By: Oma Akatugba
There is a long list of Nigerian-German players who have pitched their tents with “Die Mannschaft” for reasons as clear as glass.
They are taken care of appropriately, given insurance that is heart-filling, they get exposed to coaches who are savvy in the tactics and technicalities of the round leather game, and above all, Germany offers them a more realistic chance of international silverware etc.
From former Germany international, Patrick Owomoyela to Dennis Aogo, Sydney Sam and of recent, Jordan Torunarigha and Kevin Akpogunah who told me categorically that Germany remains their prefered choice, there is a palpable disconnect between these players and Nigeria, the country of their roots. It may boil down to either parenting/upbringing, choice or exposure to world-class opportunities and training in Germany, the fear of the unknown and other factors only known to these players.
All said, there is one looking in the other direction. Even though he has been to Nigeria only once in his lifetime (at age six), he has remained connected with the Nigerian culture and lifestyle so much so that he adds the hashtag “Naijaboy” at the end of all his Instagram posts. He has for the umpteenth time told the world his choice is Nigeria or nowhere else. In his words, ”no amount of money will make me choose Germany ahead of Nigeria.”
Such a resounding statement of affection for one’s root country is rare, and especially, heartwarming and reveals a growth that could be attributed to great tutoring.
I met with 19-year old Nigerian -German goalkeeper, Maduka Okoye. Standing at 6’6”, Madu, as he is fondly called from appearance, reminds one of Emmanuel Okala between the Nigerian sticks. Tall, gallant, huge and physically attractive. He has all the features that will take our current goalkeepers through the stairs on the run.
The meaning of his name resonates loud with his choice, and that is not a child’s play by any standard.
Maduka, an Igbo name means ”people are worth more than riches.” Indeed, he has proven the Nigerian people, Africa’s most populous nation and one with some of the poorest people of the world are worth more than the riches Germany throws at him.
In a very open and all-laid-bare interview, he told OmaSport about his upbringing, his love for Nigerian music, food, the last time he visited the country and his dream to one day put on the green and white colours of Nigeria.
So we started!
Can You Please Introduce Yourself?
I’m Maduka Okoye, 19 years old. My father is from Nigeria, and he is Igbo. My mother is from Germany, and I was born here in Dusseldorf.
I have been playing football for 15 years, and I play for Fortuna Dusseldorf.
Where It All Started
I started from a little club in Dusseldorf called Flingern 08. I played there for one year and started as a striker. One day, our goalkeeper was freezing, and as a result, could not be in goal, so I went to man the goalpost, and I liked it. I’ve been a goalie ever since.
From Fingenolat where I played for one year, I moved to Fortuna Dusseldorf for another year, then Borussia Moenchengladbach, I was six at the time and spent three years there. My whole youth was at Bayer Leverkusen where I spent seven years. Leverkusen has the best training system and facilities in Germany, alongside Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
For the past two years now, I’ve been at Fortuna Dusseldorf.
I grew up in Dusseldorf Germany. Growing up was good for me, and I started going to playgrounds always playing football. My father was a playground hero there. He bought a football, table tennis and other stuff.
Every child loved him, and everybody loves him here in this hood. We always played football every day. I like to play upside, but it’s a problem for a goalkeeper to play good football and with passes. I learnt passes on the street.
Journey To Professionalism
I play with the Fortuna Dusseldorf Under-23s, and I play with the professionals. I have travelled with the senior team training camps over the summer and winter. Sometimes I train with them during the week, but on weekends, I play with the U-23s, U-20s and U-19s.
For myself, I’m prepared to break into the first team, but I don’t have the shots yet. I feel good. I hope it happens as soon as possible because it will help my career.
On his future at Fortuna Dusseldorf
It’s possible I have a future at Fortuna. But I am considering making a step backwards to join a Bundesliga 2 side, that way I can be able to play regularly. If I played in Bundesliga 2, it would be great for me. Maybe I’ll start like this and see what happens along.
What’s Maduka’s Strength?
I love one on one. That’s my favourite. I’m tall, and I’ve got a good presence, loud and powerful. As a goalkeeper, these are immense qualities. I am good at set pieces too, and I stand at 6’6”. I’m almost 2m(laughs).
