By Oma Akatugba
It’s a long journey. From the streets of Ilorin to Liverpool. You don’t want to know how many seas I’ve crossed.
I give glory and honour to God for doing things at his own time. How I chose Liverpool, is a testimony. I had places I could have gone to but when Liverpool came calling, it was a personal testimony for me.
The U-17 World Cup opened doors for me. My guardian and adviser told me they were interested but it was difficult to come in contact with who’s taking care of Taiwo. At that time, nothing really came calling.
At the U-20 World Cup, they were still there ringing us, but I think they made up their mind on me when we got the Rio Olympics ticket after defeating Zambia. I was in the National Team camp, and was going to get a Visa to head to another club but on my way, I got a call directly from Liverpool. I called my boss (Seyi Olofinjana) and he told he was contacted by them too and he’s on his way there. We weighed the two clubs and he asked for my preference. I called some coaches for their advice, but for me, it was a dream about to come true. It’s something special for me.
In 2011, when I played in the Coca-Cola tournament, in Chelsea, my parents told me to tell God everything I want. I come from a very Godly background. They told me it’s my first trip and I should tell God everything I feel. I remember when I set my feet at the Heathrow Airport, the first words that left my mouth were prayers.
When Liverpool came calling, I was surprised, but I’d prayed for it and it’s why I went for it. Unfortunately, I didn’t know a lot about work permit.
Football is a great thing. We all love to play it for the joy and fun of it, but after some time, when you have attained certain positions, you’ll discover it’s much more than football.
It’s unfortunate that most people don’t know the truth about the game. I tell my people that as a footballer, I’m just like a medical doctor, or lawyer. It’s my profession and it’s my business line. When you get into football, you’d see there’s really more to it.
For me, I’ve had several loans, lots of experiences but I’ve kept my cool, been absolutely easy going and thankful, irrespective of the situation. Being on loan is something you can’t illustrate enough.
The reason I have never played in Liverpool is because I never had a permit to play. As I am now, if I insist on staying back in Liverpool, I’m not allowed to play a game because I don’t have a work permit. Outside England, I can play, and if I stay at Liverpool, the only time I may be chanced to play is when the club have a game outside England.
Liverpool is an amazing club to be. They have great and amazing players. Football is about chances and opportunities. When you’re not at that level yet, you’ll tell yourself but for me, a player leaving Africa and finding himself in Europe and still playing there for years is worth the credit. It’s not about just me. I’ve seen players who left Nigeria with the skin of their teeth. It was difficult. It doesn’t make them better. So many don’t have opportunities we have and they are in Nigeria, playing good or even better football. For one to find himself at a professional level, it’s a lot.
Liverpool saw a lot in me and they kept me for a reason. For me, there’s never a bad player, it’s all a matter of situations.
Give Me A Ball, I Just Want To Play
You have no joy in not playing. I never know football is about money. I just want to play and it’s the truth. I just found myself on the street playing football but coming here, it’s a job for them, it’s their business and they take it seriously, right from the very beginning.
For me, there’s no joy in not playing irrespective of where you play. It’s not about just the money. When you play, you develop and learn a lot.
I saw the efforts Mainz put into me getting here, I saw how happy they were to have me but in football, you never know why things are happening.
I’ve found myself in this situation twice and I’ve asked myself questions.
I’ve been myself, they’ve been wonderful people, I’ve been a player, they’ve been the club and we are good.
I don’t know why I’m not playing. It all depends on the trainer. As a player, I give my best, I give it my all always. I’ve been giving my best through thick and thin, and it’s been like this for the six months I’ve been here. I’ve always given my best. Same happened at Genk, but Mouscron gave me everything. I can’t lie about it getting into my head, I get disturbed and it’s nothing easy.
I think footballers, agents and trainers know training in football is a difference from a game situation. Match fitness is important, but the fitness needed in a game is totally different from training.
I’ve never been the best in what I do, but I’ve always trusted God. I find it difficult to get sad. My belief in God keeps me going. I always tell myself that “when you can’t stand high, fall on your knees.”
I’ve seen myself in situations that even your co-players start to pity you. They ask what is happening and you can’t do anything. You give yourself the best. Everyone has a conscience, and if you are right to yourself, you know, but for me in this situation, I’ve been here twice and hopefully, it will end well.
