Love it or not, the game of football has done more good than harm in the lives of many Nigerian youth.
In this interview, a footballer turned broadcaster Edafe Mattew Eseoghene shared his experiences on his journey from the pitch to the studio.
Q. Can you please tell us a little about yourself?
A. My name is Edafe Mattew Eseoghene. I am the CEO and co founder of ELEGBETE TV and Radio, an online radio and an online TV. I am a former footballer turned broadcaster, I have been in the media for 19 years and I have canvassed through Aljazeera, Hi Tv, Brila FM and now I am on my own. I am also currently the producer of the live broadcast of the Nigerian Premier Football League and it has been a wonderful experience. I am from Delta state but I like to call myself a universal citizen because I am from all over the world.
Q. From football to broadcasting, give us a brief of the journey.
A. I actually studied Mechanical engineering from the University of Port Harcourt but I did that to please my mom. My mom always wanted me to be an engineer like her late dad and then I am from Warri (the oil region) so it provides a faster means to employment. My mom actually wanted me to go to Petroleum Training Institute but I wanted a conventional university. One thing led to the other I played YSFON and I signed for Sharks of PortHarcourt. I played there for two and a half seasons and then I went to Europe and after one season with IF ELFSBORG in Sweden I got injured. it was a career ending injury. They wanted to amputate my leg but thank God I still have my left leg with me. When I came back I had invested in one small club called Globestar Football club I was the co-owner of the football Club at the time. I ran it for five years and you know I was no longer earning the much money I was earning from football and then I decided to sell it in 2003. I sold it to a man called Colonel A.U Suleiman who was Babanawa football club and he asked me to join his team to help him run it because he felt like I was brilliant enough to do that. I did that and in that first season we gained promotion from amateur to pro but then promises were not kept and I like people living up to their words so when he didn’t keep his promises I resigned. My decision was to go to Germany, so I flew to the US and as I was coming out of the LaGuardia Airport, on this medallion cab, I saw this billboard and it was written “Whoever controls information controls the balance of power”. When I saw this I felt like I should run back into the plane and come back to Nigeria because I realized that the whole of Africa, the black race have been manipulated by the people who control information. So I started taking conscious note of the super media that controls the information of every country and then zeroed it down to my country. It was clear that most of the things that we believe, legend, myths and truths are all based on what the media has to say. So I made a concerted effort to join the media and my sphere of influence was obviously sports, football to be precise. At the time I went for an audition in a radio station called Brila FM, the biggest sports radio station and I did not pass but then I pushed, this was July 29th, then Bovi the comedian was still there. By August I went in again and I made it in but then I was a freelancer and in that process I was learning all the rudiments. Nobody knew that that was my agenda they just felt like this was a guy that just wants to be popular and just wants to talk sports and I was talking sports with a very rude attitude very very out of the normal style. I wanted to set the agenda straight from the beginning that “Look I am not here to be a journalist, I am here to have a conversation and if you are not ready for the tough conversation get out of my track” and so that is how I got into media. Today by the grace of God after 13 years with Brila in between going to Aljazeera working with Hi TV(biggest satellite Sports TV before Multichoice became this big), I decided I had worked for people for too long let me start off my own sail and the rest as they say is history because we’ve gone from just producing content within grassroots Lagos to doing content for Juventus having a lifelong contract with FC Bayern for the Youth Cup. I have produced every edition of the Youth Cup and then producing grassroots tournament in Anambra, in Enugu, in Port Harcourt, in Calabar, Kano, Kaduna, Abuja and then the opportunity to stream and broadcast the Nigerian league came up and I felt this fish is too big for this small pond let’s go try ourselves in the big sea and see what happens but we’re acing it with flying colours. The next challenge is creating documentaries and see how that goes, I also produce the best football talking podcast in the world currently ‘Sport Special Delivery’ and I also co-own the rights to a Super Eagles movie called Chasing Glory and I am also doing a movie in Hong Kong, that tells the story of foreign footballers that go to Hong Kong and become naturalized in that country and help their football. There’s a whole lot it’s called the Clover Leaf, it is a very important leaf in Hong Kong. We’re doing that, I’m in Enugu now for the national finals of the Bayern Youth Cup 2023.
Q. Take us a little into your playing days , your experiences, challenges, memories (sour or nostalgic) as briefly as possible.
