Abstinence from alcohol, womanising secret of my long career — Ali


Kano Pillars captain, Rabiu Ali, 43, in this interview with ABIODUN ADEWALE talks about his sojourn in the NPFL, playing for the home-based Eagles, the pains of not playing abroad and many more

How are you finding life on your return to the NPFL and do you think your targets are still intact?

It’s very unfortunate we were relegated last season but we picked ourselves up and returned to the NPFL. Pillars are known for high performance in the league, which usually earns us the first and second spots in the table. For this season, the club is made up of young players willing to give their best to the team. One of them is Yusuf Abdullahi, who scored five goals in our game against Gombe United. And of course, for this new season, we will do everything possible to reclaim our position in the league table, we want to make sure we finish in the top four.

At 43, you recently reminded people that you weren’t retiring soon, what’s the secret of your long club career?

Football is something you enjoy doing, so, when it’s time to quit your body will give you the signals that you’re tired. So, this long time I took in playing football is not something I did for myself or someone did but it is God’s privilege and His will. And you know as a Muslim, I do everything it takes to avoid any form of vices that will affect my health, for instance, womanising, drinking alcohol and all sorts. I also take heed to advice from the coaching crew, which is quite beneficial to my health status and has aided my longevity in the game.

Imagine life without football for you, what would you have been?

Well, even before football I was a businessman. I sold mattresses and beds. I still do and after retirement, that’s what I intend to go back to. And you know, footballers make money to a reasonably large extent, so I’ve diverted most of my income to the business, so, life will be easy for me after retirement.

How did it all begin for you as a footballer and why were you given the nickname ‘Pele’?

It all started from my primary school down to secondary school. I will say grassroots because I also played very well on the streets of Fagge in Kano. I played for clubs like Soccer Boys, Zumunta, Junior Fancy and Soccer Strikers before I was scouted by Kano Pillars and now, I am here. I got the name Pele from my mates and those who watched me then. I just realised everyone started calling me the name because of my abilities. I am grateful to Allah for the transition.

Having played for Pillars all these years in the NPFL, how strange was it to be relegated, before returning to the league after one season?

Truly it was a difficult situation for me and the entire team. A lot of fans wanted me to change club but I felt it was very inappropriate to do so because we’ve been with this team through happy and sad times. And we had our younger ones looking forward to us and I didn’t want them to come into the team at that bad time as well. Therefore, I was patient. If they inherited the club in that difficult time, I don’t think they would forgive us, knowing that I could have stayed and helped the club again. I and other players stayed and eventually got promoted back to the league.

After almost two decades in the league, which game brings the biggest rivalry for Pillars?

In all honesty, the biggest rivalry game I have played for Pillars was our match against Enyimba in 2006. The match was played at our home, the Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano, but was later taken to Lokoja because of a pitch invasion from the home fans. Our matches with Katsina United too are always heated because of the intensity and the proximity.

Do you have personal records of your games and goals?

There are a whole lot of events that I can’t keep track of but for the goals, I think it’s over 100 for Kano Pillars.

Can you remember your first goal for Pillars?

Honestly, I have forgotten.

Who are the best players you’ve played with and against in the league?

I have played with a whole lot of very good legs in the game, both home-based and outside the country. Players like Ahmed Musa, Shehu Abdullahi, Gambo Mohammed, Umar Zango, Junior Lokosa and many others.

You seem not to be interested in football after retirement, why?

Just like I said already, after my retirement, I won’t be considering coaching as a career. I am a businessman and I’d rather return to my business so that I can spend more time with my family unlike now that you’re not always there. Every day you’re not always around and the children keep growing without you being there for them, even though they have people taking care of them. Sometimes they wish you could also be with them often.

Would you allow your children to play football as well?

Although we faced difficulties from our parents during our time, I said my children wouldn’t play football because in my house I don’t allow it. But of course, you don’t follow the kids to school or the playground. If my child chooses to play, I will support him because that’s what he has opted to do, but he has to complete schooling before considering football.

You were banned for 12 games in the NPFL in 2019 over an incident at the Agege Stadium. How did you handle the controversy that followed?

Honestly, I won’t forget that in my career, I was disturbed and wasn’t happy about it. Family, friends and fans were not happy about it because it was just a small situation which was escalated and eventually led to the ban. Honestly, I regret it; it was never my person to do that.

You led the Super Eagles B to the final of CHAN 2018. Would you say that’s the best moment of your career?

Yes, I can say it is because a lot of players want to play for the country at any level but don’t have the opportunity. I thank almighty Allah for that experience even though we lost the final, but it’s a moment to reckon with in my career.

How did you feel when the Eagles lost the final 4-0 to Morocco?

I wasn’t happy with the result, I felt really bad but that’s what God had planned, and the weather conditions were not favourable because there was rain and cold weather, which affected our performance. It was a final and we lost 4 0 without a consolation goal. It was really painful.

You played for Pillars in your entire career. Any regrets about not going abroad?

You know, if God already destined something to happen, nobody can change it. Most of the players look for greener pastures outside the country but for me, it’s otherwise although I do sit and wonder why I remained at home because most of my friends are either in Europe or Arab countries earning big money. But I think the major factor that affected me was my age. A mistake was made during one of the CHAN games I played and that was what caused the age factor. The mistake was made by one of the CHAN secretaries and most of the team crew knew about it. So, I made up my mind afterwards to continue playing in the NPFL. If the opportunity to go abroad comes, fine, and if not, that’s God’s will.