Liverpool – A Wonderful Club
At 22, I’ve seen faces and been to many places. I want to play football, get loans, enjoy the game. I had series of offers in the summer and Liverpool didn’t sell. As a club, they have their philosophy, and that club has been wonderful. Liverpool is a wonderful club. Even when you leave, you regret leaving, you feel bad for yourself. They are really nice people but at the end of it, it still falls back to the business of it. As a player, I just need stability.
At this point in time, I know there’s a big future ahead, known to someone who knows all. We are here seated and I never believed this could be happening here now. Some people never believe where they found themselves. It tells you there’s someone up there. It’s my belief. I think of the goodness and betterment of my future.
I’ve been to different places to play football and it’s totally demanding. Sometimes I get there late and it’s difficult to get into the system and setting.
I join teams on short term loans and it hardly helps me.
Liverpool is a club but the player matters more. You can only help look for a job for someone, you can’t help them do the job. On their part as a club, I think they have done great for me, all those loan deals. I’m not the same person I am, I’ve grown.
I have my personal thinking and they think as a club too. I suggest and they have their opinions too. They don’t force me to do anything.
Liverpool are what I wanted and choosing them was a great decision for me. If clubs like Liverpool gave me a condition, and others do too, I check it out.
As at the time Liverpool offered me a contract, European clubs did too and they all said they’d loan me out because I’m young. Going to Liverpool has been the best decision of my life.
Some journalists asked me in Nigeria about my situation and I told them Liverpool are the best thing to happen to me as a football player, and it will remain so even when I leave.
Time & Chance Makes The Man
Time and chance is key. Everyone with a ball on their feet is a football player. The quality in Liverpool is great. Mané is Africa’s best. And the truth is, he just didn’t find himself in Liverpool suddenly, he went through processes. Firmino did, Salah did, and for me as a player, this is the process. Mané wasn’t at Liverpool at 22, neither was Salah nor Firmino. It is what it is. Some players may never have to go through all of it but many have to. I might be lucky and be the star guy in one game. Alexander Arnold is 20 and he’s doing well. When I was to go to preseason last summer, I got injured and didn’t go. It’s about time and chance. Honestly, I don’t play in Mainz, and a coach at Liverpool’s reaction will be, “he doesn’t play in Germany, how can he cope here?” This is what I always tell myself. At the same instance, I wasn’t playing in Genk but I left there and started playing and did great. It’s about time and opportunity.
Last season, when I met Jurgen Klopp, he said I’ve seen lots of your videos but you are injured again.
I was in Liverpool for rehab. When I was coming to Mainz, he sent me a text and said “good luck”. That summer would have been a good chance for me because Mané and Salah were away at the AFCON but God knows better than we all do.
The Truth About Mané
Everyone has read a lot about Mané and everything they’ve read about him is the truth. I was in the training ground for my rehab and the coach told me to stay aside and watch the training, and after it, Mané jokingly passed the ball to me. He asked me where I’m from and I said Nigeria and he gave me his number. That’s who he is. It’s a lesson to me and it’s all about humility irrespective of the position you find yourself. Nobody can take it away from him.
In England, I’ve only been to Liverpool and as a player, I see how they treat everyone and it’s amazing. When I return from my loan deals, they treat me as one of them and it is great.
They always try to make everything be easy, even things outside football. My dad moved with me to England and they made it possible. They treat me good and it’s the same with everyone. I’m not in same level as Mané and others and they treat me great. You can only imagine. It’s a family club.
Nigeria Has Never Let Me Down
I’m always proud of Nigeria and I’m always proud of how far I’ve come. Nigeria played a big part in my progress. Getting to the Super Eagles is demanding. There was a period I felt I should have been there but currently, it’d be weird to play in the Super Eagles. Sometimes you’d find an in-form player not getting a slot and a player who’s not playing well will get it. It baffles me. It depends on what the coach wants. Currently Nigeria has many talents, but I believe I deserved a call-up twice but I was ignored.
The way I played at Mouscron, even the Liverpool Director told me you deserve a call-up for the friendly in England then, before the World Cup. I did well at that period and what I heard is when you score, and play well, you’ll get invited. I felt bad because it’s the easiest way to get a work permit. Liverpool hoped I’d have been on the list.
There was a time I was making the team of the week every week in Belgium but didn’t get a Super Eagles call. I was doing well at the time but some things are beyond my control. The players there were probably better. It wasn’t just my time, and time and chance happen to people.
Nigeria has never failed me!