Sunday, September 22, 2013

Forget My British Passport, I’m A Warri Boy – Sodje


Hard-as-nails Nigeria defender, Sam Sodje, in this interview with ’TANA AIYEJINA speaks on his exclusion from the Super Eagles, growing up in Warri, his sports family and more
Where are you presently?
I spoke with some few clubs in the off season because I am a free agent. I was meant to sign for Portsmouth but I also got clubs in Turkey and Greece during the off season.
Why is it that you haven’t been able to play for the big clubs despite your high rating?
People that know me very well know that injury has not been my friend but I am back strong again and playing. The main thing is about my staying fit; if I do, I can play for the best club in the world. Hopefully I will get a good club and get a good career going again. Honestly, injuries have not been good to me.
How do you feel being left out of the national team by coach Stephen Keshi?
I have not really got the chance to prove myself now but when I came, I did pretty well. The present coach has not given me the chance to play but I am not bitter. I am going to wait for my time. Hopefully, now that I am fit to start playing, I just hope to get a club and show the stuff I am made of. The few times I have come to Nigeria, I have proved that I can hold my ground, my shirt. Hopefully, sooner than later, I will be back in the team again.
How do you see the preference for youth in the national team by the present coach?
It’s so funny. I was born in London and I hold a British passport. I have played in Warri despite being born in London. It’s up to you to call me an experienced player or a youth. I have done very well for myself as a young player. If it’s about age, I carry a British passport and you know what that means.
Players like Gabby Agbonlahor dumped Nigeria for England but the likes of you and Victor Anichebe prefer your fatherland. Why?
I am kind of different from Victor Anichebe and Gabby Agbonlahor because I was born in London but I go to Warri quite often. So I am a Warri boy. I had the chance to play for England but it was not a question because I am a typical Nigerian. The only difference is that I carry a British passport. So, I am different from a player like Agbonlahor, who was born in England and grew up in England, never coming to Nigeria. But I came to Warri when I was just four years old and stayed for a while. They tried to make me play for England some years ago when I was playing for Reading but it wasn’t something I had to think about; I am a Nigerian and will always be.
You seem to have so much passion for Warri from the way you speak…
Actually playing in Nigeria brought my game out and now I am a mixture of the Nigerian game and the English style. That is why when I play for the Super Eagles, I am confident on the ball but at the same time, I can be tough and hard. I played majority of my football in England but my own swagger and skills come from when I played in Warri. I have got the right blend. But it is so frustrating when people talk about me as an English boy.
You share same style of play with brother Efe. Is it coincidental?
Actually, that’s what people say; we’ve got the same style. It’s the same thing with players like Danny Shittu that play in England; we play with our hearts. That’s how we play. If you play in England for 10 to 12 years, you have to be tough. Since I left Nigeria for England, I had to change my game to become tough. The truth is that I grew up in Nigeria, played in the Nigerian league, so on the ball, I am good as well. I look up to Efe but I play my kind of football because I play in the English league; I am a typical defender.
Can you recall your debut for Nigeria in 2005?
It was a bit of a tough time but that was my first game and I enjoyed it. Playing for Nigeria was a dream come true for me. I just love playing for Nigeria. I remember that game vividly; (Austin) Eguavoen and (Daniel) Amokachi were in charge. I am pleased I had my debut on that day. Apart from the game, I have played three other times for Nigeria; you can look at the records. I am happy anytime I wear Nigeria’s colours.
After playing in the qualifiers, you were dropped from the 2010 World Cup. How did you feel?
I feel really bad about that, I am not going to lie about it. I played a very big part during the qualifiers for the World Cup. There was too much going on. There was a lot of pressure. I thought I should have been called to camp ahead of the World Cup but I wasn’t even called among about 50 players invited. That upset me. If I play in England, I should get a chance.
What is your view on the state of Nigerian football?
We have to make our league better. I played there before and I know it’s hard and tough but if the league can be better, I think our football will be better as well. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a difference between playing in Nigeria and abroad. However, if we can get our league well organised, we can get the same quality.
You come from a sporting family…
I am blessed to come from a big sporting family. I am just hopefully looking forward to get in there and get things going once more. I’ve lots of nieces and nephews who are into sports as well. I am from a blessed family.
Apart from you, none of your brothers have played in the Premier League. None of you have played in the Champions League too. Why is it like that?
