Super Eagles midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo talks about being out from football for five months, missing the AFCON, the crucial Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifying play-off versus Ghana later this month and more, in this interview with JOHNNY EDWARD
What was it like being out of football for over five months?
I’m happy about the fact that I have started playing football again after five months out. I was so disappointed because at that time I was just settling in and adapting well into the Premier League. It was not easy staying five months without kicking a ball but I’m happy to be back with the ball at my feet. It was painful for me and the coach at that time Munoz Xisco was also unhappy that I sustained the injury minutes I came on in the game against Newcastle United. It has not been easy, I must say but I’m glad to be back. It was one of the toughest moments of my career because I was in pain in the first few days but thank God my rehabilitation went well as planned and I just need more minutes to build my fitness level back again. Everything went as planned. I give God the glory that my quad surgery went well, thanks to the club’s medical staff. My major concern now is how I need to be better, strong, fully fit and good to go again. That’s my priority for now.
How did you cope mentally with the setback?
I did cope well because I had my family and friends around me. Particularly, my wife was with me always at that time. The injury came when we were expecting our second child, so we were always together and those who matter most in my life were always with me. I feel that helped conquer any fear I might have nursed at that time. Most of my teammates took time out to see me, which gave me courage to fight back to regain full fitness.
What was your reaction when you were told by doctors you won’t be able to play for that period?
I was like, ‘are you joking or what?’ In my mind, I was like ‘I didn’t break any leg’, but he (doctor) assured me that if I followed the therapy and workout diligently, I would be back running in three months, which was what exactly happened to me. It’s not a good thing to be out of your job. Even if you are off duty, you still keep an eye on what you love doing best. But sincerely, I was not happy.
How did you feel watching the AFCON on TV?
So sad, I must tell you because I love representing my country in every game and at every tournament. The players and coaches gave their best, but they were unlucky to have lost to Tunisia. That is gone now; we must focus on the next task, which is to qualify for the World Cup. That is the dream of every player I believe we can bounce back from that AFCON setback to make the nation proud again.
The Eagles face Ghana later this month in a crucial Qatar 2022 World Cup play-off. Do you think the Eagles stand a chance of qualifying for the tournament?
We need to focus on the World Cup qualification. It’s going to be tough, but I believe Ghana will not stop us. We have what it takes to qualify and I believe we will achieve this feat. They are preparing and we as well are doing everything we can to ensure we qualify for Qatar. I was in a meeting with the coaches and the Nigerian Football Federation recently and we all had one motive: to ensure we qualify for the World Cup. It’s a collective effort and I believe we will achieve this qualification dream.
Now that you’ve returned and started for Watford’s U-23s, do you think you will be ready for the game against the Black Stars?
As you already know, I have returned to training and I’m building up my match fitness with the U-23 team and I will be ready if called upon to play for my country. These are games you to want to be part of and make history. So, hopefully I pray the coaches deem it fit to call me up for the game and help the team achieve their goals. But sincerely, it will be up with the coaches to decide if I fit into their plans for the games.
The Hornets are currently battling to avoid relegation. How confident are you that the team will stay up?
I’m very confident we will stay up. It is not over until it is over. We will fight and stay up hopeful to avoid the drop and I believe that things will turn around for good. We have more games to make that happen and certainly, we will stay up. I believe we can. We have the players and with a bit of luck, we will. Everyone needs to stay together, be positive. It’s teamwork and there are a lot of games to go so I’m confident we will stay up.
Emmanuel Dennis has been outstanding for Watford this season. What kind of player is he and do you think he can help the team stay up?
Dennis is a great guy and has proven that he is one of the best in the team and in the EPL, his goals clearly show that. I hope that his goals can help the team stay up. Ismaila Sarr has also been outstanding for us, not also forgetting Moussa Sissoko.
Dennis was part of that meeting you had with the Eagles coaches in London alongside Ademola Lookman, what do you think this pair will bring to the team?
Their inclusion will bring more quality to the Eagles. You have not mentioned those already in the team. I believe with the right mix they will all deliver.