Ex-Super Eagles defender Abdul Sule still remembers vividly the intrigues that led to his exclusion from the USA ’94 World Cup and tells ’TANA AIYEJINA how it all happened.
During the formative years of professional football in Nigeria in the early 1990s, Abdul Sule was one of several players who brought glamour to the game at the topflight level playing for Super Stores.
With teammates like Ganiyu Ajide, Stephen Botchway, Teslim Fatusi, Ike Shorunmu, Hakeem Ogunlade, Tokunbo Gbadamosi and Ghanaian striker, Arthur Moses, the Flaming Flamingoes, as Stores were called, held sway in the domestic league, winning the FA Cup and league title in 1990 and 1992 respectively.
His week-in, week-out displays endeared him to then Super Eagles coach, the Dutchman Clemens Westerhof, who gave him and several other domestic league players the opportunity to wear the country’s colours at a high level.
“I felt great on my first invitation to the Eagles because it was not an easy task for a player based at home,” said the versatile player, who played as a striker at club level but was used as a right-back in the Eagles.
“I actually played in the defence for Eagles because of the quality strikers we had then. Westherhof decided to play me in defence due to my speed but in my club, I always played in attack.”
Even though Sule gave a good account of himself in the team, he was dropped from the party to Nigeria’s first ever World Cup appearance in the United States of America in 1994.
Several other quality players in the team like Nduka Ugbade, Friday Ekpo and Isaac Semitoje were also dropped but 17 years after that sad event, Sule insists he merited a place on the squad to the World Cup, saying Westerhof was influenced to drop him from the squad.
Sule says, “I was excluded from the trip to the USA because I was not playing in Europe and again, a player whose name I don’t want to mention was picked in place of me because he had a godfather in the NFA.
“Westherhof told me at the gala nite orgnised for the team before they left for the World Cup at Sheraton or Eko Hotel, I can’t remember clearly now, the reason why I was excluded but I don’t want to comment on that.”
But Sule is not one to hold grudges and still rates Westerhof as a good coach despite the huge disappointment.
Westerhof is a good coach who had good plans for Nigerian players but the bad eggs in the football association influenced him and he started having problems choosing the right players. I believe he is the best coach Nigeria ever had.
“They should have allowed him to do his job; he brought players like me, (Daniel) Amokachi, Precious (Monye), (Edema) Fuludu and others to the limelight. He gave power to home-based players, though I was the only home-based player playing regularly before I was dropped from the team to the World Cup.”
Sule says the Dutchman didn’t favour some players above others, but admits the presence of the ‘Eagles mafia’, whom he says didn’t want him in the team.
“I don’t know about that (Westerhof’s favouritism). I only know I was assured of my place in the team due to my performance but the Eagles mafia tried to stop him (Westerhof) from using me because I was a home-based player.
“There were lots of factions in the team despite the fact that we were winning. The NFA was always the problem and we still have the same people there today; it’s unbelievable.
“If these people still remain there we are going to have problems with our national team. We need to wipe the house and get new people. I don’t know if the new ones will be better but let’s try something new.”
The retired player still rues his exclusion from Nigeria’s first World Cup and even though he later got deals to play abroad, he never could find his way back to the national team.
“It was terrible because I was not excluded due to bad performance but because people in the association used their power as godfathers; it really hurts.
“There were lots of problems after Westerhof left and people who came after him had their own players too. I don’t want to go into details,” he adds.
However, Sule focused fully on his pro career and made a name for himself in Denmark, where he was at a point the most expensive player.
He recounts his sojourn in Europe and Asia, “I started my career abroad at Antalya Sport in Turkey but my time there was disastrous. I started well there but due to injury I decided to stop my career for a while.
“I then joined Qatar SC where I was among the top scorers before I moved to Denmark to play for Herning. There I also became the top scorer before moving in 2000 for a then-Danish record DKK9m to Akademisk Boldklub. I also played for Koge and AC Horsens and then on to Malaysia in 2007 from where I called it quits at Johor FC.”
The former Eagles defender, who began his career at hometown club NUB of Kaduna and also played for BCC Lions, presently resides in Denmark and is involved in coaching and scouting.
“I live in Denmark now after my football career ended. Presently I am a coach with HIK in Denmark and I am also involved in scouting. I work with kids playing street football all over Denmark; I am used as a role model to them.”