The 2017 Freestyle Football prize-winner, McCarthy Obanor, has advised the Nigerian Government to take a cue from other nations to promote Freestyle Football (Ball Juggling) to the international standard as elixir to the growing unemployment rate in the country. The winner of the Nigerian maiden edition, organized by Feet ‘n’ Tricks Limited, led by Kanu Nwankwo, admonished the youths, to developed talents that promotes their cause to forestall lingering economic hardship in the land. He spoke with DAILY ASSET’s SHOLA AKINGBOYE and MATTHIAS SHANKYULA in Abuja Excerpts:
Champion McCarthy Obanor on stage
As a professional football joggler, and recently a winner of the national coveted Freestyle Championship, how did it all start?
It all started when I was very young, I love going to the stadium to watch football. It was in the course of my one of my visits to the stadium that I met a guy Israel Majesty by name, whose scintillating performance as a football freestyler actually inspired me. I walked up to him, asked him if he used magic. He said no, that it was all about practicing that if you work hard, one can do what he was doing. That was his response.
And what followed?
As I got home, I told my mother I needed a ball. She bought me a N100 ball with which I started practicing with every day, though the guy name (Israel Majesty) still rings bell in my mind. That was in 2006, but in 2009, there was a coveted competition hosted by Red Bull Star brand, which was a global competition for football freestyler. Meanwhile, there was the local championship of the same event in Nigeria, which qualifies the overall winner to compete at the international stage of the competition.
Did you join the race?
Though I got information about it somehow late, I still went ahead to participate at the Lagos event, where I came third. It was one Abeeb Makanjuola, who is currently playing for Leicester City Academy that emerged the winner of the Nigeria segment. The three of us, the runners up proceeded to South Africa to represent Nigeria. It was amazing, seeing another African freestyler performed brazenly in South Africa, which impressed me a lot. I equally went to the guy to intimate me on how he arrived at such feat. He lends me words of encouragement to be focused and to ensure that I got on-the-job education in the social media.
How did you do it?
I followed his advice to the letter in my trainings, to the extent of using the bulk of my school allowance to log on to internet wherever I could find one. In fact, it was in South Africa that I actually developed the mindset of a true Freestyler. I have performed at different locations; market place, on the street, churches, even I have performed before Okada riders who donates as low as N50 to me. This includes military establishments that made me to become popular in Warri and environs, before I proceeded to Abuja.
How did you feel, emerging the winner of the first edition of the Nigeria National Freestyle Championship?
I was excited , quite happy winning the car and the N1,000,000 price, though I knew what I was going there to win, as a result of my hard trainings on daily basis. I train more than I eat in order to win the championship.
How did your emergence as champion impact your live, winning a brand-new car and N1000,000 price?
(Laugh) It really did. Until now, I trek the street to attend shows. It is either I took keke or okada, but now it is a different ball game. I command more respect attending events with my star-prized car. This has also helped in raising my standard of payments.
Did you see Abuja as a new haven for Freestylers to succeed, that made you live Warri?
It was after I felt apart with my manager at the time that I moved. I became independent in Abuja, but later attended two major competitions called Gold Talent Competition in the FCT, where I got to the semi-final stage on two-consecutive times, between 2012 and 2013, but I was not deterred by such, today the rest is history.
Did you ever envisage that one day, this might take you somewhere in history?
I have strong hope and believe if I trained hard, I will surely get somewhere, more importantly because of those super stars I met while travelling, seeing them with the likes of Okocha, Kanu, Babajide and co, I have strong conviction I can meet these icons as well.
You are supposed to represent Nigeria at Prague, Czechoslovakia Republic, as the champion of the National Freestyle Championship, what happened as you didn’t?
It was due to the problem encountered by Feet ‘n Thrill, the organizers of the event, which affected the Visa process, including the organizers, that we were supposed to attend the global competition together.
Is there no government recognition or backup?
None at all, no government involvement as of now?
Is the Freestyle game in Nigeria of international standard?
Yes of course, it is. All the government needs to do is to give it, its rightful place in Nigeria, which will encourage participation among the Nigerian youths to represent the country at the global freestyle competitions.
As the first to win the nationally coveted cup, what are your expectations from government on this game?
The most important thing is that, government should come in, and raise the standard of the Nigerian national championship. Government must invest in it just as the organizer, Feet ‘n’ Tricks International did last year. Even as a private organizer, the company invested about N25,000,000, which could not do much, due to the growing nature of the game in Nigeria.
What other area are you looking at?
I will want the government to look at it from the entertainment industry’s end. For example, Davido, Whizkid among others are doing wonderfully well, but we, the freestylers can only boast of three among us who are living well.
I will want governments at all level to look in our direction, by promoting the Freestylers game to keep our youths away from social vices. As of today, many Freestylers are suffering and cannot boast of daily bread, but if government can give it a necessary recognition through the Ministry of Youth and Sport, and enlist the game as one of the emerging athletic game in Nigeria. This will go a long way to create employment among the Nigerian youth, gets our youths busy, including reducing the numbers of destitute on the street.
Are you religious or one that attributes achievements to share luck?
Yes, I am, I always give God the glory for His support and blessings.
Do you have sponsors or open to sponsorship on your talent?
As of now, I have none. I shoulder my finances and responsible solely for my expenditures right now. Having said that, I am open to sponsorship or anyone who offers to promote my vision.
Apart from competing in major events, does the game fetch your upkeep?
Yes, it has been the bedrock of my livelihood. I used to perform at recreation centers, such as hotels, gardens and at certain occasions where some pays at month end. My weekends from Fridays are tight days for me.
Are you looking up to any international competition soon?
Of course, I have been informed by the organizers of the last competition, of their preparation for the 2018 edition of the event, even with assurance that, comes what may, being the maiden champion of the 2017 edition, I will be representing the country in Prague, Czech, in case the 2018 championship is not hosted Nigeria, including joining in another competition of similar nature.
How is your preparation for the 2018 edition in Nigeria?
I train three hours daily, except on Sundays. I hope to emerge the next champion, and with God on my side. I hope to make history again.
What separate you from your competitors in the last edition?
Freestyle football is all about, being creative, style, control and technical know-how. Some might have talents, but not creative and technical. But my own role model is Andrew Anderson, the world Freestyler football champion, from whom I copy my styles and which gave me the edge over contemporaries.
What is your advice for the Nigerian youth, most especially the jobless ones in the face of unemployment situation in the country?
My message to the Nigerian youths are, they should take a look at the economic situation; they should join in discovering new talents to change our nation for better, share such among others in order to developed the ideas to a beneficial standard. Let them also make use of the internet for the good side of it, which really helped me greatly in this journey.
McCarthy Obanor on stage