The old Bendel State was the hotbed for minting great footballers who,in many cases,started out as mere street dreamers simply enjoying their game.In this no-holds-barred conversation,one of the finest midfielders the nation has ever seen,Edema Fuludu,takes The Midwest Journal’s ‘Ima Ero through his meteoric journey from the streets of Warri through his distinctive student days at the University of Benin and on to the Super Eagles.
Tell us about your background and growing up years
I am Coach Fuludu Edema from Igbudu community in Warri south local government of Delta State. I attended Pessu primary school Warri between 1971 and 1977 and College of Commerce also in Warri from 1977 to 1982 before going to University of Benin, Benin City. My growing up years was like most Warri boys with football as the easily accessible sport that we indulge in. Most importantly football took my attention away from a host of vices within the society. I was in my primary school first eleven team and started playing for my secondary school team from class two having played for the under 13 school team in class one. I Played a lot of street football in Warri and later was captain of Oroke Youth FC Warri. I am from a polygamous home, fourth son of my father and sixth child.
How and when did you know you had to take football professionally?
Professional football came not by choice actually. It came with a series of events starting from my playing days in the university of Benin team from which I was recruited by New Nigeria Bank FC. From ‘behind the hostel football’ one evening in late 1983 I was noticed and invited to the university football team. This culminated in my being part of the team to NUGA 84 in Ife now OAU. By my sophomore year in 1985 I became captain of the Uniben team until graduation in 1987. NNB came calling and I signed from Union Bank FC also of Benin. I was on #7,200 per annum in NNB while graduates where on half that amount so naturally I was a buoyant student who was enjoying myself as a footballer and earning money too. That was when I said okay I will continue to play even after graduation.
Did you have the support of your parents?
My parents were never a hindrance to my playing football. My father was concerned about his children’s education and it was priority to him. As long as I attended classes and did not skip school I was free to play unlimited. This freedom of playing knowing that the caveat is not miss school actually became a saving grace in my combining education with football.
Anything more to add to your move to NNB?
The only addition is that from the school team I was taken to Union Bank FC (1985) for fifty naira monthly allowance which actually could pay for my meals for the month until the coach (Godwin Izilein) moved to NNB. I was the highest goal scorer in the then Bender State Division One league and got recognized by clubs in the elite division in Benin. I could have signed for Flash Flamingoes or Bendel Insurance but opted for NNB because my school coach was same as Union Bank coach and got the job to coach NNB FC this was the preparatory period to play 1986/87 National Division One League season.
Describe the atmosphere in that team and what would you credit for the successes recorded by them?
NNB was a great club even before I joined,they had won about 3 WAFU Cups. My period was when a lot of the former stars had left in an exodus but we rebranded and the type of football we played that season made the press to tag us the Italians of Benin. We took second position at the end of the season with players like Monday Agbontaen, Joseph Okoh, Mobosa Brodericks, Christopher Edoimioya (Police of Senegal) coming into national limelight. We were giant killers playing to a standstill, clubs like Abiola Babes and Leventis united. I was made captain as a youth corps member in 1988. One regret was that the club went into relegation that year.
What were your playing days outside the country like and why did you not play in mainstream Europe?
I played in Turkey for Altay sports club Izmir from 1994 to 1997. I actually could have played in Belgium, Germany or Holland but the deals just did not work out. I was in Belgium with the late Thompson Oliha, in Germany with Monday Agbontaen on trials. The clubs liked us but some excuses of agents fees and other undisclosed factors that I do not know of scuttled it. Playing in Europe usually does not just boil down to a player’s ability to play football. It involves a whole gamut of indices and top of the list are what the manager of the team feels and the kind of agent you have.
Altay sports club was not a very big team like Fenerbahce, Besiktas,Trabzon sport or Galatasaray then but held its own in the elite division. The team’s colour is black and white i became the black player complimenting the white players. The team’s atmosphere was always electrifying especially when playing the big four in the league.
You were unable to make the Chile ’87 FIFA Youth Championship why?
I opted out of Chile 87 camp because of my degree exams. Remember I was in Uniben and the school does not believe in giving supplementary examinations to even sportsmen and women. I could not have thrown away one academic session and my degree exams at that.
What about your Senior National Team days, who were your contemporaries and which of them are you still very close to?
I had my first senior cap in January 1991 against the Stallions of Burkina Faso in Ouagadougou and we played 1-1 with Friday Ekpo scoring our goal. National team then was very competitive and players get called up on merit. Merit in the sense that this current trend of agents and managers of players going to solicit for their players to be invited or called to camp to enhance market value and profile was not known. On friends I realize that in the national team there are no real friends but acquaintances because the friendship lasts as long as you play together on invitation to the team. Friendship is ephemeral. Immediately you lose your place in the team for whatever factor your suppose friends get detached. It would have been better if social media and current ICT were available as it is now. However, I still get to relate with as much of my contemporaries such as Monday Agbontaen, Abdul Sule, Uche Okechukwu, Stephen Keshi, Friday Ekpo, Henry Nwosu, Ajibade Babalade and someone like Jay Jay Okocha because we are on the same board of Delta football Association- He as chairman and i as vice chairman.
Compare player attitude today with what obtained in your days
Players today are more exposed to modern facilities, more money even at the domestic league, more leverage in transfers etc but attitude to professionalism and service delivery is actually poor. Today’s footballers are compelled to train to meet potentials. One reason I think is responsible is the fact that more than half of the players in today’s professional football came into the game for the lure of the money, lack talent and for want of what to do. That is why talents are very few in-between. If Nigeria was not the most populous black nation under the sun, we would be struggling more than this to discover real talents devoid of developmental football.
