Saturday, 7 February 2015

Keshi wants me to be next Finidi –Babatunde

Our reporter recently spoke with Nigeria’s injured 2014 World Cup star, Babatunde Michael, in Lagos, about his career and his hope to return to the Super Eagles to redeem the team’s image, after missing out of this year’s AFCON in Equatorial Guinea. He also spoke on a number of other issues. Excerpts!

Can you tell us a little about your career?

Well, I’m Michael Babatunde. I play as a natural left winger for Volyn Lutsk F.C of Ukraine. I was born in the western part of Nigeria, Lagos, to be precise. I started my career with Waters FC in Abuja, and later joined Nigeria Premier League side, Heartland F.C in the year 2010.

Can you recall your first invitation in the Super Eagles?

My first invitation to the Super Eagles came like of a dream. I mean, I couldn’t imagine myself competing for shirt with the likes of Victor Moses, Osaze Oden­wingie, Brown Ideye and others, who were playing in popular leagues in Europe. Sincerely, I didn’t know I could be invited to the Super Eagles despite the fact that I play in the Ukrai­nian Premier League.The 2013 Confederation Cup in Brazil was the first and biggest competition I ever attended and it put a lot of pressure on me due to the fact that I heard fans at home and abroad criticizing Coach Stephen Keshi for including my name in his plans. But I thank God that I did what I know how to do best for my father land.

What could be the worst mo­ment of your career?

I am a footballer and I am prone to bad days. As a player, when you lose, you lose your self. Nobody wants to lose; but the worst moment of my entire career was when tNigeria lost to France at 2014 World Cup in Brazil, when Odenwingie’s mis­take led to the goal we conceded to the French team followed by the own goal by Joseph Yobo. Those goals made me weep after the match, and that remains my worst moment as a professional player.

Do you think your absence in that game cost Eagles the match?

Not really, as teammates we’re meant to help one another, even if I was in the game, I couldn’t have done more than what my colleagues did to change the tide. God knows the best and I think the better team carried the day. I would have said Onazi’s injury was a big loss to Nigeria in that match and the officials were also unfair with the officiating. Matuidi should have been given a straight red card for the hard tackle on Onazi, and the disal­lowed goal scored by Emenike in the early minutes of the game made issues worst.The French national team was not better than us, we lost to poor officiating and I think we should forget about the World Cup disappointment and think of how to move our football forward.

How about the most memo­rable moment of your career?

My memorable moment was when I visited president Good­luck Jonathan with my Super Eagles’ teammate and Coach Stephen Keshi. I feel great and honored.Then, secondly, I was also happy making the World Cup list for my country which gave me the chance to play on same pitch with the likes of Lionel Messi, Aguero and a host of other stars.

Who’s your role model among the Nigeria football legends?

Well, I can’t mention names due to the fact that I’m a natural left winger and I remember that Coach Stephen Keshi once asked me if I would like to become the next Finidi George of the pres­ent squad of the Super Eagles. I laughed because I was a baby in the days of Finidi George and I never got to know his style of football, but I pray to met him one day so that I can learn more from him.

Who would you blame for Super Eagles’ absence from this year’s AFCON in Equato­rial Guinea?

To me, I think the Super Eagles were not fortunate to be in Equatorial Guinea.We’re the defending champion no doubt, but I think the fans and the foot­ball administrators in the country were the ones behind our misfor­tune. In Nigeria, every one wants to act like a coach, they list the players that should be invited to the national team and those that should not and I think that affects the confidence of the team. So to me, I won’t blame the coach and the players, I would rather blame the fans for making Keshi a confused man.

As a professional player, where would you love to end your career?

For now, I don’t know. All I know is that I want the best for my self. I don’t mind offers from the English Premier League, Spanish League and Italian Seria A; Later show up in nearest future, but for now, I don’t know where my future lies.

You are just 22 and eligible to participate in next year’s Olympics in Brazil, what should your fans be expecting from you?

Well, it’s up to Coach Samson Siasia. If I make his list, I will make sure I do my possible best to lift my team. It is well known that most of the Super Eagles’ players will be on vacation until June this year which will make us feel more relaxed and fit for any competition. I have never failed before in my career, and I will not fail when the Olympic qualifiers begin.

Whats your plan after quit­ting football?

What’s on my mind is to set up a football academy here in my country, Nigeria, and to become a philanthropist in the nearest future and I also have plan to become a cool business man, but the type of business is best known to me.

Which player in the na­tional team do you prefer to be paired with in the attack?

I think my pairing should be best known by Coach Stephen Keshi, but if I have the right to choose, I’d love to play with Osaze Odenwingie and Ahmed Musa on the right flank, while I handle the left wing. I think if this pair is been use always I bet you we can beat any team but that’s not my duty Keshi knows best.

You have been absent for months in the national team due to injury, do you still think you have a place in the team?

Well, I am not the one to decide that. I have been nursing an injury since last year which denied me invitation to the team, but my target right now is to be fully fit to fight for a place in the squad, which I think will be easier for me because I know my worth under Coach Stephen Keshi. So I am confident of my self, while I leave the rest to Keshi and his technical crew.

Which country do you tip to be the next AFCON champion?

You know it’s a game of foot­ball, and in football, any thing can happen. If I must choose, I’d go for Ivory Coast due to the quality of players it parades. Ivory Coast has been consistent in recent years; to was in the final four years ago in same Equato­rial Guinea and I think with Yaya Toure and Gervinho, the team can clinch the title this time around.

What advice do you have for the upcoming stars and your fans home and abroad?

My advice for the upcoming stars is for them to stay focus and show commitment to any thing they are doing.You see in life once you lose focus you are out of the race and before you could rejoin the race it might be too late.So therefore I urge you all to remain focus because better days are ahead.

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