Monday, July 27, 2009

Efugh: NPL Attackers Were Tough Last Season

He was born on March 30, 1986 and has played for Mighty Jets and Enugu Rangers as a central defender. He spent four straight seasons at Enugu Rangers before he completed a controversial switch from the Flying Antelopes to arch-rival, Heartland Football Club, in January this year. Chinedu Efugh, 23, may not be one of the popular figures known in Nigerian football but the defender has cut his teeth in the Nigerian league and is now eyeing his first domestic title with the Naze Millionaires as Heartland FC is nicknamed when the 2009/2010 campaign gets underway in September. Efugh, who is popularly called Chicago, speaks in this interview about his controversial move from Enugu Rangers to Heartland FC as well as his regrets of last season. Excerpts:

Last season, Heartland Football Club were close to winning the title after chasing eventual champion, Bayelsa United, for longer parts of the campaign. Did you at any point believe that your team would lose the title at the end of the season after such a chase?
It was painful that we fought till the very last day of the season. Remember I joined the club around January this year and it was already the middle of the season then and Bayelsa United were still on top of the league too. We really gave our best and we had hoped that Bayelsa United would drop some points on the way but they were stronger and stronger as the season continued. I must tell you that I am disappointed because I joined the club with the hope that I would win my first league title.

There was so much controversy when you decided to join Heartland FC from Enugu Rangers. What really happened?
The truth is that Rangers gave me so much as a player in terms of exposure and I am still grateful to them. In football all over the world, there would always come a time when a player has to move to another team. Heartland wanted me and I saw it as an opportunity to play for them, not because of the money but because they are in the (CAF) Champions League. Playing in the (CAF) Champions League is an added exposure and experience to the my curriculum vitae, which at that time, Rangers could not provide for me. I am not saying that Rangers is not a good team but as a player, you do not have age on your side and there are times you have to take decisions that would be good for your career and I really hope the fans of Rangers understand that because I still miss my friends, officials and coaches at the club.

At Heartland FC, there are so many quality players in the side. How do you cope with such especially when the coach decides to start you from the bench in a particular match?
I would say that the competition at Heartland is good for the development of my game personally because I will have so much to learn from other players too. Sometimes when I sit on the bench in a match, I learn more by watching from people playing on the pitch. Apart from that, I believe that the coach has the final say in the selection of the team for any particular match involving the club.

Last season, which was your most difficult game?
I would pick the game against Sunshine Stars as the most difficult match. The match was played at the Dan Anyiam Stadium in Owerri and we won by 1-0. But I have never played such a match in my life before. I had to fight for every ball in that because it was a very physical game and Sunshine Stars lost one of their players (Ibrahim Baballe) through injury. That was my most difficult match of the season.

As a defender, which attacker did you find difficult to mark last season?
I cannot really single out any particular player. You know I started the season with Rangers before I moved to Heartland. So I would say that all the attackers that I played against last season were tough.

Why pick all of the attackers that you played against and not single one particular person?
I think there was an improvement in the way the attackers of the clubs played last season. The ones I played against were really good and they kept me busy all the time and never gave me the chance to relax because they were always running and that has helped me to understand my job as a defender.

After last season’s disappointment of missing out on the title, you must be looking forward to next season.
Yes I am. I know that in the last two seasons, Heartland has finished second and that is disappointing. I know that we can win the league next season. But winning the league is not something that can happen with the players just playing because everyone would need to do their jobs. It is a team effort to win one match and it is also a team effort to win the league, which we can do.

Before the start of the new season, Heartland will be one of the four clubs to play in the Super Four in Ilorin next month alongside Bayelsa United, Enyimba and Warri Wolves. What do you think of the competition?
It is good for us because we will begin with that competition. So we will know what to expect from the league champions, Bayelsa United as well as Enyimba and Warri Wolves when the league season begins. It will also give us the chance to play more games to prepare ourselves for the new season.

Tell me why they call you Chicago?
It started when I was small boy. As a boy I loved wearing clothes and caps or anything that had the symbol of Chicago on it. So it was from then that they started calling me Chicago.

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