Former Super Eagles midfielder, Mutiu Adepoju, who is the Country Manager, La Liga Office in Nigeria, talks about the deal between the NPFL and the Spanish league in this interview with ’TANA AIYEJINA
What are you doing at the moment?
I am the Country Manager of La Liga Office in Nigeria. La Liga entered a partnership with the Nigeria Professional Football League and they have a commercial and technical deal, in which they signed a five-year contract. It’s going to involve a lot of things: youth development, helping the Internally Displaced Persons, playing friendly games between both leagues. The agreement was signed in April and the office is in Abuja. We already had a tour of Spain by NPFL selected players, where they played friendly matches against Valencia and a four-club tournament with Atletico Madrid, Malaga and Cadiz.
What are your duties as Country Manager of La Liga in Nigeria?
My duty is to represent La Liga in the country and also look for opportunities and be the link between the NPFL and La Liga. La Liga is opening to the world; they have offices in China, Dubai, US. It is the best league in the world and they hope they can share their wealth of experience on how clubs can be better managed. The visibility and presence of La Liga worldwide has been making things work. Football is a global game, which is the essence of all these. The intention is to open offices in five countries in Africa. Already two have been opened; the African head office is in South Africa, which we report to. It’s one of the biggest and unique things happening to football at the moment.
What did the players and officials, who were part of the NPFL tour to Spain in August, benefit on the trip?
They learnt a lot in terms of professionalism. The players were able to see the structure of the clubs. The clubs chairmen were also taken along and they attended a seminar. This will be done regularly; they saw the La Liga clubs’ youth development structure, the professionalism of the administrators, the attitude of the players. Our players were able to learn from the techniques and tactics of their Spanish counterparts. They learnt a lot and I believe that the players who made the trip will tell the others that good things are happening. I don’t think there is any league that has done that. Even the EPL that Nigerians are so passionate about has not done that. But La Liga has opened the gate to both leagues and I believe it will be of mutual benefit to both of them, especially for more of our players to be able to play in La Liga. The youth development, in which La Liga has a lot of programmes, will also help our league as well.
A major problem in the Nigerian league is payment of salaries and allowances to club officials and players. Will this agreement help clubs financially to eradicate this disorder?
The reason for this is that there is no money and almost all the clubs depend on government for funding. We all know the problem, Nigeria is in recession and money is not forthcoming, although this issue has been on long ago. This partnership will help but not directly by giving the clubs money to spend. But with the structure and the way they do their marketing, I believe that our club chairmen will be able to learn from the seminars they attended and replicate that in Nigeria. La Liga is going to be sending club managers to share their ideas with our club chairmen on how to get revenue. In the aspect of coaching, they will bring their coaches to teach our youth coaches on development of young players. It’s a five-year partnership and I believe after it expires, there will be an extension because both parties will benefit from it. Right now, our league is improving and the League Management Company is doing everything to ensure that the clubs follow the rules; clubs are signing players with contracts and trying to pay them. In the last three years, the LMC has done great things, they have given money to the clubs and I believe the partnership will be an open door for more things to come.
The deal also had La Liga donating funds to a club like El Kanemi, who have had issues because of insurgency in north-eastern Nigeria…
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(Cuts in) It’s the La Liga Foundation that lent a helping hand to El Kanemi. It’s like their Corporate Social Responsibility. It’s a global brand opening to the world and where there are problems, the foundation comes out to help. Very soon, money would be given to them. They are still working on some papers from El Kanemi, which would be sent to Spain. That is what is delaying it for now, but very soon, it will be done.
You played in Spain for most part of your career. What did La Liga imbibe in you as a person and as a footballer?
It helped me a lot. I started here in Nigeria playing for clubs and the Flying Eagles before I travelled to Spain. When I got to Spain, I learnt more about professionalism; the attitude and character of a professional. And that is what has been carrying me all along till this moment. When I was in Real Madrid’s second team, I learnt a lot under my first coach, Vicente del Bosque. I learnt a lot in the White House. I also played at Racing Santander, Real Sociedad and I adore these clubs because of how they adopted me and took me in as part of their system. I and my family have Spanish citizenship. Spain gave me a lot and I believe if other Nigerian players get to play there, they can gain a lot too.
What’s the atmosphere like playing in the Bernabeu stadium?
It’s unique; it’s what every player would love to witness. The fans are always over you, supporting you. Madrid are a champion club and playing there, you must exhibit the character of a champion. You cannot do less; you have to get better every season and that is why the fans keep supporting the players.
You never got the chance to play for Real Madrid’s first team…
(Cuts in) Yes, I couldn’t play for them because only three foreigners were allowed to play for the first team then and they had so many good players. During Radomir Antic’s era, I was about to be promoted but because only three foreigners were allowed, I couldn’t break in because I was a foreigner then. But I played some friendly matches with the first team, I went to pre-season training with them and I learnt a lot. But I don’t regret not playing for Madrid’s first team. I’m grateful to God for what I have been able to achieve.
African footballers find it difficult playing for Madrid. Are they not technically good for the team?
It’s not that we are not technically good. There have not been many opportunities. Africans have played there before like the Diarras, Lassana and Mahamadou. Though Lassana played for the French national team, he has African roots, so is Karim Benzema who is with them now. But Nigerians have not been able to play for them. Maybe we need to step up our game to be able to play in the top clubs in Spain.
There are insinuations that current Nigerian league players are not committed. As someone who played in the league before moving abroad, do you think there is a difference between your time and now?
There is not much difference between now and when I played in the league but what I see is that we are not moving with the time. The structure and mentality is different. We knew what was on ground and my set of players tried to improve ourselves, which is not happening now. Football evolves but we are just stagnant, club football is not moving. Big clubs like 3SC and Rangers should have great facilities by now; these are things that should have been done in the past. They should have youth development programmes so that players who came after us would learn from where we stopped. But that is not happening right now. What we get from the players is how they are going to help their families; they are not thinking of the basics. That is the difference. We learnt from the streets the hard way. Now we have everything, but the structure is not there.
What are the basic challenges that you face as Country Manager, La Liga, in Nigeria?
We just started not quite long. We don’t really have challenges. They are building the office and we are doing everything to move forward. We don’t have any challenge right now; there is support from the South African office and Spain. At the moment, we are trying to put in place office equipment like video conferencing, so that we can have live conferences with Spain, South Africa or other La Liga offices worldwide. We are trying to install computers as well.
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