When you come to England and start in the lower division, it is hard. I was lucky to get to the English Premier League but my injury didn’t do me any good. I didn’t really have a good time at Reading because of it. But if I had gone to Europe, you never know. I know what everything is all about. My injury has not been good to me but I am happy to be back and fit and hoping to help Nigeria again.
In February while with Portsmouth, you were sent off for punching Oldham’s Jose Baxter twice in the groin. What happened?
I got sent off but he said something I didn’t like and I didn’t take it well. That is football.
Was his comment racist?
I won’t repeat it because he has seen me and apologised but he said something that wasn’t right.\
What is it like being a black player in England?
I was born in England but racists don’t mind where you are born. When they ask me, I always say the black players just have to be strong. It’s not easy to be a black player in England and Europe. I have come across some really bad ones (racists). It’s not just about football; it’s in the society. It’s something that we have to live with. I have a foundation that is trying to push away racism and help young kids to develop their skills. Hopefully, it will be less in the future but I have had some experiences with racists.
Can you share an experience with us?
I was driving my car one day and some people came and tried to smash the car. They were making monkey noises and shouting. They were over me. They came to smash my car and they were all screaming, ‘Go back home, go back home.’ Then I was playing for Leeds United. You can imagine that. I was just wondering. But that is what you get in life sometimes. I was driving a Range Rover and they had my number plate and they came round and tried to destroy my car.
Who is Sam Sodje?
I am from a pretty big family. I live my life with passion; I love my family and I love coming to Nigeria. Among my family members, I am the one that loves coming to Nigeria most. I just want to be happy and hopefully football will give me that. I’ve had a great career already but playing for Nigeria makes me happy. I have a wife and a little daughter.
What are your best and worst moments?
I feel that if I didn’t have an injury, the sky would have been my limit and I would have gone all the way to play in the higher leagues and played more games for my country as well. My best moment was signing for a Premier League club and playing matches for Nigeria. But in life, I am just happy to be a father and husband.
What is your advice to up-and-coming Nigerian footballers?
When they ask me this question especially about players from Nigeria or Africa, I feel I am in a very good position to share my wisdom and story with them because I started from the scratch. I didn’t play in Nigeria thinking I was going to come to London; I didn’t even know I would play in England. I played in Ogbe in Warri as a local lad without boots. We have the likes of the Orumas, Okochas and Sodjes; the young guys can be like these great players but they need to have a realistic dream; not just thinking about playing for a big club like Manchester United. They need to think about being a footballer first, then anything can come.
Do you have any regrets?
No. I never regret anything in life. I am just upset that I haven’t had more opportunities to play for my country. I’ve got no regrets; sometimes in life, you just live with what you see. But I am happy being who I am.
Do you live the big life like some footballers do?
I won’t lie to you, I’ve got expensive jewellery and I used to have a lot of cars. As a young man with a lot of money, you have to enjoy yourself but I am not going to say I have gone extraordinary because I have got a family behind me. I have three nice cars and that goes down to being a footballer. But when you get older, you get wiser. So, I won’t stop any young player from buying nice cars. My advice to young players is, ‘Football don’t live forever; just be wise and use your money right.’
What is your relationship with women?
I am married now but I won’t say I was bad. I am a pretty good footballer. I enjoyed myself and I am living the life of not just a footballer but of being a good man. I go out and have fun with my friends.
Who is the best manager you played under?
To be honest, every manager I have played for, I have learnt from them. I will give thanks to my manager in Nigeria, Akpobohme, because he gave me the chance to be able to play. But I give credit to each manager I have played under because I have a great career.
Who is the toughest striker you have played against?
It’s funny because I have recently played against every good striker. I have played against Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Thierry Henry. Due to the way I play, it is easy for me to play against big strikers because I am quick. But the ones I don’t like are strikers like Jermain Defoe, they give a lot of problems.
Do you want your daughter to play football because of the Sodjes love for football?
I don’t think she should go into football but she loves her passion, fashion.
How did you adapt to Greek football at Skoda Xanthi after playing in England?
I went to Greece but I didn’t really enjoy it because I just came back from injury. However, you cannot compare English football to Greek football. I am happy that I can adapt and this is because I first played in Nigeria. If you start there, you can play anywhere.

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