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King Osanga, the 2007 U-17 World Cup winning forward, who now features for local side Nasarawa United player, shares his humble beginnings and his experiences during the Libyan war, while playing for Al Nasr Benghazi, in this interview with ABIODUN ADEWALE
When did you start playing football?
I grew up playing football as a child with my mates and from there I developed an interest and never looked back. I was born in Jos and grew up in Lafia. Everything started in school during Physical and Health Education classes, but the love grew, knowing I was good at it. Sometimes, in school, we would play football until they would have to come and pick us from the field after school hours.
In 2007, you were part of the Golden Eaglets side that won the U-17 World Cup in Korea. How did that triumph shape your career?
How can I forget such memory? It is something that will live with me for the rest of my life. That shaped the person I am today. I grew up playing football and never expected in my life that one day I would represent Nigeria, talkless of being a world champion. Definitely, that moment remains up there. Up till today, when I think about the moment, I feel like reliving it over again. It’s the proudest of my life and will always be.
How did you get selected for the team?
Actually, I was playing for Akwa United in the NPFL then. I remember after one of our games against Sunshine Stars, a certain coach called Sunday saw me and asked me what I was doing, because of my performance. He asked why I wasn’t in camp and I asked, ‘what camp? So, he gave me N10,000 and told me to go to Ibadan where the U-17 were camping. Breaking into the team was not easy because there were hundreds of players from all over the country. Ibadan was full then and everyone had the ability to represent Nigeria.
How was it like playing under the late coach Yemi Tela?
Coach Yemi Tella shaped us. He was a man of integrity and knew what he wanted and would not allow anyone tell him what to do. He always stood by his own conviction and I believe that was the secret of our success. He believed in us. You know how things can be about selecting players; pick this one, pick that one, and he was one man that will give you a chance, regardless. Like he will say, we are all Nigerians. And if you are dropped, you won’t come back to the camp because his brain was very photogenic, if you come back again as a new player, he will tell you he knows you. He always encouraged us to persevere, that we would be celebrated. It was like he had seen everything in a vision. It’s sad he lost the battle to cancer not long after we won.
Did the Federal Government fulfil all the promises they made to your set?
Yes, the Federal Government fulfilled all the promises they made then. It’s a good thing we were rewarded. To me, representing the country alone was a privilege, the gifts capped it all and in my way of thinking, it wouldn’t have mattered if we were not given any form of reward, because we had won the World Cup and we had fulfilled our dreams of representing Nigeria. To be selected among hundreds was not easy, it’s a privilege.
Not much was heard about many of you again after the World Cup. What happened?
The transition from the U-17 to U-20 was a bit rocky. All of us would have loved coach Yemi Tella to be with us. I feel things would have been different. But there are many coaches and many players as well. Look at the kind of coach like Samson Siasia, who has a pedigree of managing the U-20 as well. But I felt coach Tella knew us well and that transition would have been smoother. Only about five or seven of us made the U-20 team. But we know that things change as well because we had other players who were good enough to play for Nigeria at that level. I was part of the U-20 World Cup team in 2009, and we had good players as well. We were just unlucky to crash out early.
Which game was the toughest for you at the 2007 U-17 World Cup?
The Colombia game was the toughest among all the matches. In previous games, we started counting our bonuses as we scored the goals. But for once against Colombia, everyone of us felt like, is this going to be the end of our bonuses? You know they scored us first. But eventually, we came out on top. I would say we were built for games like that, the fighting spirit was good and we turned the game around, I think from the bench. And one thing about us is that everyone was good enough to start. We had the depth and I think that did the work for us against Colombia.
You didn’t score in that tournament but were prominent from start to finish. Would scoring have changed anything for you?
For me, that wasn’t the priority. The primary goal was to be a team player and ensure we win. I can’t remember going to the game with the sole aim of scoring. It’s always okay if I don’t score and the team achieves its objective. The team first always. And as a matter of fact, everything changed for me after the tournament. I became recognised everywhere, earning the respect and it propelled me in my career. Football was all I knew and it began to pay off with that tournament. I will just say I thank God for everything because football has shaped my personality. Even if I stop playing, I will still be in the system.
You once had an outing with Heartland in the CAF Champions League, how much do you remember about your performance in those games?
I enjoy being on pitch and the 2009 CAF Champions League final was one game I won’t forget. Playing on the continent was huge and winning the man of the match in the final was something extra. We lost via away goals actually.
You have been playing in Nigeria and Africa. What are your unforgettable memories of travelling and playing football?
The period in Libya is one I don’t like to relive. It was so traumatic. I remember one Nigerian newspaper even reported me dead. My dad had to call the editor of the paper. The experience is not something you wish for your enemy. Luckily, I had an Egyptian Visa, so we were smuggled out of Libya through the border. One of my teammates from Ivory Coast and I had to pay $2000 before we were allowed to escape.
You were once invited to the Super Eagles, but you haven’t played a game for the senior national team. Any regrets?
For the match against South Korea in 2010, coach Samson Siasia invited me but my club didn’t release me. What they said was that the federation didn’t send them a letter. The regret is there of course. Every footballer, especially someone like me who went through the age grade system, would want to play for the senior national team. It’s something I can’t control, but then everyone who has been in the national team has been doing their bit to make the country proud.
Now you are with Nasarawa United, the club of the city you grew up in. What are your chances of turning your season around after starting poorly?
So far, so good, we thank God. We had a rocky start but everything is returning to normal. We are back in training for the second stanza and we are looking forward to it. We finished the first stanza with a win and we hope to continue from there when the league resumes. The quality is there, but the results have not just been coming and maybe we miss home too. But surely, we will bounce back.
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