, because of all the enthusiasm, the passion, the analysis and the believe I put on the team, I think that’s why I got the recognition. 

Q: So, how is it like in the world of sports analysis?

A: It's a little bit crazy, funny and very interesting, because being an analyst is fun, because it gives you the opportunity to meet a lot of people. You get a lot of TV coverage and you are like a " Little star" in quote. But, it's fun and lovely. You meet lovely people along the line.

Q: The business of football, in your own definition how big is it?

A: The business of football is a very massive market. It is very developed, but it is a journey less travel, because there are so many opportunities in the business of soccer. You can make money from merchandise, you can make money from players, you can make money from advert, even in the community. There are so many avenues that you can make money from. It's so big and crazy that sometimes it is difficult to be able to pin point an area to focus on and be able to grab on to and make something out of it. It can be very tempting because each of these areas are very challenging. It is not just what you can dabble into anyhow. You see all the opportunities, but how to reach for it is difficult, because when you are coming from the developmental stage, when nobody knows you, it becomes more challenging and you see the opportunities and yet it becomes more enormous to reach it. But the bottom-line is that enormous opportunities are there in the game of soccer.

Q: Prior to your latest status, you were a member of the Fontana Football Club in the UPSL for three years and a member of Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) fan Club as well, what was the experience like?
A: Yeah, it was fun because when I got to the United States, I got to the States a little late. I was still trying to see if I can still play soccer. I already had a daughter then and a wife and I had to work to earn a living. So, it was difficult working and playing at the same time. So, that was really very challenging for me. It was fun, but very challenging because I had to rush from work to attend training and I had to give my family time as well. It was a little bit difficult, but it was fun. Then, LAFC fan base happened by mistake in a very funny way. I got viral two times on the internet by mistake in a very very funny way. LAFC was a new club in California and my friend told me, come let’s go and watch LAFC, it’s a new club in the MLS. So, I joined him, we got to the stadium and we were having fun and majority of the fan base were Mexicans. So, while we were coming back, my friend was playing a certain kind of Mexican song that I really like, it was so much fun for me, I liked the song, so when we got home, i told my wife that this song that I was listening to in the car, she should play it, because I didn't really know the name, I didn't know how to download it on the you tube, but my wife got it and I was dancing to the song. And, my wife was like, are you drunk or what? You just came back from the Stadium and you are dancing to the song and in the process, she was recording me, she was videoing me while I was dancing, and the next morning, she showed me and said look at how you were fooling yourself. She thought maybe I was drunk or something and she thought that if she tells me, i will not believe it, so she recorded it to play it back for me. So, when I saw the video, i was like, this is really interesting, so, I sent it to my friends and out of fun, my friends went ahead to post it on Facebook and that’s how it went viral. And, it was so viral that the Spanish Television called Universal TV had to personally interviewed me and put it on their channel and they now gave me a nickname, they called me the "Craze El-Balador", the dancer. That was how I became a family to a fan base of over 10,000 people. It was so funny that when they win games, they want me to dance to it, when they don't win, they said it was because I didn't dance. They will say, that's why we lost. It was so funny. They have a Ghanaian that play for them. Normally, when he scores, he celebrates by dancing. So, the fan base   later set me up with him for us to do a combination of the Mexican dance and it was on TV, it was everywhere, it was just very funny. 

Q: What is your assessment of Leagues and Football generally in the United States, especially at a time football is facing a lot of setbacks due to covid 19 pandemic?

A: Honestly, the business of soccer here in the United States is growing by the day. It used to be a retirement place for retired players. Normally, the league here is for retired players that had finished playing and want to just hang their boots and one more season, they are done, but now, if you check out in Europe, this is the first time in a long time, because it never happened. In short, American players are everywhere in the world now. This year is the first year ever the American National team has beaten Mexico twice same year, in their CONCAF Cup finals and in their Gold Cup finals, it has never happened before.  It just showed the pedigree of the league and how much improvement it has witnessed. Everybody wants to play in America right now. American players are everywhere in the world now. Their team, Barcelona, Juventus are doing well. And, it is also reflecting in their national team. They are playing well; it is like the hot bed of soccer. In the next ten years, I can beat my chest to it that America is going to be the new England because everybody wants to play there. The only reason why the league is a little bit slow is because of the system in place of no relegation and the control of financials of players to signing. There is certain limit a team can spend when it comes to buying players. Once those limits are lifted and there is a free cheque in buying players and also the relegation system kicks in, America is going to be the league everyone will love to play in. So, it is developing really, really fast.

Q: Is UPSL considered a Professional or Semi Professional League?

A: UPSL FC is a semi-professional league. It’s FIFA recognized; it is FIFA licensed. So, players can actually move from there to play professional soccer right away.

Q:  Outside of Sports Commentaries, what else do you love doing?

A: Oh!, also I'm  a stock broker. I do stocks.

Q: Let’s talk about Nigeria, the Nigeria sports industry is valued at over $500million dollars, what is it that we are not getting right because we are not tapping into the potential of the Nigerian football talents? 

A: First of all, one of the problems Nigeria is facing is that Nigeria is a country blessed with too much talents and when you have too much talents, confusion comes in because you get confused of having too much ideas and not knowing what to do with it because you are having them in abundance. And, another thing is that I don't think the right people are in the right places to handle the country or handle the talents to develop them to the right way. For instance, I'm trying to do something in Nigeria, I'm trying to help grassroots players. If you realised, I was in Nigeria like four months ago and I did a soccer tournament in Nigeria called the “Kators Cup “, the Kators Cup is strictly grassroots to encourage grassroots players and my idea is that we can discover them and from there they can be able to start up a career. I want to be able to do that every year. So, when I did it last year, it was good but, I didn't really get much of support that I would have wished. This is part of what frustrate people from wanting to do stuffs back home. I don't know how the wrong people got the opportunity to be on top. But, apart from that, the talents in Nigeria are enormous. You can't really quantify how much greatness it is of the talents that we have in Nigeria. 

Q: Given this scenario, how can people in Diaspora assist in developing the bundles of raw talents that abounds in Nigeria?

A: The assistance they can give is about wanting to come back home and do something, but the problem is that you can’t come back home and do something when   you don't have a conducive environment to do exactly what you really want to do or the people to help you to do what you want to do. It's not that you are doing it strictly to make money. Everybody wants to make money. No doubt, in the long run, you are going to make money, but the initial idea of why you are doing it is not to make money, but to help out. But, when you are trying to help out and you are getting feedbacks that are not that palatable, it is very difficult. For instance, you are leaving a place where things work to a place where things don’t work. So, that alone psychologically is demoralizing. So, the people back home have to create an enabling environment for the people to come back and help, because if the environment is not enabling, there won't be the reason for the people to come back and help out.

Q:  Lastly, there are so many young Nigerians who are eager to play professional football abroad in Europe and America, thereby showcasing their talents, what would be your advice to them?

A: My advice to them is keep on dreaming. You never know what's going to happen. Things happen in very funny ways. Just keep on dreaming, do what you have to do the right way. Be a good person, work hard and hope for the best. Like the saying goes, a man only dies when he stood dreaming.

Q: What will you like to be remembered for?

A: I want to be remembered for being a good person who helps others to realise their potentials. That's what I want to be remembered for.


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