Yomi Fabiyi, a Nollywood actor and producer is a staunch football enthusiast. In this interview with ANTHONY NLEBEM, he laments Nigeria’s absence at the forthcoming Qatar 2022 World Cup, why he rates Nwankwo Kanu his best Nigerian footballer of all time and more
How do you feel about Nigeria’s absence at the forthcoming 2022 World Cup in Qatar?
Nigeria is a melting pot for football in Africa and I don’t think the African representation on the football world stage is complete without Nigeria. So sad that the Super Eagles will not be playing at the Qatar 2022 World Cup. It also shows that other African nations are doing well to also promote football talents in their various countries, it’s a sad development.
How would you rate the Super Eagles’ performance this year?
The most important thing is that it’s a World Cup year and if the Super Eagles did not qualify for the World Cup, there is nothing to rate them about. They should continue to work harder and ensure that we are there to participate in the next Mundial. I can’t rate them now, I don’t want to discourage them because they are doing their best to represent the country. All I can say is that they can do better.
The Falconets reached the quarter-finals of the U-20 Women’s World Cup, while the Flamingos won a historic bronze medal at the U-17 Women’s World Cup. What’s your opinion about women’s football in Nigeria compared to the men’s?
The most important thing is that when you look at the selection, football is a unifying factor and there are two genders in the world, male and female. Football in Africa, and Nigeria in particular, is getting better in terms of the women teams. It’s a good thing that women teams are now getting competitive in sports that people used to think were solely meant for men because it’s the same field and they even play the same 90 minutes. It shows that female football is doing well in terms of acceptability in Nigeria.
Do you think women footballers should earn equal pay as men footballers?
We can only speak about gender equality when we want to see that every match will be treated with equality. But we’ve seen lately that women’s football is beginning to attract the kind of audience and public appeal that men footballers attract. You cannot ask the football federation to be spending more than what they earn on paying wages and bonuses. There should be better publicity and packaging for women’s football so that advertisers will spend money, not just going to the stadium, but spend money buying jerseys and online betting that concerns women’s football. At the end of the day, more revenue will come into women’s football and then they will be earning almost the same as the men. So, it is not about discrimination, but in reality, women’s football is not making enough money like men’s football.
Do you have footballers that you are passionate about?
I have so many footballers that I admire, and one of my most loved footballers is Zinedine Zidane. I also love Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric and the way they play football. Marcelo, Andres Iniesta, Didier Drogba are also among a host of others that I like their football.
Do you have a Nigerian footballer that you are passionate about?
I like so many Nigerian stars: Mikel Obi, Taye Taiwo, Obafemi Martins, Nwankwo Kanu and Mutiu Adepoju.
Will you support your child to take football as a career?
I will not only support him, I will be there all the way. I can play football to an extent, but was scared of injury. If my son wants to go into football, I will support him with my full chest. But he will still have to face his studies. I will not support his love of football and running away from class.
You mentioned earlier that you played football, can you tell us more about it and why you stop playing?
I played for my school team and when I was in school, I used to go and watch some footballers train and I followed them to an extent. But this country does not encourage football talents, it is only a game of luck, not that you get encouraged by the government.
What is your view about female athletes doing better than the males in international championships in recent times?
I can’t say much because I am not into their training facilities or the kind of talent hunt available by the government. All I know in general is that the government is not encouraging these talents. Women have a way to encourage themselves, they want to move on. A man who probably has responsibilities needs to feed himself and make money. Look at the time he needs to commit to training and then he realises that he needs money to meet up with training. So when they are not getting money and need to take care of responsibilities at home, they either pull out or don’t train very well, compared to the female counterparts that are in sports and probably have their parents, siblings or fiancée supporting them. It’s not easy when you are into athletics in Nigeria, which is self-funding. If you are a man and you have a family along the line and athletics is not bringing money, you have to go and give your time to what will give you money.
There’s this rivalry between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. For you, who is the better player?
In my understanding, football today is not just about your natural skills, it’s a combination of skills and hard work. Both of them combine their natural talents and what they gathered in terms of consistency and hard work. I will rate a player like Cristiano Ronaldo, who has 40 per cent natural talent like dribbling and then to still be on top of his game higher. I will go the way of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Do you think the Nigerian government has done enough to develop the sports industry?
The government has not done enough, just little and it’s because most of the people we are electing or fortunate to find their way into the position of power, do not understand the essence of growing our sports, especially football.
Football is big business in Nigeria and it unites the nation, the government should ensure that they invest enough so that talents can be discovered and can explore themselves and make their families and the nation proud.
Who is your greatest Nigerian footballer ever?
The only person I can see if I look at the general overview is Nwankwo Kanu. He was very consistent during his playing days. Apart from winning the U-17 World Cup, he went ahead to win the Olympics in 1996 and after the Olympics, he went to three successive World Cups, 1998, 2002 and 2010. Kanu also won the UEFA Champions League with Ajax, won two Premier League titles and FA Cups with Arsenal and won the African Footballer of The Year award twice. Despite his health challenges, he pulled through and made the nation proud. Kanu is a metaphorical footballer and maintained consistency for more than 15 years.
Which sporting activities do you engage in, in your leisure time?
I play football in my leisure time, do shadow boxing and I exercise, not competitive boxing.