Ex-Super Eagles and Lazio striker Ayodele Makinwa opens up on his 12-year football career and why he had to call it quits in March, in this interview with JOHNNY EDWARD. Makinwa also reveals how he turned down lucrative deals to earn his Italian passport…and the unfortunate role a persistent injury played in his club and international career
You have been off the radar for a while now, could you tell us what has been happening to you lately?
Well nothing much but just that I stopped playing active football at the end of March with my club Nova Gorica of Slovenia due to a recurring knee injury that I have been battling for years now. But I thank God for what I have been able to achieve through the game but right now I’m into the other side of the game which is management.
Looking back at your career which spanned over 12 years, what would you say was the highest point?
The high point of my career was when I got the chance to play at the highest level of football in the Serie A which as at that time was so competitive unlike now that the talent on display cannot be compared to what it used to be way back. Also playing for the Super Eagles was a great deal for me.
Not many knew you were in the squad that won the 2013 Coppa Italia with SS Lazio…
Yes, because as at then I was in and out of the team on loan and I could recall I was battling this same cartilage injury then which kept me out of the team. But sincerely, getting a Coppa Italia medal was consoling for me as I was barely on the pitch. So it was like a bonus for me that year.
Same with the national team, I was unable to achieve my set goals with the Super Eagles because I barely had the chance to play. Often times I would arrive in the camp with swollen knees and would just watch others play. The sore part for me was our failure to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Brazil with the bunch of talents we had then.
Winning the Africa Cup of Nations in 2013 was probably the biggest moment in Nigerian football recently but failing to defend the title in 2015 was a huge setback. As an ex-player who also experienced not qualifying for the World Cup in 2006, where do you think Nigeria got it wrong?
We as a country were just unable to manage the success that came with the AFCON triumph and I’m sorry to say this but we find it difficult to manage successes because we are very rich and blessed with abundant talent. It’s a matter of managing the resources. If the management decide to handle issues professionally Nigerian football will soar again but if we don’t it will always be like we have complained about.
Stephen Keshi is back in his second stint as coach of the team, what do you expect from him?
Keshi alone cannot shoulder all these responsibilities. He needs a lot of backing to succeed. I expect him to put all his experience into it but the problem with Nigerian football is so complex. As a coach I can’t imagine what he is going through when he has to put a team together for a game.
We have the lots of issues to deal with which necessarily won’t just be down to him alone and I’m sure he will be dreaming about how he could go about doing things they way he wants not answering to any board.
Lately, Nigeria struggle when they face minnows in football. They face Chad next week; do you see that happening again and how should they approach the match?
That depends on the approach of the team but I believe the team must have learnt from their experiences of not qualifying for AFCON in Equatorial Guinea. But for me I think as a professional your motive is not to underrate any team, and play them like it's a cup final. They must start well this time around if they are to make it to the 2017 Nations Cup in Gabon. All matches are crucial and that has been evident for us all to see.
On a lighter note where did you get the nickname ‘Tiger of Lagos’ from?
It’s from my days at Atalanta. I was doing well at that time and during the season the fans and journalists started calling me Tigre de Lagos.
At that time you were linked with a move to Inter Milan, do you regret the failed move?
Then I had signed a pre-contract agreement with Inter Milan but then there were issues. They had to sell some players before I could join but the players listed for transfer refused to leave and that quashed the move and also I had other teams prepared to sign me. I have this policy of joining teams at the start of the season when they kick off their pre-season campaign hence that fast-tracked my move to Parlemo but then I have no regrets whatsoever not joining Inter then.
I believed I wouldn’t have had enough chance at Inter because they were a bigger team and they have far bigger players and that also aided by decision to join Parlemo.
You spent virtually all your football years in the Serie A, was it that you never attracted interest from other top leagues in Europe?
I had a couple but I have a family and I wasn’t ready to start moving them all around. I was the one making those trips. Also my aim then was to become an Italian citizen which I am now. I could only attain that by ten years continuous residential stay.
The Flying Eagles face Korea DPR in a crucial game having lost the opener to Brazil, your thoughts on them?
They must approach their second game with a different mentality and play to their strengths.