Barely two years after moving abroad from NPFL side, Enugu Rangers, former Super Eagles B player, Ibrahim Olawoyin, in this interview with ABIODUN ADEWALE talks about the transfer that made him a topflight player in Turkey and his experience during the earthquake in the European country in February
How did it all begin for you as a footballer?
I started playing football at a very tender age in my community, Jakande Ajangbadi, Lagos. I was born into a family of five boys, so, you can understand the influence. Even if you didn’t want to play, you will have brothers who know how to play. But in my case, it was natural. I have been playing football since my primary school days. I participated in several football competitions in my secondary school as well and from there I believed I could make it in football because it gave me joy and happiness. I attended Blessed Winners College at Alaba International, Lagos.
You grew up in Lagos, which has a lot of clubs, but also featured for teams in other parts of the country. What does that reflect for you?
It’s the hustle. I had to look for opportunities everywhere after featuring for different sides in Lagos and around.
How did you find life in the eastern part of the country while in the NPFL?
l enjoyed life in the east so much. I really enjoyed my stay in Enugu while playing for Rangers. The environment was conducive and I made lots of friends. The supporters of Rangers also made my stay in Enugu fruitful. The fans were accommodating. I felt the love as well.
Who was your football icon while growing up?
My football icons are Cristiano Ronaldo and Eden Hazard. I mean Hazard when he was in Chelsea, and regardless of injuries that have affected his career, the class is permanent. It’s not surprising to hear people call me Hazard when I was playing here because I modelled my game like his. A wide number 10 and I enjoyed it a lot. I still admire players like Kylian Mbappe and Vinicius Jnr who also flashed in similar roles switching between the creative player and the goal scorer.
How did your move to Turkey happen?
Yes, there was the urge to move, but I was well aware it won’t happen if I didn’t work hard. So, I worked hard in the NPFL for three seasons while I believed I should play abroad if I wanted to keep improving my game and gather enough exposure too. I needed to try my luck abroad and be more successful. That was the motivation and I would say the right offer also came.
You became an instant hit in Turkey. How did you settle in?
It was not easy for me at the start, but I thank God for my life and my career. I have this thing that anywhere I find myself, I quickly adapt to the weather, the food, the culture and so on. That was the same situation in the east, while I was playing in Nigeria. And being away from my comfort zone helps me keep my focus and discipline, especially with time management. When it comes to that, especially time for training, I don’t joke with it.
Your move from Ankara to Rizespor was baffling. You moved to a club below your team on the table and eventually secured promotion to the Super Lig. Going by how things turned out, what inspired your decision to move?
A number of clubs came for me in January, from the same league and other leagues. I already agreed in principle with Eyupspor, but Rizespor came with a project that looked achievable despite being lower than the club I played for, so, I felt it was the best for my career because they are an ambitious club. They were eager to be promoted to the Super Lig.
Was it easy taking the decision?
It was a tough decision to make. I got different advice but at the end of the day, I think we all saw the bigger picture. Now everyone is satisfied with how things turned out. It was simply God’s guidance.
Now you are in the Super Lig. Is the mission to stay and help Rizespor or jump to another topflight league in Europe?
I am someone that believes in time and season. So, I believe playing in the Super Lig next season will give me more exposure and visibility with the national team handlers. I want to focus on helping my team achieve success. I am not in a haste to jump to another league. When the time is right for me God will perfect my journey for me.
Let’s talk about the NPFL again, what are your most memorable games in the Nigerian topflight?
When I scored my first NPFL goal with Abia warriors against Yobe Desert Stars. The goal sealed the three points for my club and I still cherish the moment being my first goal in the league.
By the time you make the most of your career in Europe, would you still like to feature for an NPFL side?
Everything is in God’s hands, but with just two years I have spent in Europe, I can say it is not easy to play in the NPFL given all the circumstances. I hope the conditions will be more perfect for the players and the clubs sooner than later.
There was an earthquake in some parts of Turkey earlier this year. Did it affect you?
The Turkey earthquake was a very dangerous natural disaster that ravaged almost all the cities in Turkey, but it was not felt in Ankara, Rizespor where I was then. When it happened, we started checking on each other by calling some of our colleagues to know their conditions. I also received various calls from my family and friends back home to check on me to know if I was safe and fine. Thoughts and prayers to the lives lost, it’s not an experience to remember.
How did football move on in Turkey after the disaster?
It was not easy. Most clubs in the Super Lig and First LIG and other leagues abroad assisted the injured ones in terms of food and shelter. We were off football for a month in Turkey because of the natural disaster. So, coming back to training felt uneasy on its own. It took initiatives like some teams organising matches to raise money to cater for the needy in the rubbles to get over it. It was a long process which is still on.
You played for Nigeria as a home-based player. Now in the topflight, how is the hunger to earn a place and keep it in the Super Eagles?
Same as ever. Like I said, the focus is on my team and the Super Lig. If we excel, I will get attention and the commitment to represent my country remains 100 per cent. The time will come and I will be ready.