Some see American animator and film producer Walt Disney’s popular saying, “If you can dream it, you can do it” as one of the rules of life you must imbibe, if you want to go the extra mile to achieve success.
That, perhaps, is what 16-year-old student of Chrisland High School, Ikeja, Ghemi Orekoya – whose big dream is to help Nigeria win the World Cup someday – has been working towards ever since he first came in contact with football.
The ambitious youngster said his interest in football started after watching one of Portuguese legend Cristiano Ronaldo’s matches at Manchester United and now he isn’t ruling out the possibility of opting for a career in football, as well as earn legendary status just like Ronaldo.
“I started playing football when I was six, then I joined an academy from my primary school. Then we had this football camp where teams from another academy trained with us,” Orekoya said.
“I was just watching one match and Ronaldo was playing for Manchester United and I got interested in the sport. I would like to go professional if the opportunity comes, it’s just passion for me and I want to be one of the players that will be remembered as a legend in the game.
“Yes, I want to play for my favourite club, Manchester United, and my dream is to win the Premier League, Champions League and the World Cup for Nigeria, if possible.
“I have been a United fan since I started watching football. Although the club is going through hard times, I’m confident that new manager Erik Ten Hag and the additional new that arrived in the summer, can help the Red Devils return to their glory days.”
Even though Orekoya was thrilled by Ronaldo when football first caught his fancy, the teenager models his game after Paolo Maldini, the retired AC Milan and Italy defender.
He was barely three when the Italian star retired from football, but watching clips of the versatile Maldini, who played as a left-back and centre-back, has helped him in his development.
“I started as a winger, but now I play mainly from left wing-back. I can also play at centre-back or as a defensive midfielder, but I’m more comfortable playing as a left wing-back.
“I like Maldini’s techniques and the way he defends, he was a very aggressive defender with so much strength during his playing days.”
On how he’s been able to successfully combine education with football, a herculean task, even for some of the most renowned sporting names, Orekoya added, “I schedule my activities for the week, I attend to my studies from Monday to Friday and mainly train with my academy, Unique Soccer Academy, at Ikeja on Saturday from 8am till 11am. I also do little training on my own at home.”
Young people shouldn’t be afraid to have big dreams, rather, they should be encouraged to dream big and realise them, Orekoya’s mum Dolapo knows this and has given her son the desired support in his bid to become a successful footballer.
As a sportsperson herself, she would rather encourage Orekoya to have big dreams to grow into, rather than small dreams to grow out of, or no dreams at all.
“I support him, even while growing up. I will surely support any of my children that have interest in sports,” Dolapo said.
“As regards his choice of the club he wants to play for, I’m not a football fan, so I will not dictate the club for him. His father is a Man United fan, maybe he might (want to play for them).”
Dolapo added, “Sports run in the family, I was the handball captain while I was in secondary school. I played badminton for Ogun State and represented the state at the Bendel ’81 and Kwara 85 National Sports Festival. And for him, right from his days in primary school, I know that he has this flair for football and I have been encouraging him, taking him to the field and watching him play.”
Orekoya added that his parents and coach gave him their full support after noticing his keen interest in the round leather game.
“My parents are very much in support of me playing football, but they will prefer I’m through with my education first, and get a degree before I start my career in football. In school, I’m a very shy player, it was my coach that spotted me when I was in JSS1, he saw me play and invited me to Unique Soccer Academy.
“I’ve been with them for about five years now. He shows me what I’m doing wrong, what I’m doing right and how I can get better. Initially, I had problems with my stamina, but he gave me instructions on what to do and that helped me a lot, now, I can play for 90 minutes.”
Recently, Orekoya was crowned MVP of a mini football tourney organised by the DOA Foundation and the family of Mike Adebiyi Sept 24 to keep alive Daniel Oreoluwa Adebiyi’s dream of becoming a professional footballer.
“It’s the only individual award that I’ve won and I’m very happing winning it because I wasn’t expecting it in the first place. I just played my game, but after the first game, my coach told me if I play very well in the second match I could have a chance of winning it. I did not know that there was a cash reward attached to the award, but when they told me that the cash attached was N200, 000, I was very happy.”
With his latest feat, Orekoya may just have started his journey to football stardom, epitomising Disney’s philosophy, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”