Flying Eagles’ 1985 World Youth Championship bronze winner and former Super Eagles defender, Waidi Akanni bares his mind in this exclusive interview with Austine Akhilomen on how playing for the Super Eagles changed his life and why Arsene Wenger remains the best for Arsenal.
Do you think representing the Super Eagles truly changed your life?
There is nothing as great as playing for your country because it’s a rare privilege that does not come everyday. Nothing could be compared to this no matter the number of matches I must have played for the Super Eagles. So playing for my country remains my greatest moment.
Having studied Engineering at Howard University, to what extent did you practicing your profession?
I have practiced my profession from the point of retiring from the national senior team, and since done lots of things within the country that I am always proud of. The idea that football was my first priority because of the money it fetches me maybe right, however, I also want to point out that I have never neglected my duty in terms of discharging my professional responsibility as an engineer. My educational platform has really created so many opportunities for me and I see no reason to run away from my profession.
Which trophy did you regret not being able to win as a player while playing for the Super Eagles?
The 1994 Nations Cup in Tunisia. I had every opportunity of being part of the team but due to my determination to accomplish my engineering course at Howard University, I missed the chance to also lift the trophy. Maybe it’s just destiny but I still feel sad not having been part of the winning team led by Clemens Westerhof.
Do you have any of your children playing football?
Yes of course. Two of my children are playing football in their various schools and I am glad that they are doing fine. Two of my boys are footballers and they play in the US and Holland.
Would you support the idea that ex-footballers deserve government support after retirement from football?
To some extent, I would say yes because they served their fatherland. There is nothing bad if the government decides to create a fund that will serve as a benefit for players that represent their country. Sometimes, the government should always consider that we are human beings like them and it will cost them nothing if they show some sort of support to ex-internationals that have done the nation proud.
Do you support government ownership of football clubs in the country?
To some extent I would say no because there will always be some sort of interference in terms of decision making in the clubs. Since the financial resource comes from the owner, which is the government, you don’t expect anything different to happen of course. The majority of Nigerian professional clubs are owned by the government and they often delay releasing funds to pay their players. That’s why you see some players complaining of unpaid salaries or weekly allowances and you expect them to play out their best. Only when we change this mentality will things not remain the way they are for the future.
Any regrets playing for Nigeria?
I don’t think I have any regrets because the popularity that I gained today is due to the fact that I played for the different levels of the national team. I am always grateful to those people who made it possible for me. If I had my way, I wouldn’t mind battling for a jersey with the current crop of players on the Super Eagles.
Going international, which of the club do you support?
I support Arsenal even though I still prefer supporting our domestic clubs because that is where lots of us started from and I see no reason why I should be giving the European clubs more prominence. However, I love Arsenal because of their style of football and for the fact that they will always make you enjoy your money and time. The truth is, I am a true fan of Arsenal and will always be a Gunner except if the unusual happens.
Is Arsene Wenger a specialist?
Arsenal’s Wenger is a specialist because he’s a coach that will always want to deliver at every given time. As you know, Jose Mourinho is a coach that will always do everything to ensure that he gets media attention. As for me, Wenger remains a very good coach that will always represent Arsenal’s football culture.