Former Super Eagles goalkeeper and now coach, Alloy Agu, speaks with PREMIUM TIMES on varying issues around his career. He also touches on his early retirement from professional football and near-death experiences.
PT: Goalkeeping has evolved into a different method entirely compared to when you were in between the sticks. You take a closer look at Ederson of Manchester City and Liverpool’s Alisson, you will see that attacks start from these goalkeepers. How are you imparting this modern technique into Super Eagles’ goalkeepers?
Agu: We thank God for the ability he has given to us. You can only give what you have and that is exactly what we’re working hard to impart on Super Eagles’ goalkeepers. We will keep working to get the best out of them.
PT: Still on modern goalkeeping, what would you say has been the difference between your active days and now as a coach? What is the experience like under Rohr?
Agu: The difference is not far-fetched, the difference is that we are no longer active on the pitch. It’s all about following the rules on the pitch. You have your destiny in your hands while on the pitch, but you must keep depending on God outside the pitch too. Working under Rohr has offered me great experience which I’m also imparting to young goalkeepers. Everyone knows their responsibility and once you stick by the rules, definitely success will surely come.
PT: Would you say Joseph Yobo’s arrival has helped steady the ship at the back looking at Super Eagles goalkeeping and defence department?
Agu: (Cuts in) Definitely. Of course, everybody has his own part to play in the team and that is why it’s called a team. He has his good part and so is everybody, Yobo is a plus to the team and everybody is a plus to the team. That has amounted to a victory for Nigeria.
PT: Ezenwa goes to the pitch with rosaries while De Gea believes in touching the goal post before kick-off, did you have any goalkeeping superstition in your days?
Agu: I’m a prayerful person. I believe I won’t perform well if I don’t pray very well. God has given us the ability and it is up to us to carry it out. Others can undergo other superstitious activity before matches but I don’t have any routine other than to pray to God before a game because God is the giver of talents and every ability belongs to him.
PT: What would you have become if you had not chosen football as a career?
Agu: I would have become a pastor if I hadn’t gone into football. I have always loved football right from my young age following the steps of my uncle who was also a goalkeeper. Today, I thank God I’m a goalkeeper coach and also share the word of God.
PT: Rufai took your place weeks before the USA 94 World Cup. How would you describe your rivalry with Peter Rufai?
Agu: Well I think everyone has a role to play and at that point in time, I told myself, he is Nigerian too. And there was a time he was on the bench watching while I was Nigeria’s No.1. I had to support Rufai when the coach picked him ahead of me. I had no hard feelings because we are one happy family and Nigeria is bigger than anyone. I came into the picture again when we played against the Asian team and was adjudged as the man of the match. No man is an island!
PT: What was the dressing room like after Nigeria lost 2-1 to Cote Divoire in Abidjan after Siasia wasted a begging chance to go up 2-0?
Agu: Well, I don’t need to tell you what happened or transpired that night, but the truth of the matter is that nobody loves to lose. When you win everybody becomes your friend and vice versa. We came back to Lagos and defeated them and corrected our mistakes.
PT: Which Nigerian goalkeeper inspired your career the most?
Agu: There are lots of them but I love Emmanuel Okalla, I normally go out there to watch him. May his soul rest in peace Best Ogedengbe and Peter Fregene; wonderful goalkeepers and I enjoyed watching them.
PT: (Cuts in) Who is Nigeria’s greatest goalkeeper?
Agu: I cannot really pinpoint who Nigeria’s greatest goalkeeper is because the country is blessed with talented players. Nigeria is blessed with dependable safe hands and I cannot pinpoint anyone now.
PT: Do you think Joseph Dosu’s injury set Super Eagles’ goalkeeping progress two steps backwards after Atlanta 96 heroism? Many believe Nigeria would have done well in France 98 World Cup with Dosu’ in goal?
Agu: Yeah, I think Dosu was on top of his game at that time. I know him for a long time and I trained him at one point. We don’t really know but it has happened and it was a great tragedy because he was a goalkeeper for the future given what he has done. We thank God he is still alive today and his family is doing well too. Dosu was a great discovery and it was quite unfortunate that he had to end his career but that is not the end of life.
PT: Who was the toughest opponent in your playing days, I mean striker now?
Agu: It’s not far-fetched and they cannot be more than two countries namely Ghana and Cameroon. The rivalry was stiff and they were my toughest opponents.
PT: I was talking about a particular player in Africa or abroad who was always a thorn in your flesh in your active days.
Agu: Honestly speaking, I never had a striker who was a thorn in my flesh. I have played against David Beckham, Romario and we gave our best against them that they ended up giving us a pat on our back. I’ve never been afraid of any strikers in my playing days.
PT: You had a stint in Holland, Belgium and Turkey. What were your challenges in terms of language, weather and food while trying to settle down abroad as a professional footballer?
Agu: My first tour of duty in Europe was Holland and I was the first Nigerian to break into Dutch Eredivisie. My first challenge came from the language because as a goalkeeper, you must be able to communicate freely. I had to attend Dutch class to learn the language. The same thing happened when I went to Belgium and Turkey. Communication is vital if a goalkeeper must excel abroad.
PT: What led to your decision to quit active football in your early 30’s?
Agu: Upon my return from Canada in 1999, I told the Lord I would love to play professionally for two years after I left Kayserispor. I made a covenant with God to quit after then. I went to the US and was about to sign for Columbus Crew for the third year.
I was playing against a particular Nigerian player who in the process of trying to score a goal stepped on my knees and got me injured. An operation was scheduled for the following week but I put a call to Nigeria and my brother reminded me about the covenant I made with God to quit after two years. It got me thinking and immediately I made up my mind to quit, my leg got healed without operation. That was how I hung my boot.
PT: You must have had a close shave with death via plane crash in your numerous journey as player and goalkeeper coach. Can you give us instances?
Agu: (Laughter) There are lots of it but God has been so faithful but I will give you two instances I can never forget. It was after the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Russia, we were on the same plane with the Spanish, French and Brazilian teams with other FIFA officials heading to Schiphol international airport. The tyres of the plane refused to come and we started cycling the air and we were just praying. Late Ikazobor was the chairman then and as God would have it, we landed safely.
We thank God for safety after a close shave with death. My second close shave with death happened with the Super Eagles during our trip to Seoul to face South Korea- it was turbulence all the way to Doha and the whole six hours was like hell on earth due to turbulence. It was as though we would never make it but we trusted God and he saved us once again.
PT: Is any of your son’s into goalkeeping?
No, my son is a striker, he is not a goalkeeper. It’s a pity he couldn’t carry on the family legacy.
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