I wanted to be the next Okala – SeyiLaw


Ace Nigerian comedian Lawrence Aletile, popularly known as SeyiLaw, talks about his passion for Arsenal, the chances of the Gunners winning the EPL title and more in this interview with EBENEZER BAJELA

Which football club do you support?

I am an ardent Arsenal fan and I have been supporting the club since 1999.

Arsenal had an eight-point margin between them and Manchester City but blew it to two, with City just two points behind and two unplayed games. Do you think the Gunners have lost the league title?

I think Arsenal still have a chance of winning the league and all we need to do is to just try and win the remaining games and hope that other results are in our favour. This is not the time to throw in the towel and I still hold on to the belief that we can go on to win the EPL title for the first time since 2005. It is true that Mikel Arteta made some mistakes in the last three games before the match against City, trying to reinstate Gabriel Jesus into the team because while he was away the front three of Gabriel Martineli, Bukayo Saka and Eddie Nketiah were working together perfectly. So, why change it? He should have left the front three and introduced Jesus as a substitute, but what has happened has happened and the truth is we can only judge from here, but we can’t really influence his decisions. Going forward, I hope we can do better.
Anything is possible in football, but as an ardent Arsenal follower, I am very optimistic and hopeful that this year we can win the EPL title after a very long time.

Arsenal surprisingly broke the December poor performance jinx and exceeded expectations. What do you think has changed under Arteta?

I think the fact that we have quite a bit of substitutes that are equally capable of starting matches even though we still need more in that regard is responsible for the impressive performance so far this season. If you look at the Manchester City side, there are several players that are on the bench that can at any time feature in the first XI of any other top team. Arsenal need to get more players like that, but I think Arteta has been able to manage the squad very well and keeping them away from fatigue until recently. For instance, the last few matches have shown that Saka is a little bit tired, but we hope that he can recover well to keep the momentum going.

Following recent results, there has been panic among some Arsenal fans. Are you equally worried that the league is gone?

I am not worried at all. People expected us to falter after the first half of the game against Southampton and thought the second half would have gone worse but we were able to rally back and got a draw. For me, that shows the passion and resilience of the team and we should give it to them. If fans start losing hope on the team it means we will not give them the right energy to function. Liverpool have done badly this season but whenever they are playing at Anfield and you are there you need to feel the energy from their fans and I think that is something that Arsenal fans should imbibe.

Even if Arsenal lose out on the EPL title, they will play in the Champions League after a long time, next season. Are you content with that?

I remain hopeful that we are going to win the league. I am not giving up yet because it is already certain that we will be playing in the Champions League next season and that is quite something to be happy about. But I know that we can take it a step further by winning the league.

Moving away from Arsenal, were you involved in sporting activities while growing up?

I played a lot of street football until probably when I was going to SS1 and I was becoming too stubborn, then I was banned from playing football. I used to be a great goalkeeper then and I remember (Emmanuel) Okala was my role model and I would write his name on the back of my shirt with a pen with number one. Then I used to praise him as ‘Okala Kakoko’ and I wanted to be another Okala back in the day. Best Ogedegbe, Peter Rufai all motivated me then to be a goalkeeper.

You talked about being stubborn, can you give shed more light on that?

I think it was when I was in JSS3, my life was taking a bit of a turn because I was in boarding school and I was gradually turning out to be a wayward boy. I remember there was a time I was given my school fees and I spent it without paying a dime to the school. My school teachers used to see me as a good boy, but my friends knew I was a bit of a bad kid. They had to change me from boarding to day school and put me under strict supervision. At some point, I spoke to myself and asked if that was how I really wanted my life to be or become after how my mother suffered. I think that kind of changed my approach to life and became better.

If you had remained in boarding school, would you have continued football?

Definitely yes because I would have been very good. I remember how I used to make some wonderful saves. And even after several years of not going near football, the day I celebrated my 10th year anniversary, I organised a novelty match and I was in between the goalposts, I still made some very good saves and my friends in the industry were surprised and told me that I was very good and I told them I hadn’t even done that for almost 20 years. That is the thing with talent, it just comes back naturally, even if you haven’t done it for years. I was like, ‘it seems I still have this talent’, but God knows best.

Watching football today from your home and seeing some keepers, which of these shot-stoppers can you confidently say you would have been better than if you had pursued your career in football?

If I had continued as a keeper, I probably would have been better than Jens Lehman of Arsenal because he caused us the league title some years back. But then looking at his records at Arsenal, you want to give it to him because at one point he had the highest run without conceding a goal in 2006. He might have ended his career with a little bit of disaster because he was having eye issues, but I think he was a very good goalkeeper. But obviously, I would have been better than Manuel Almunia.

Looking back, will you say you regret not playing football?

I won’t say that, because at some point going professional and getting into the national team was a tedious task. And who knows if probably I had continued I wouldn’t have become a professional player as I expected because I needed to remind people that my secondary school, Methodist Boys High School, Lagos was the school Sunday Oliseh finished from. Also, the first President of Nigeria Nnamdi Azikiwe finished from there and he dabbled a little bit into boxing. So, in terms of sports, the school produced some great athletes and I remember there was a guy who played cricket very well, he finished before me. Maybe I would have gone professional but with comedy, I don’t regret it at all. Comedy has paid the bills and there is nothing I wanted more than to take care of my mother and comedy helped me achieve that.