Former international, Duke Udi in an interview with Creekvibes Abidemi Williams talks about his football career and how he played with the Super Eagles, U-23, U-20 at the height of his career. He also talked about his time with 3SC and how he went to Europe and played in Switzerland and in Eastern Europe.
Why and how did you get to become a footballer?
I am from a family where we have footballers. My siblings played football for Nigerian Ports Authority way back and I toed their footsteps. They even captained the club. I follow them to the matches and watch them play but unfortunately, both of them are dead. I was born and brought up in Warri, I learnt my football from the streets too because I played a lot of street football there and that was where I developed myself as a player.
I played for the Invincible Leopards then. I also played with Wilson Oruma in Warri. There was no academy those days. Fortunately, my elder brother took me to Lagos in 1989 and I enrolled in St. Gregory at Obalende. This is a school that is known for football in Nigeria. I played for the school team. We played against Concorde and Lagos State Academicals and after the game, some us were picked including me. We started to train with them and later we were taken to Sokoto for screeaning. Abiodun Baruwa, me and some others were selected. After that, I joined Niger Dock FC and the rest is history.
You played for 3SC of Ibadan, can you share some of your experience while you were with the club?
When I left Niger Dock, I went to Concorde and I was part of the team that helped the club to get promoted to division one and we qualified to play in the NPFL. But before then, we played in the FA Cup and we were in the same group with 3SC in Calabar that was where they saw me. I went for trials with Rayo Vallecano in Spain and when I came, I learnt 3SC was looking for me, so I signed with the club in 1994 and I joined them when they asked for my services. I really enjoyed my time with the Oluyole Warriors. I won the Cup double (League and FA) with the club and we had array of stars in the team then. We even got to the finals of the CAF Champions League in 1996.
The late Ajibade Balade was your team mate then, how did you people get along?
Ajibade Babalade (Kunde) was a leader. He was our captain then and he carries us along in all he does with the team. He stands for the players and makes sure that the management treats us good. When I heard that he died last year, I was devastated. Babalade was just that nice guy everyone would like to be with, he’s a great guy. He plays with passion. He wants to win all the time. We call him Chairman. I am very close to him.
You played in Europe with Grasshoppers and Slovan Bratislava, did you experience any form of racism during your time with these clubs?
The dream of every player from this part of the world is to play in Europe and I mean Western Europe like Germany, Italy, France, and England. If you were not playing there then, your chances of getting an invite to play for the national team is limited not like now when you see players in Belgium, Norway etc. You must be in the top leagues then. Westerhof was our coach then and he takes such things so serious. In fact, he had issues with Okocha because he said that Okocha dribbles too much and does not play for the team. To me, playing for Grasshoppers was a great experience. The first three months in Switzerland, I had challenges in the areas of language, food and cultural shock.
That first three months was not easy. After training, I would go to the language school and then I talked to people via an interpreter. It was not easy coupled with the snow. I have not seen such before in my life but in Switzerland, I saw snow and we even train when it snows. It was a new experience for me. I had one Ghanaian friend then in Grasshoppers. He told me, “Charlie”, forget the snow, we came here to make money and go home. After the first training I had with my team, when I got back to the hotel, my hands were shaking because I could not hold the keys to my room due to the cold. I had to call the receptionist to help me open the door to my room. Everyday then, I always think of coming back to Nigeria.
Racism is something I faced almost every day in Europe when I was with Grasshoppers. Even within your own team. Even here in Nigeria, don’t we see the younger brother of racism in ethnicity and tribalism? Imagine where in a club, you will hear,” Is he from our side here, is he from our state?” its everywhere. Yes, I experienced racism and when we went to play against one of the clubs in Russian league, even though they had an African player (Seyi Ogunsanya, CSKA Moscow), that did not stop their fans from throwing Banana peels at us we both walked out of the field and the referee gave us yellow cards. We returned and they started throwing the Banana peels out of the field.
You played for the Eagles, share your experience with us?
Then, there was merit in the choice of players that would play for the team. If you are good, you are good. They called me in U-20, U-23 also called me and I was also with the Eagles. Due to the way the calendar was then, I was able to play for the team. I can call myself three in one. I even played many matches for the Eagles during the qualifiers for Korea-Japan 2002 but when it came to the competition proper, my name was dropped so I packed my bag and went back to my club. In the U-20, politics made me miss the competition because Nigeria was to be the host but because of political issues, Qatar was given the hosting rights.
In 2002, When Shauibu Amodu and Stephen Keshi were sacked by the NFF, Chief Onigbinde who took over had his own players like Vincent Enyeama, Femi Opabunmi among others and that was how I missed the party to Korea-Japan World Cup.
You once coached Sunshine Stars, what led to your sack there?
I was the coach of Osun United then and Austin Eguavoen was managing Sunshine Stars as technical adviser. When Eguavoen resigned from that position, Honourable Elegbeleye got me through his contacts and that was how I went to Sunshine Stars. I took them from the last position in the league to the tenth position. The following season, they brought ethnicity and tribalism into the whole process and the commissioner said that they cannot pay me what they were paying before. That was how I was treated by these people because I am not from their side. These things happen in many clubs in Nigeria.
Only in 3SC, Enyimba that I have not seen such. They used that to frustrate me. They ganged up and said that I am insubordinate, so they sacked me. I went back to Osun United.
How do you rate the NPFL now?
The NPFL produce a whole lot of Nigerian players for the national teams during our time and the players are still there. What remains to be done now is that the league management authorities should just ensure continuity in all areas. They (LMC) are trying and kudos to them, with the way things are going right now, with the meager resources available, the future of Nigeria’s league is very bright to say the truth.
Dedication to the growth and development of the league is what should be number one on the agenda of the authorities if they follow up on all their programmes with dedication, the NPFL will be rivaling some leagues in Europe.
What is your take on the state of the Eagles, especially under Gernot Rohr?
If the truth is to be said, Rohr has brought a relative level of stability into the Eagles and I would say that the coach should even be given much more free hand to handle the team. Yes, the friendlies and the game against Sierra Leone. Things like that happen in football bit that does not mean that the Eagles are not good. Look, since he came on board, the Eagles have had some great games, played at the World Cup and the AFCON under him. It was tough luck that we did not get to the final of Egypt 2019 AFCON…yet, after two editions which we did not participate, we were able to still get a bronze medal, that alone is something. Rohr should just be encourage and we would see his best.
Some people said that he’s a foreigner that our ex-players are good enough to handle the team. I don’t believe in all that balderdash. If a man is good enough for the job, give it to him. Amuneke coached Tanzania, if the people of that country are looking at such things, then Amuneke might have gotten the job. My philosophy is this, let the best man do the job. Rohr got his job on merit as a good coach.
On a lighter note, what is your favourite food and car?
As an authentic Warri man, I love starch and Banga. I cannot do without it. I also love beans well prepared. That’s why when I was in Europe, I missed Nigerian food. In fact, Nigerian food I cannot do without. I love our local delicacies.
How do you relax?
I still play football in the field on Saturdays with my friends and it is something I hardly miss.
Which other sports do you love aside from football?
I love 100 metres, 400 metres race. Whenever I see Usain Bolt tearing the race track, men! I go gaga! That guy makes me love the sports.