Maduka’s Role Model
My role model is Nelson Dida. He is why I’ve always wanted to be a goalkeeper. My new favourites are Andre Ter Stegen of Barcelona, David De Gea, Thibaut Courtois. They are people I can look up to because we have similarities. My best four goalkeepers are Ter Stegen, De Gea, Jan Oblak and Courtois but my role model is Dida forever.
I follow their games religiously. If I don’t get to see them live, I watch the highlights. I watch football always, if not live, I do on YouTube because it gives me extra knowledge. I learn from every situation; the mistakes give me new information.
On his favourite club and league
I support Liverpool, and for me, the EPL is the biggest. My dream is to reach that level. The Premier League is power, and that’s what I am, I am powerful, active and it’s always fire, and that’s why I love the EPL.
The Nigerian Dream
My dream is to play for Nigeria, for my beloved country, Nigeria. It will be a dream come true.
I was in Nigeria in 2006, I was six at the time, and that’s the first and last time.
Maduka is yet to watch the Super Eagles of Nigeria live but has watched the Super Eagles with father a couple of times on TV.
“I like watching the Super Eagles because they play good football with youngsters like Iwobi, Iheanacho, and I love Ighalo too. I like the offensive style of play of the Super Eagles.
“I like the Super Eagles’ fighting spirit. We have fire and quality in the team, and they will get better.
In the Nigerian senior national team camp, there is a ritual through which new players are welcomed into the group. These players are asked to sing their favourite songs before other members of the group. Maduka seems adequately prepared for this custom.
“I listen to Nigerian music. I have a playlist of songs by Wizkid and Davido, Kiss Daniel, Flavour so I can sing almost every song. I’m prepared for that, and it will be no problem.
I’ll sing Panya from Tekno or Flavour’s song or Kiss Daniel’s Madu. Madu is an excellent song, it has my name in it, and I love it. (laughs).
Can Maduka Speak Pidgin?
“I learn some pidgin English from songs. I learnt ”you dey craze” from Pidgin. ”I dey come” and my dad tries to teach me like normal English. I understand them, and I can say them, so it’s no problem.”
The pidgin English has become a significant lingua Franca in Nigeria as it is now spoken by more Nigerians across the country even though, the pidgin has not been granted official status in Nigeria. This form of English has also travelled outside the shores of Nigeria, via Nigerians abroad. I asked Maduka if his dad speaks pidgin on the phone, “Loud and clear, he says (laughs). “My dad speaks on the phone so loud and clear, but he doesn’t say much on the phone. Ordinary Nigerians are always on the phone, talking and screaming. When I was younger, I had always thought Nigerians are angry whenever they speak on the phone, but I discovered it’s not a problem, they are just talking oud and screaming at each other. For us Germans, we speak loud when we are angry. But now that I am getting older I understand. They are not mad, its pidgin English.
Who taught Maduka how to pray?
My father always tells me I have to come to church on Sunday. It is, and since I started doing this, it has given me strength. My whole family is Christian but praying is different from being Christian. I try to be as Christian as I can be. You can say you are a Christian but do nothing. Praying is important to me. My father taught me how to pray. I don’t go always, but I go when I can.
I pray before every game for God to take control.
The Egusi Affection
I love egusi soup. When mum is not at work, and she is around, she makes it, but my father makes it most times, but the way my dad eats it is always too hot and Eating Nigerian food is like playing 90 minutes of football with so much sweat. (laughs).
My mother also eats the food, but it’s too hot for German people.
*How much has Mauka learnt being Respectful from his father, being partly Nigerian?
I learnt a lot about how to respect elders from my father. I don’t respect anyone as much as my father. He gave me this life I’m living here. He is the head of the family, and he is the boss.
I want to be like my father, and I think it’s good he taught us this in a hard way.
*Family and the Utmost Nigerian Connection*
I have one elder brother; he makes music and played football. He stopped playing at 15.