A. Some people say that in life there is the good, the bad and the ugly. For me, my playing days locally does not have ugly times just good. So I played YSFON competition, it wasn’t really important but I played it because I did not want to go back home when school was on strike from there I got on to sign for Sharks of Port Harcourt. It was good because from signing for Sharks of Port Harcourt I bought a car. As a teenager it was fantastic and I grew and I was lucky to be one of those people that were spotted pretty early and then I went to Europe. It was in Europe that the sour part came in because I had a fantastic season, top goal scorer for my club with a promotion for the very first time to the top division and then I got injured in a preseason tournament for the next season. And there was negotiations for me to move from Sweden to Denmark. That did not happen because I got injured and I spent 11 months of my life in a Russian hospital Elkitsburg and that was really really low because by the time I came back the money that I had saved up and sent home had been used up by family members and it was tough. Those were the low points but then some beautiful memories going to Gboko and scoring two goals against them, going to Maidguri scoring two beautiful free kicks against Elkanami warriors, being on the road everytime in Nigeria. Getting to know Nigeria through the marks set by football and probably it is the reason why I am addicted to the Nigerian league because it actually saved me from the life of crime, saved me from almost every vice a young man could face in life whether growing up in Warri or Port Harcourt. For me football is something that I see as my redemption, my saviour. Football saved me and I am very grateful to football for that. That’s why I’ll always be within football even if I am not doing media, I’ll probably be an agent or brand manager, marketer within the football space because it was really good for me.
Q. Which of the professions do you really cherish more?
A. I am a man of many parts. I am a CEO, I have a school and I am a broadcast journalist. The thing that I do is not even a profession, so I have this school where we take in hundred students every year and it’s been running since 2015 and we give them free education on ICT, change their lives. Children from not too good communities, children that could easily become social menace and we change their lives. Watching the lives of those children transform, with all the celebrities that are my friends that come to mentor them Ali Baba, Timi Dakolo, Kate Henshaw, Etinosa all of those people just to name a few- seeing them help these children that is the thing I cherish the most after my family. I think that talking sports is something that comes to me naturally, I don’t think I have to put in any effort. Now the next thing that I cherish after that is producing Nigerian league. Producing content that show Nigerian football. The thing is that there are many myths about Nigerian football, I have heard people say that Nigerian league players don’t earn more than 50,000 naira, I have heard people say that you cannot play in the league and build a house or buy a car but then I am demystifying all of that with the content that I create. It excites me when I put this content out and I see the reaction of people because I am clearly educating and informing people. So for me it is what I do within the Nigerian league, what I do with the Cool bits and then my family those are the three things that really gets me going.
Q. Looking at the Nigerian football today and your days what do you like and don’t?
A. What I like in my day is the fact that infrastructure was better and coaches were better. I’m sorry to say this but today the coaching is not good and the infrastructure is not good but the money today is better than the money during my own time. The value of the naira in my day is better than the value of the naira today but I still think that they pay them well today and the road to Europe is bigger today than it was in my day. So the things I’d love to see improve is coaching, we need to do a lot of coaching training we need to improve coaching. I know a young man who left Nigeria and went to Dubai in one year he has gone from UEFA C to UEFA B and he is about to do his UEFA A. Since 2017 till today Issa Ladan Bosso has been the head of the coaches union, Nigeria has not organized a simple coaching training it’s CAF licensing and if you don’t get CAF licensing you can’t sit on the bench in the Nigerian league. So, it means that we are recycling the same old people because you don’t even have the competition. It now feels like they’re blocking the road for other people not to come in. I think if we improve the coaching the quality of the players will be better and then the quality of the game will be better and we would have a better league. I also think that security was better in my day compared to now so we can improve on security. Though in this season the security has been better, the officiating have been incredibly the best officiating we’ve had all through the history of the league and a whole lot more but there’s still a lot of room for improvement like the welfare packages, the consistency of payment and all that.
