eteran Nigerian actor and director, Ejike Asiegbu, talks about his passion for football and how he switched to acting in this interview with ANTHONY NLEBEM
Were you involved in sporting activities growing up?
I played football during my school days and I captained my team when I was playing in primary and secondary schools. When I continued my primary education in Lokoja at St Mary Catholic Primary School, I also captained the school team.
Afterwards, when I began my journey into secondary school, I played for Abdul Azeez Memorial College, Okene, Lokoja. I played at the junior and senior levels and we won the Governor’s Cup. While I was at the junior level, I was drafted into the senior team because of the talent they saw in me. When I left there, I continued my sojourn and football career. I played for CKC Onitsha, and afterwards, I also played for a division three side. I played for the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu team. I started playing as a striker and gradually I converted to a central defender. it’s a great thing because I had the privilege of playing alongside some of the very best players like Stanley Okoronkwo of Enugu Rangers and Sylvanus Okpala, former Flying Eagles captain, who also played for the Super Eagles.
Did your parents support you playing football?
Back then, our parents did not want us to continue playing football, they wanted us to face our academics. So, I stopped playing football at a very young age when my mates were already beginning to play professional football. My father made a lot of impact on my life trying to make sure I graduated from a higher institution as education is the basic. That was what made me quit playing football.
How did you make the switch to acting?
While schooling at the University of Port Harcourt, I will always come back to Enugu to take part in some acting programmes. When I was at IMT Enugu, I was already in a theatre group and from there I was already doing some acting with NTA. I will not forget to mention that I also worked with Ken Saro-Wiwa, the one who wrote the script for Bassey and Company, and was also in the New Masquerade.
Looking at how much footballers earn these days, do you regret not pursuing a football career?
No regrets, we followed the bidding of our parents who are experienced enough to advise us. A lot of people might be moved to say they would have made more money if they had the opportunity to play football professionally. But it’s not about money, education as well is very important. I am glad of where I am today because God projected me into the area of filmmaking.
If any of your children chooses football, would you support them?
My boys, who are twins, are very much passionate about football. I am also encouraging them because football runs in my family. My father also played football, as a young man, he told me how he played. My children are very interested in football. I also told them that I once played football. They are in their final year at the university, but if they say they want to play football, I will encourage them to the highest level that they want to achieve. Much as money is good, I am a bit old school in terms of how football should be played. There is a lot of money in the sport, but I believe too that we need to catch them young, groom them and not place money as a priority, but while they are playing they can grow to achieve whatever they want.
What is your favourite football club?
In Nigeria, I am a fan of Enyimba and Enugu Rangers and I support the Super Eagles. I am proud of the national team and outside the shores of the country, I follow Arsenal, I love their style of play and the philosophy of football. They don’t believe in buying already-made players, they groom their players and they grow through the ranks, unlike Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United, much as they have youth programmes, they still spend big money buying players to intimidate other clubs. The young boys in the team are doing well, last year, they almost qualified for the Top 4, but this year they are still in the title race despite drawing some matches and losing to Man City. But this is football and anything can happen, we have three games left and City still have one game outstanding and will still drop points, but the top four is assured and they will play in the Champions League next season. I’m proud of them, they have done very well this season. In Spain, I support Barcelona. Basically, I enjoy good football.
Which player do you admire most at Arsenal?
Incidentally, most of the young chaps in Arsenal are exciting to watch, like the goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, who could be erratic at times, but has made goal-bound saves that have helped the Gunners to maintain where they are today. Bukayo Saka, a young winger who graduated from the youth team and has been phenomenal, as well as Martin Ødegaard, Thomas Partey and so many players that impressed.
What’s your view about the decline in Nigerian football?
There is no longer zeal and patriotism to play for the national team. Most people who are managing sports have no business being there. They see it as an opportunity to enrich themselves and this is affecting our football. How can we not have those who are knowledgeable in football run football for us? I can agree that not all ex-internationals can be good managers, but it’s a marginal number. We have alsonot gotten it right with the Eagles because of poor coaches.
Which Nigerian footballer do you admire most?
There were so many of them during my days from Segun Odegbami, Christian Chukwu, Sylvanus Okpala, Emmanuel Okala and Muda Lawal. But in recent times, I love the late Stephen Keshi, Austin Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, Daniel Amokachi, Mutiu Adepoju and Peter Rufai, these are people who understand football. Also, Vincent Enyeama is one of the best goalkeepers Nigeria ever had. Then we have Mikel Obi and Victor Osimhem, who is doing very well and just won the league for Napoli in the Italian Serie A.
How do you feel about male footballers earning more than their female counterparts?
I believe there should not be any disparity in terms of what male and female footballers should earn. There is nothing wrong in encouraging females, let them earn the same wages. They should not be treated as second-class players. I must commend Asisat Oshoala and her teammates in the Super Falcons for the great job they are doing.
Do you still participate in sports in your leisure time?
I take a walk, I don’t play football any longer, I am in my 60s now. I try to keep healthy and fit by taking some walks like two hours twice a week. Also, swimming is the next exercise that helps my body.