What were your best and worst moments at the Senior National Team?
Some of my best moments in the senior national team include my first cap when late chief MKO was our leader of delegation to Burkina Faso and he splashed us with some additional foreign currency, my being introduced specially to the world press in India by Clemens Westerhoff after playing so well in an invitational tournament in Thailand and of course lifting the AFCON in Tunisia 1994 same place I lifted the Mandela cup with BCC lions of Gboko in 1991. Worst moment was when I was dropped from the US world cup team for reasons other than non performance.
Who is the best player you have played with in your entire career?
I played with and against a lot of good players, real quality players but the one I enjoined a telepathic partnership with is Monday Agbontaen aka kakaraka and unfortunately Nigeria did not see much of him at senior national level. He was a magician according to Clemens Westerhoff and I think so too.
Who is the coach that has affected your game the most and why?
The coach that affected my game most is Godwin Izilein. Why? He took me up from the University of Benin team by first converting me from right wing player to the midfield and I think my best started to come out functionally as a team player. He made sure my studies did not suffer while we moved to NNB he made me feel special and that translates to confidence in service delivery. He was a father figure and mentored me.
Which coach would have loved to play under that you did not?
I have never given a thought to playing for any coach who was not my coach.
If you did not play football what would you have done?
If I did not play football I may probably have worked in an establishment of government or private concern. But football has been my life and destiny with events I probably had no control of. I had a second class upper in Business Administration in 1987 and was asked to come to the office (Banking hall) when NNB was disbanded but turned it down because I still needed to exhaust the passion of playing in me. Again I was asked to come to the office in NNPC in 1989 but opted to go and play for BCC lions of Gboko where my career blossomed as a footballer. Notwithstanding I came back from Turkey and went to Uniben for my Masters of Business Administration in 1999/2000 worked in the oil and gas industry for about 9 years yet was unsettled there because of football in between this job I was coaching and squeezed time to amongst some amateur teams coached Bendel Insurance FC and I had to go for a coaching course in Holland 2008. So my destination if not football cannot be defined in real terms.
What was your game-day ritual or superstition in your playing days?
Game ritual is psychological. Two things actually are part of my game ritual. One was to make sure I lie down on my bed for at least two hours after breakfast or not to touch breakfast at all. The other was this jog strap pant I used for almost four years and when it got so slacked I had to get an exact replica without which I felt not ready for any competitive match.
How do we return fans to the stadium in the light of foreign football followership these days?
Returning fans to the stadium must be a conscious marketing strategy. First thing is to enhance security within and outside the immediate surroundings of our stadia. This will make our stadia family friendly. Secondly get raffle draws as part of ticket sales and improve on match notification strategy such as daily announcements using vehicle with PAS etc. Hype our players on the media and let the referees be secured and not compromised.
What should players do to ensure they do not end up in penury after retirement?
The league must ensure that the players union is given its rightful place in the scheme of football matters in the country and they will guide players on the way forward. Players will be able to key into retirement schemes and educational programmes on after the game. There must be a conscious effort to allow the players union correct anomalies that make players the dreg of society after their playing days. Players must first and foremost be treated as workers with rights and contracts honoured. This will enable the union plan with them and explore investment opportunities for them while still active.
What club do you support today?
Warri Wolves in the Nigeria league, Chelsea in the English league and Real Madrid in the La Liga in that order.
Messi or Ronaldo?
How have your experience in football management been?
Nice to be an administrator because I understand the football language and want players to be the biggest beneficiaries but the politicians are a terrible stumbling block. Theirs is how to make money from the system while stagnating it. They take decisions without recourse to business sense and self sustainability of the club. The status quo of making master servant relationship, slavery mentatility is what they thrive in.
Any project you are working on presently?
I am working on some programmes that will benefit players and corporate sponsors such as (TIP) talent identification programme that will serve as a platform to expose some of the hidden talents in our environs, Soccer Klinik and adult exercise center to give understanding to the 7 benefits of exercise as it affects the health of our nation.
If you were Minister of sports today what steps would you take to bring back the glory days of the old Bendel State?
Sports today is one of the biggest money spinning industry in the world today. If properly harnessed can create so much jobs. So first is the legistlature on policy to make organisations invest in sports by reducing their tax. Make schools a primary focus in sports development while employing and training the right people to administer sports. The mentality that sports is for dropouts and unproductive people must be erased by education and practical demostration of the benefits associated with it. For example professional football clubs should become community based and owned by the people not government owned. The youths will not fight organisations investing in their community through sports that is creating employment for them.
What’s your assessment of Sunday Oliseh’s management style, issues with the NFF/Technical team and the manner of resignation?
I think Sunday Oliseh got it wrong in his management style by thinking he was coming to work in a sane environment as if he grew up from another clime. The ideal is utopian and it is in the developed countries that you can get something close to that. We do not respect contracts and we do not work on schedule here in Nigeria but require and desire the best outcome in terms of results. This is scenario thus creates a parallel lines cannot meet positively. A sane society will investigate Oliseh’s allegations because there is no smoke without fire. However think his resignation was a shocker and the timing was not ideal to me.
What should Nigeria do to ensure success in the near future?
Success in the near future is a function of policy implementation and execution not just propagation. We have all the ideal policies to move forward but they are never implemented. The politicians make sure it is so. That is why the sports minister must come from a section of Nigeria regardless of pedigree. We should not zone positions and if we zone it look for round pegs to fit into round holes