Q. The Nigerian league today and your days what do you think has changed?
A. I think in my day there were a lot more talented players. So football has evolved anyway but there were a lot more talented players in my day compared to today. Today’s football is more like easy robotic safe play football. In my day you had to be extremely talented, there had to be some sort of finesse to how you played the game, your passes, your dribbles, your movement, we called it ‘shakara’, there is ‘shakara’ to the game that we played back in the day. Today it looks just ordinary, it looks like just simple football but I am not going to blame them, I still say it’s a coaching problem. You cannot compare any coach of today to Amodu Shuaibu who I consider the best coach that Nigeria has ever produced or Monday Sinclair or Philip Boamah or let’s say Godwin Izillien and a few other coaches of that era you cannot compare them to the coaches we have today. That is not to say that people like Imma Amapakabo that won the league for the Rangers in 2016 is not a great coach, he’s a great guy but he is a product of Monday Sinclair or Kennedy Boboye that won the league for Plateau United isn’t a great guy but he is a product of Monday Sinclair as well. So you see that the apple doesn’t really fall far from the tree but I think that coaching is a fundamental element of football. Look at the premier league for instance, the teams that have top quality coaches are the ones usually at the top. Pep Guardiola is a numero uno coach in the world. People will talk about the money but the kind of money that Frank Lampard has at Chelsea, Pep doesn’t have it but quality coaching differentiates between Pep’s team and the rest of the league.
Q. The fortunes of Super Eagles keep dwindling, what do you think is responsible?
A. Two things are responsible. One, we have refused to invest in our sports generally and we have invested more in controversies, in pulling down and politicking and then secondly I’ll still go back to coaching. I will keep saying it. We are not producing the talent in Nigeria that was seen in 1980, 1994, 1996, 2000 and 2013. All of these teams have a backup of the local players the Nigerian league players against the foreign based players. So whether it is 1980 where it is totally Nigerian based players or 1994 where it was a mixed match or in 2013 with Stephen Keshi or the Atlanta Olympic team there was a balance. Now you call noodles players coming from Europe, once you’re a Nigerian and you were born abroad and you have a passport you can come and play. First, you don’t understand the dynamics of what it means to be a Nigerian so to you win or lose is not a big deal. After all you are rejected from your chosen country and then you just decide to come play here to add to your profile. To the guy who is playing from Nigeria this is everything he has got so it’s a different thing. There is no competition and in the absence of competition complacency is the order of the day. I also think that government has a role to play. Invest properly in football, when you look at the whole of Nigeria we don’t have a single facility, a single stadium that is world-class that is why I laugh when I heard we want to host the AFCON in 2027. You know we can’t right? It’s not like we don’t have the money. If we put our mind to it we can do it but we are not that kind of people, we are not wired for that anymore. Take broadcasting for instance Nigeria does not have the capacity to broadcast 10 league matches in a weekend because we don’t have the personnel so we need to rebuild capacity and go through the work like you have in France there is the Claire Fontaine, they have St George’s Park in England we need something like that in Nigeria to develop our talent from probably U-7 up until U-15 and then you graduate them into U-17 and then they become world beaters but we are not there yet.
Q. X-raying the Nigerian football family, are you seeing any light looking at the avalanche of talents?
A. So because of the talent we have in Nigeria it is hard to say there is no light but again we don’t have a football culture. If you go to Tanzania where you have young Africans and Simba. Simba has 90,000 registered football fans to their team. Those guys are not interested in what happened in England, Manchester United or in Spain. They’re concerned with what happens in their team and I have been there and I have seen that energy. The rivalry between young Africans and Simba is incredible, it’s like the Derby Della Madonnina in Italy between Inter Milan and AC Milan. I think we need to create that culture. It was here before but it has disappeared because we’re too interested in Western ideologies. But if we can bring that back, I am very very certain that it will come up but beyond that I sill say it’s coaching. If you take an acorn seed and you plant it in a bucket it will still grow, produce leaves and everything but it would not produce an oak tree that you will have if you had planted that same acorn seed in a larger area. So for us I think the first investment should be in infrastructure and then next to it should be coaching. Coaching today to be very honest is very poor.
Q. Being a brand person and a marketer what do you think can be done to get back 1980’s, 1990’s followership of football looking at the damage the European football followership has done to Nigerian league?
