Former Super Eagles midfielder, Etim Esin, who became the first player from Nigeria to ply his trade in the Belgian top flight in1988, was unaware that sleeping with a minor was a crime. In this exclusive interview with The Point’s UCHENNA AJAH, the 48-year-old ex-Eagles star opens up on his career’s low points, his relationship with Austin Okocha and many other football issues. Excerpts…
What do you think about Aliko Dangote’s interest in buying the Arsenal Football Club of England?
I don’t think Dangote should have made a move to buyArsenal. I was expecting him to come back and start at home rather than tryingto buy a foreign club, Arsenal; after all we say charity begins at home. Start yours at home just like MKO Abiola, Emmanuel Iwuanayawu and Osakwe did in theyears gone by. They had real passion for this game. If those people were still around, our football would have improved greatly. In South Africa, the standard is still what you get in European clubs.
What would you say about the constant transfer of NPFL players abroad?
In South Africa, the welfare is similar to that of Europe. The league there is well marketed.Clubs sign kit sponsorship deals with the likes of Adidas, Nike and Kappa, among others. That is why ex-internationals should get involved over here.
Do you agree that ex-internationals have contributed in anyway to poor club management?
We are not the problem and we are not running awayfrom it. They are the people pushing us away, hijacking football management from us. Look at Akwa United, with all my experience, can’t I be the club chairman or ambassador or can’t I have a position at the club? It is just the mindset.
Can a good player make a good administrator?
Why not? Why not? You can manage football clubs better as an ex-player, because I can’t have money voted for the players’ welfare and hold it back. Why should I hold backplayers’ win bonuses, salaries and I expect them to come outand give their best? How do you motivate them?
What was your experience like in Belgium after playingfor Calabar Rovers, Iwuanyanwu Nationale and Flash Flamingoes?
Aah, it was abig move for me at that time. I was the first Nigerian player that left theshores of this country to play for a club in Europe, even before Keshi came inthrough Cote d’Ivoire. I will gladly say that we were the ones thatopened the doors for Nigerian footballers to play in Europe.
What is your evaluation of the 2015 NPFL season?
It is just the beginning of a new era butex-internationals need to get involved in the management side of the clubs.Away wins don’t mean the domestic league is okay. The welfare package of most clubs in the Nigerian Premier League is nothing to write home about. It is unbearable and there is no motivation to play.
Any unfulfilled dreams?
It is just that I did not play in the World Cup, and along the line, during the qualifiers for Italian 90, we lost a close mate, Sam Okwaraji. Sure, I ever got to show the world my full talent and that still hurts till this day. Iplayed at the junior World Cup in Chile 1987, but could not play at the WorldCup proper with the senior team. It hurts.
How has your relationship with Okocha been like after the watch saga?
Jay Jay and I have mutual respect for each other. We are moving on with life and I don’t like talking about the past. Everybody is moving on in his life. So, life goes on. Everybody makes mistakes; we pass through some patches and you make mistakes, but you move on as you learn from your mistakes.
Can you explain what the word Cabal meant during your Eagles career?
Cabal was a system whereby some people are loyal to you. Nobody hears what goes on in your meetings. If you are my type of player that says things the way they are, they will never want to associate with you.The existence of a cabal in the Eagles then, created disunity. Today, welfare is good in Eagles, but they have forgotten that people like us spoke out then.
What’s next after active football?
I’m a motivational speaker. I always like carving aniche for myself. You have to find a path for yourself, hence I’m doing what I’m doing presently. I’m also an ambassador for some academies, among others.
What are your new targets? It is to give back to the society, especially as aguide not to allow the younger generation of players to make the mistake I made in my career. My topics are always on indiscipline, drugs and racism because these were the three factors that heldmy career down. Moreover, I’m currently working on a book and very soon, it will be ready. What’s the book title and release date? It’s called, ‘The best that never was; the story of my life’. But I’m still going to sit with the editor and work things out. We are still working and hopefully, it will come out soon. How would you describe your family life? I have a very private life and my wife is the daughter of a Malian ambassador. I try being around them most of the time but I always want to keep my family out of thelimelight, rather strange from the Etim Esin you know.
What advice would you give to readers on professional football?
As I already pointed out, discipline is the anchor point. You must stay focused on your career and stay out of vices like drugs. Then if you get out to Europe, you have to watch racism because it all comes to one package. No one told me what racism was all about; nobody told me that when you sleep with an underage girl, it would be a crime, that you can even go tojail. You learn to know things like minors in the system and I try to educatethem in that line.
You spoke earlier about late MKO Abiola. How exactly has he touched your life? People like Orji Uzor Kalu, Ifeanyi Ubah, are trying to step into that shoe. I wasn’t a Yoruba boy when Abiola was helping me. He paid $50,000 for my case in Belgium in 1993. How I wish he was the President then, maybe my dream of playing in the 1994 FIFA World Cup would have come to pass. Sometimes, you dream like a man but God has his own purpose. He was my mentor;he was my ‘godfather’. May he rest in peace!
How do you spend your free time?
I stay with my kids. I would rather stay with my son, my family and play, but at times, I take up my bicycle and ride. I’m a very laid-back person now.