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Raphael Ayagwa: I joined Plateau United to boost my career

How satisfied are you with your performance in the season that just ended?

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Talking about my performance in the 2017 season, I must first and foremost thank Almighty God for making it possible for me to end the season without any major injury. You know football is a contact game so there is no way one will play over 30 matches without getting a knock here and there. In addition, it was in the 2017 season that I made my debut for Nigeria. I was part of the home-based Eagles team that qualified Nigeria for the 2018 CHAN which will hold in Morocco. I played my first match for Nigeria against Benin Republic in Kano and it was dream come true for me.

Could you describe the feeling when you stepped on the pitch of Sani Abacha stadium to represent your country for the first time?

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To be honest with you, it is hard to explain. It was a moment that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I had come so close to representing Nigeria at the U-20 level but that did not happen because it was not my time. I was in the camp of the Flying Eagles team that won the African Championship in 2015. I did my best but for inexplicable reasons I did not make the team. However, when it was time for me to play for Nigeria, everything went on smoothly. I was happy but also said because I wished my father were alive to celebrate with me. He was my pillar. When I wanted to play football, my mum felt I was too small to play but my father stood by me. He supported me passionately and the rest of my family joined him. So I dedicate the little I have achieved so far to God and my father.

You were not part of the team that took part in the WAFU Nations Cup in Ghana. Do you think you will make the CHAN 2018 squad?

As you must be aware, it is not every player who played in the CHAN qualifiers that travelled to Ghana for the WAFU Cup. I am sure the coach is still looking at more players. Some of us had our time so it was time for other players to be tested. When camp opens for CHAN, we shall see how it will go. But I am trusting God that I will still be in the best possible shape for the competition. I believe in zero competition. If God says yes, nobody can say no. 

You were a regular in Lobi Stars. What made you to leave the club to join Plateau United?

The truth is that Lobi Stars is my home club but we all want to make progress in life. Plateau United are the reigning NPFL champions and they are going to represent Nigeria in next year’s Champions League. The club is assembling some of the best players in the country to prosecute the continental competition and also defend their title. It was therefore an honour for Plateau United to come for me. As much as I loved to play for Lobi Stars, I have to give priority to my future. There are so many advantages in playing in the continent with Plateau United. I hope to get more exposure playing continental football. 

So how are you finding life on the plateau? 

So far so good, I have nothing to complain about because life is not a bed of roses. I am a professional so I am doing my best to adapt to life in the city of Jos. The people here are hospitable and accommodating. I am indeed feeling very much at home here.

Some of the best players in the Nigerian league have moved to Plateau United. How are you coping with the much expected competition for shirts in the team?

As you have rightly said, some of the best Nigerian Professional Football League players have moved over to Plateau United so competition for shirts is going to be tough. Before I accepted to join the club, I knew what I was going to face but I am ready for the new challenge. I am sure that my present coach saw something in me that he wants to make use of. All I can say is that I am working hard to fit into the team. At the moment, we are still building the necessary understanding. So to answer your question, I am fully prepared to fight for shirt in Plateau United.

Just as you are ready, others are also interested in getting a shirt in the team. Don’t you think this will breed unhealthy rivalry?

I don’t think so because we are like one family already. Don’t forget that before some of us joined Plateau United, we were friends. I had some friends in Plateau United even when I was playing for Lobi Stars. The same thing applies to other players. We are all aiming at the same thing which is to do the country proud in the continent. 

You are sounding optimistic but considering the fact so many new players have joined Plateau United, do you think the team will blend in time for next year’s competitions?

Like I said before, most of us are professionals and football is a universal language. Even if you bring players from different continents of the world together to play football, they will do so with some reasonable degree of understanding. In our case, we are mostly from Nigeria and we are playing in the same league. I don’t think we need so much time to blend. It is a matter of understanding the football philosophy of the coach. And we are not doing badly in this regard.

You are entering your third season in the Nigerian Professional Football League. What is your assessment of the league?

We are making progress but there is still so much to be done if we are to meet up with some of the developed leagues in the world. I was privileged to travel out for trials and I found some things quite interesting. The clubs are trying but they can do better.

What are the areas you feel need improvement? 

To be honest players’ welfare is one area that I feel strongly that should be given more attention. Most players rush abroad because the welfare of players in the domestic league is nothing to write home about. Most clubs owe players salaries and allowances and this does so much damage to the morale of the players and officials. In addition, officiating too has improved but we still have some bad eggs. However, nobody can deny the fact our referees are doing their best. It is now possible for visiting teams to win or draw matches. The league is getting competitive and this is encouraging. And last but not the least, we need good pitches for good football. When talented players play on poor pitches, they are made to look ordinary.

If you are to ask LMC for one thing, what would that be?

I will ask the LMC to  find a way to cut down or eliminate midweek matches. I know they are forced to fix matches in the midweek because of the Aiteo Federation Cup and continental competitions but playing midweek and weekend is never funny. Teams cover long distances and players hardly recover before they start another journey.

What are you going to miss about Lobi Stars?

As the saying goes, there is no place like home. I will surely miss my team mates, coaches and fans of Lobi Stars. We were like a united family. However, I have to move on but I know that we shall reunite again. Maybe one day, I will play for Lobi Stars again.

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