Abu Bolaji Azeez is a Nigerian Super Sand football player, who took to playing football on the streets of Lagos at age 7 and afterwards, started playing professionally after being discovered by Julius Berger in 2008. He is known as Nigeria’s all time highest goal scorer in beach soccer. In this exclusive interview, he shares his journey with us showing how he’s been able to experience career success so far.
– By Toyin Eleniyan
Q: What was it like when you first got started? Did you face objections, oppositions? How did you start?
A: I faced a lot of issues when I joined the team because at that period, I was the youngest and smallest player on the team. 90 percent of the players on the team played for Enyimba, Kano Pillars, and other big teams in the Nigerian league. Back then, I wasn’t even playing the league at all, so I was new to everything and they were players that I couldn’t even look straight in the eye. So it wasn’t easy fitting in.
But thank God I scaled through. I had a few players that I was comfortable with, like Isiaka Olawale and Igbenebu Ikechukwu (mosquito). That was just my escape route.
Q: You are the highest ranked beach soccer player in Nigeria. Kindly share some strategies that would be useful for budding beach soccer players?
A: For some time now, I have been one of the most famous beach soccer players in Nigeria. But it hasn’t be a very easy task for me. I try as much as possible to get knowledge from players I’m close to and add to my own personal knowledge. I also surf the internet a lot to learn from foreign players as well.
A: As an athlete, celebrating little milestones helps build confidence. Share some of the milestones you hit early on in your career that gave you the confidence to continue.
A: The match against Brazil in 2011, right here in Lagos was one of the biggest matches I played as a beach soccer player. At that time, Brazil was the defending champion and the best team in beach soccer. We were to play against them in the final match and we had a lot of promises coming our way if we won against Brazil. Luckily for me, immediately we started the match, I scored in the first half. By the grace of God, that match ended with 9-4against Brazil, and I scored 5 out of the 9 goals. That really gave me the confidence and belief that I can get to the highest level in beach soccer. That has made me train harder whenever there is a tournament so I can be consistent.
Q: A lot of Nigerians believe that big breaks are simply strokes of luck. You must have had some big break as well. Share with us.
A: Asides hard work, I think I have been very lucky because there are a lot of tournaments we have gone to where I ended up scoring the most goals, whether or not I played in the first match. For example,there was a tournament we played in South Africa and I was the highest goal scorer, not because I was the best because our team didn’t even come first or second.
Q: What mistakes do you see upcoming beach soccer players make that seem to take a toll on their careers?
A: In football, you can lose concentration for one second and your team mate will cover up for you but in beach soccer, losing concentration in just a second can damage the team play for that game.
You also need to be very fit, tactically and technically disciplined. Also, when most players start playing for big leagues, they stop doing research to keep themselves updated about the sport, so continuous learning from experts is important.One mistake many up and coming beach soccer players make is that they think beach soccer is 100% similar to the normal grass football. It’s not.
Q: How has sports been a source of empowerment to you?
A: Sports has really empowered me. If not for football, I don’t think I would have left the shores of this country. But now, I have gotten a little fame, to the level where I am recognised in the world of beach soccer as one of the 50 best players in the world and I have even played at the beach soccer world cup. I have gotten to a level where I can look back and say I have tried. I have not gotten to where I want to be but sports has really empowered me. I’m really proud of it and myself.
Q: How are you empowering other young players to the possibility of beach soccer?
A: Empowering up and coming beach soccer players is a good one for me because I came from the street and it would be nice for me to give back to the street. Right now, I’m working on various projects and I think very soon, I will let the cat out of the bag. I’m working on a beach soccer project in my local government. I am also working on my Youtube channel where I will post videos of my beach soccer matches, trainings and goals, so up and coming players can view and learn more. I also plan on teaching beach soccer to primary and secondary school students. I hope they will eventually see that not everybody can play the normal grass football; for some of us, beach soccer is ideal.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Spark magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.