I started listening to Nigerian music through my dad. He always brought CDs from Nigeria. CDS of the superstar artists like Wizkid, also Fela Kuti, I love this sone 97 from Fela Kuti and Femi Kuti as well because of the lyrics, it is incredible. It gives me goosebumps. The songs bring me closer to Nigeria. They make me feel this is where I want to be, I want to be a Nigerian, I want to be with the Super Eagles of Nigeria. It has always been my dream, doing big things in Nigeria. And I want to do good things. My dad reminds me I have to do great things for Nigeria because it is a country that has great potentials but needs a lot of support. He tells me when I start playing for Nigeria, and I will have to build new schools and do a lot of good things, this is a topic for another day.
On his German side
Yes, I am proud and happy that my mother is from Germany. My mum has taught me some things about Germany that I’m part of now and I think it is essential that I have both sides. The German-Nigerian combination is fantastic!
At this point in the interview, one could tell such great influence Maduka Okoye’s father has had on his son. He has built a man in a teenager and has made him understand the undeniable importance of representing one’s roots.
The highlight of the interview was when Maduka told me point blank that he will reject a German call up, he said the world and its glossaries of treasure would not change his mind over this one huge choice.
”I will reject Germany, no money in the world will bring me into the German national team. No! Never,” he said.
Maduka and Nollywood movies
The giant teenage goalkeeper burst into laughter at the onset of this question. It is suggestive of some hilarious experience he has had in the past about seeing our home videos, but he reveals his admiration, still, as we improve on every front.
”Nollywood movies are funny and nice. They’ve got good fans. I like these two younger brothers, I do not know what they are called (Aki and Paw Paw), but they are both hilarious.”
Where is that dream holiday spot for Maduka?
I want to come to Nigeria, and it’s been 13 years now. I’d also like to go to Australia. It’s a beautiful country, even the North Pole, the coldest part of the world. I want to go there because of the lights.
I want to see everything in the world. It’s one thing I got from my mother. She loves to travel. I really want to see everything in the world.
Travelling inspires me, seeing things you’ve never seen before, the nature of God, there are so many things we haven’t seen.
Maduka, The Leader and Books
A goalkeeper in every team is considered one of the most important engines of the team. He sees it all, he has an idea before everyone else does and he is expected to lead.
Readers, they say are leaders, so I asked Maduka if he has a love for books.
”I read sometimes, but not that much. Sometimes I read the bible. My mother and brother read a lot and have so much knowledge.”
Does Maduka Drive Yet?
I use the Metro sometimes because I haven’t gotten my license. I’ll get my license soon, in two to three months.
Shaku Shaku German
I dance Shaku Shaku and capoeira; capoeira is a Brazilian dance style. It is a fighting dance. I’m not a good dancer, but when the beat is good, I dance. I wouldn’t be the dancer in the team but the singer.
The Bundesliga’s Quality
The Bundesliga compared to other leagues (EPL or La LGA) doesn’t have enough quality players. When you look at the premier league and The La Liga, they have more quality. The Bundesliga is a good league but not the best.
Nigerian Favourite Dish
I like beans and plantain, and I visit two African restaurants regularly by the name Opoku and Treasure, but the treasure is my favourite because Nigerian food is better than Ghanaian food, with due respect to Ghanaians.
Nigerian Jollof VS Ghanaian Jollof
Nigerian Jollof is the best, 100 per cent. Sorry to all the Ghanaian guys but Nigeria is top.
Maduka`s pre-match ritual
I pray, a small prayer like I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I ask God to take my fears and give me strength. This is what I always do.
Do you have a Girlfriend?
I don’t have a girlfriend. I’m cautious of the wrong woman and focused on football,” he said.
Many women slide in the DM, but it’s not enough. I’m something for the girls, but I’m focused.
On his resemblance with famous American music star, Chris brown he says: “I’ve been told I look like Chris Brown, but hey, I’m not as fine as him at all.”
Maduka follows only a few people on Instagram and does not follow any famous Nigerian musician despite listening to their songs. When I asked him why “I follow just 28 people on Instagram,” he said. ” mostly members of my team. I don’t follow if I know you won’t follow me back. Maybe when i become a big name then i can follow wiykid or Davido because then, they would recognize me easily.