SC Qatar forward Michael Babatunde was one of Nigeria's stars at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. He is now out of the team but keen to stage a return as he tells Completesportsnigeria.com's JOHNNY EDWARD about life in Qatar in this interview…
How would you rate your performance in the just concluded season in the Qatari second division?
Well, it was a wonderful year for me because I played in virtually all the games and scored lots of goals playing in different positions. I scored a total of 25 goals for the club this season with 10 assists in the just concluded season which was good enough to help the team gain promotion to the QatarGas League after we beat Al Shahaniya 1-0 in a promotion play-off game.
Till date many still question the reason for your move to Qatar at a very young age having played for the Super Eagles at the FIFA World Cup in 2014. Was it for the money or football?
I went for both. After the World Cup in 2014, I was out of football for almost a year and not many knew how I survived. Soon as I terminated my contract with Volyn Lutsk I joined Dnipro in Ukraine and I was there for six months. I was barely paid and I was also owed a backlog of salaries.
The offer I got from SC Qatar and the salary made up for all the unpaid salaries I didn't get playing in Europe. I had to move to have something to fall back on after my footballing career. Initially moving to Qatar was a big decision I had to make, and my family and I reasoned together and when we were convinced that the challenge and offer was good, so I moved to Qatari SC.
Before the Qatar deal, I opted to move to Morocco, and Raja Casablanca was my destination. I was welcomed and treated like a hero there. I played just five months where I scored 12 goals and I won the award of the best player in the Moroccan league.
I also helped the team out of the relegation zone from the 14th spot in the Moroccan league up to the fourth position before I left.
I also got an invitation to the Super Eagles after a year out playing in the Moroccan league for the friendlies against Luxembourg and Mali.
How is life in Qatar compared to Europe where you played previously?
Life is good in Qatar so long you don't go against their laws.
There are laws as well in Europe, aren't they?
Yes. I mean so long you don't drink, womanise and all that you will enjoy your stay in Qatar.
So you don't drink and womanise?
I don't oh! I'm happily married. I take only wine.
How about the level of football there as compared to Europe?
You can't compare it with Europe but they are gradually bridging the gap by attracting big players. The football there is becoming competitive and being a rich country, the clubs competing in the league are very strong with very good players too in the league.
I'm glad we have qualified for the Qatari Stars League where we have top players like former Barcelona captain Xavi, Ivory Coast's Yannick Sagbo, Mali's and former Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita and Imoh Ezekiel of Nigeria.
Let's talk about the Super Eagles now. What is your impression of the new-look Eagles under Gernot Rohr?
They are a great side but they also need me too (laughs). The recent results of the team shows that they are maturing as a young side. The players are young and are very good. Obviously, Rohr's arrival has changed so many things.
Don't you think playing the Qatari league has dampened your chances of playing for the Super Eagles?
Yes it has, but it's what I can offer on the pitch not where I play my football. I really still crave a chance in the Super Eagles especially among this young set-up. At my age I still have had some experience playing with the team in the past so I'll jump at any chance to feature for my country again. But I think I need to focus on my football? playing consistently and performing too. At least now I'm back in the elite league in Qatar, I hope I'll be given a chance soon, I really do look forward to it.
The Super Eagles will host South Africa in a 2019 AFCON qualifier in Uyo on Saturday. How confident are you that the Eagles win triumph?
We stand a big chance of winning, forget the grudge and revenge we may have in our minds against them. We will surely beat them. I believe we have the players to beat South Africa and qualify for both the Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup but we must not be complacent.
Will you jump at a chance to play in Europe again to return to the Super Eagles?
Of course. The World Cup is a year away and I will love to be part of it again. I already have eight offers, four from the Chinese Super League, two from the German Bundesliga, and two from Turkey. Soon myself, my agent and Qatar SC will decide about my future