A. Okay so now I am in a journey around the nation to experiment, because you know sometimes we also get too much into the doctrine and the dogma of talking talking no action. The experiment I am doing is going round Nigeria, interviewing players, coaches, fans, media people and getting them to talk about the football that they’re playing today. First of all that introduces them to the fans because in the last couple of days I have been producing shots 59 seconds video, 40 seconds video and I noticed that the reception is beautiful. That’s to say that Nigerians would receive it if we put it out there so this is where the media comes in. The reason why we love the European football is not necessarily because of the football, it is because of the media, the way the media puts it. Sublinear marketing is the act of putting something in somebody’s face, they don’t know you’re putting it there it’s unconsciously there. For example you may not like a particular music but you find yourself singing it because you’re driving a car and the music is playing, you’re somewhere the music is playing everywhere you go it’s playing before you know it you can sing along too. You don’t like it but you hear it every day so subconsciously you start singing it. So I think the media in Nigeria is rather very wicked and lazy. They would rather shove European football down your throat. Remember that every listener of sports has a radio presenter that they love and when this presenter wants to talk about Nigeria they talk about it in a very negative tone, nobody likes negativity and the funny thing is that the person saying such things does not go to the stadium, doesn’t even know the players, doesn’t know anything. They report Nigerian football in such a disgusting manner that the fans feed off that bacteria and then they grow it and proliferate it. So if we can find a way to put some good spotlight on the league within our programs and social media because that is where the fans reside I think it will help bring the followership back. I just put a few content now and people say things like ‘Oh I didn’t know this about the league before wow’. So if we continually do that, less of the criticism more of the promotion over strategic period of 10 years we will get the fans back.
Q. What do you think owners of football academies in Nigeria are doing wrong
A. I think that Nigeria has the greatest football academy owners. They are passionate even the ones that are not making money from it just love to do it. So I spoke with Mario Leo a statistics expert in the Bundes Liga a couple of weeks ago and he said that in Germany if you own an academy you are entitled to a certain amount of money from the government. In Nigeria you own an academy and you are the one that is paying the government. Government pays you in Germany because you’re helping their citizens exercise and people that exercise don’t fall sick often so you’ll not stress the media facilities of the country, so for that they compensate you. Over here you’ll pay affiliation to state FA, you’ll pay money to the national FA, you’re just paying money and you’re not seeing support or result. So I think they’re doing a lot of work that is why the large number of player transfer that we have had out of this country have come more from the academy than the league. The highest transfer fee that has been paid for a player out of Nigeria is Victor Osimhen 3.7 million Euros to Wolfsburg. He did not play for league team, it was in an academy in Ikeja that he played for so it tells you that these guys have even mastered the business side of it though not 100 percent but above 50 percent and there are a few things that can be improved upon. Unfortunately government is not providing the facilities and infrastructure. It is so expensive to do it for themselves but the little that they are doing I think they are doing way over 1000 percent, I don’t think I can sit here and have the moral justification to criticize any academy owner. Some might not be good but if you consider the cost of investment in Nigeria you will understand that they are doing way more than they should do, so I applaud them everyday. Anyone who is an academy owner in Nigeria God bless you that is all I can say.
Q. What do you think about Bayern Munich Youth Cup Project in Nigeria.
A. I could write a book about it. So before the Bayern Youth Cup in Nigeria we have never had a Nigerian play for FC Bayern we’ve seen Ghanaians play there, we’ve seen Senegalese as well but no Nigerian. Through the Bayern Youth Cup we’ve seen Daniel Francis become the first Nigerian signed and if you look at the story of Daniel Francis you say to yourself it could only be God the way we say here because we are a very religious people but what if the Bayern Youth Cup was not done. And there are a few other players, 11 of them out of the Bayern Youth Cup that are spread across Europe so the system is working. Since 2019 we have been able to transit 11 players out to Europe and in 4 years we have been able to take 40 players to go and experience the Bavarian culture. So for me I think that is a massive success. My hope is that it continues and I think that standing in Enugu here one of the things that I would hope for is that the state government or the incoming government will create an enabling environment that will help the conversation go beyond just the youth cup and say why not Bayern come and set an academy in Enugu Nigeria. You cannot tell the story of Nigerian football without mentioning Enugu, Christian Chukwu and the rest of the guys. The Eastern Nigeria has produced more talent for the national team than any other place so if there’s a place to sight such a big academy and partnership it should be a place like Enugu or any part of the east. Enugu Rangers wear red, Bayern wears red I think a partnership between the two would be nice. I don’t know if it’s in the conversation right now but I think they should have a conversation around it, build a serious academy or buy a stake in the club and be partners and then let’s see what that produces. Because it would produce foreign exchange earning power for the club and the state government and then it would produce opportunity for the teeming young footballers that are in Enugu and beyond.