Football coach, Tope Ayodeji Fuja, is a 42-year old Nigerian who holds a Professional License from the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBA) and FA International Certificate from the Football Association (of England).
For over 10 years, Fuja has worked in India with different clubs, experienced in both developmental and professional club levels. He has been dealing with players from various races.
In this exclusive interview with AMOS JOSEPH, Fuja bares his thoughts on what may become of the fate of Nigerian youngsters considering India as an option in furtherance of their footballing career.
Fuja says, without fear of contradiction, that while Indians are accommodating and hospitable to foreigners seeking seeking greener pastures, the nation’s fledging football does not accomadate lazy footballers and those who offer little in talent. Excerpts…
Can you oblige us with details about your departure from Nigeria for football greener pastures in India?
The journey has been good so far since leaving Nigeria in 2005. When I first arrived in India, I didn’t stay longer than a month or thereabouts before leaving for Malaysia where I secured a job with FC Sabah. Then went to Nepal where I worked with Machhindra Football Club close to two years. I was later invited to return to India by Simla Youngs in 2009, and was with the club for about two seasons in the I-LEAGUE 2nd division.
I was also opportuned to work with Mumbai United, and later worked at various clubs in India, like Kolkata-based side, Mohammedan SC, in 2010-11, Aristocrat Hindustan Football Club for the DLF-DSA Senior Division League 2011-12. I moved back to Kolkata to help Tollygunge Agragami FC who were then at the verge of relegation, but all things being equal, we were able to escape the drop. Immediately, I was again recalled by Mohammedan SC as assistant coach in 2014 season and then to Peerless Sports Club.
Why did you choose to work in India as a coach?
You know, we sometimes decide to stay where the opportunity is and grab it with both hands. I decided to remain here and it has been a great time coaching in India, an opportunity which was not forthcoming from any other country, especially my home, Nigeria.
You have spent quite a number of years coaching in India. How will you describe the football in terms of development compared with other, climes including Nigeria?
I will say football in India is developing and has developed compared to when I arrived here in 2007. The infrastructures, caliber of players in the ISL and I-League. The lower divisions are also fast growing. Officiating and administration are areas that have to be looked into and the administrators understand that. So referees are invited from other countries such as China, Japan and Singapore. Now, some referees are on the Federation’s contract, and are undergoing series of trainings to qualify to handle topnotch games.
Nigerian players are in Indian top divisions. Can one say they are doing well enough?
Yes, Nigerian players are in Indian top division. They are doing well, no doubt about that, but it’s not an easy task as extra performances are in demand from foreigners here. You must always be at your optimum level because if you are a foreigner and you can’t perform, then the clubs will rather go for home grown, and before you say ‘jack’, the club doesn’t want you anymore.
Indian coaches will not coach foreigners, so they expect so much of expertise. But it’s being phased out now as young coaches and more foreign coaches are being brought into the system.
Many young footballers want to move out of Nigeria, and India is usually an option. Do you think they are making the right decision?
From my experience, India is not a good option for young stars from Nigeria. If you look at many of our players who have made great names for themselves in India in the past, the likes of Ranty Martins, it took them long time to announce themselves to the world. Here, there’s no patience for development.
India is laying emphasis on youth development so major focus is on the youth here and they want to grow their own talents. Some agents bring youngsters here without caring about their welfare. Look at the I-league, you see many players who have been here for close to 4-5 years, and that is because the league wants to run concurrently so they have to sustain the I-League. Now 6 foreigners are permitted in a club.
For players who have resolved to come to India, what attributes or qualities must they posses?
Players coming to India must process good quality that the Indian players can learn from, must be very strong with and without the ball, especially as an African. From the outside, a lot of people feel, ‘oh, it is India, you don’t need a lot of strength’. I think that such fellows may need to come to India and see things firsthand. They appreciate physicality here, and not just that, raw talents will surely make a name here as long as you can replicate your form year in, year out.
How would you rate the treatment meted to foreigners, especially African players?
Well, foreign players are being treated well, with good and quality welfare packages. The treatment of especially African players (Nigerians) here in India is based on the quality, class and the way the player came into the country.
In terms of pay package; salaries and sign-on fees, how lucrative is it, at the lower division, I-League and ISL?
The ISL is a new development in India. This is a league which attracts top class players for the development of Indian football so the salary is very high. For the I-League and lower divisions, the salaries vary according to the capabilities of the clubs in different states.
Nothing is fixed here. You cannot predict how much will be offered to any player. In fact, it may shock you that some players in the lower league divisions earn more than those playing in the I-league.
Thank you for your time