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I’m proud to play for Eagles – Reuben Agboola

Agboola

 

He has etched his name in the record books by becoming the first player from English football to represent Nigeria  in the Africa Cup of Nations.

But  Reuben Agboola  could  have been   denied the opportunity  to showcase his skills at the international level if his mentor Lawrie McMenemy, who  was  Sunderland  manager when Dutchman Clemens Westerhof invited the defender  to play for Nigeria, had the final say.

Westerhof was keen to shore up his defence after guiding the Super Eagles to silver in the 1990 Africa Cup of Nations in Algiers and did not restrict his search  to home-grown players.

Agboola’s attacking threat down the flank could have impressed Westerhof, who decided to have him in his team. Consequently, the  Nigeria Football Federation informed Sunderland about  the country’s interest in  Agboola but the  player was kept in the dark about the development.

“I was never told of Nigeria’s interests by Lawrie McMenemy; so when eventually I got a phone call (from the NFF)  I jumped at the chance,” the 51-year-old retired footballer told our correspondent online during the week.

London-born Agboola, who was 29 when he was invited by Westerhof ahead of a Senegal ’92 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying game against Burkina Faso in Lagos on July 27, 1991, had some problems on his way to Nigeria – for the first time.

“I didn’t have a visa, because things were rushed so much,” the father of two had told jamesmclean84.wordpress.com.

“We were at the check-in queue at Heathrow, and they wouldn’t even give me a boarding card because I didn’t have a visa.

“I was with a friend from the Nigerian FA – he was about 7ft, and dripping in Armani, who basically asked for the names of the staff at the check-in, because he wouldn’t take the rap if one of the president’s Super Eagles players wasn’t allowed into the country. We managed to get our boarding cards in the end!”

On his arrival in Lagos, the  former Southampton star  hadn’t much time to rest before a  warm-up game  at the National Stadium in Lagos ahead of the clash against the Stallions.

Westerhof  didn’t look like he did his homework before inviting Agboola.

“The first thing Westerhoff asked me was ‘what position do you play’,” the former Swansea player told our correspondent.

“It was my very first time in Nigeria on international duty.”

The Senegal ’92 bronze medallist, whose father came from Osogbo, Osun  State,  added, “We had a practice match against local Lagos side. I had not slept for 24 hours  after  our  flight (from London to Lagos)  got delayed. I played left back in the first half and right back  in the second  half. (Stephen)  Keshi got sent off and we lost  1-0.  It was a hard-fought match. I sustained a gash with the first tackle but played on, I think I earned my teammates respect.”

Agboola underlined his reputation as a force in English football  when he forced his way into the Eagles’ first team  and started in the 7-1 hammering of Burkina Faso.

Agboola  swapped Sunderland  for Swansea City  in November 1991  and was  at Liberty Stadium when Westerhof named him in his Senegal ’92  squad.

The Nigerian media hailed his inclusion in the Africa Cup of Nations squad and the player  justified his selection by  going ahead to command    starting  roles  on the right back in  Senegal.

He started  in the 2-1 defeat of Senegal (Samson Siasia and captain Stephen Keshi were on the shore sheet) and  made the starting lineup when Rashidi Yekini’s brace helped   Nigeria beat Kenya 2-1. Agboola missed the quarterfinal  match  against Zaire, which the Eagles won 1-0 thanks to Yekini’s 22nd minute strike to set-up a semifinal clash against eternal rivals, Ghana. Agboola could not save help the eagles as they slumped to a 2-1 defeat to the Blacks Stars.  The legendary Abedi Pele and Prince Polley scored for Ghana while Mutiu Adepoju  hit the back of the net for Nigeria.  Agboola  played for 90 minutes when  the Eagles defeated the Indomitable Lions   of Cameroon 2-1 in the third-place match to claim bronze.

Friday Ekpo opened the scoring for the  Eagles on 75 minutes while Emmanuel Maboang  got the equalising goal for the   Indomitable Lions 13  minutes later before Yekini  bagged the winning goal after  88 minutes.

And Agboola, who was never invited by England at any level, became an Africa Cup of Nations  bronze medallist.

Agboola says he has no regrets about choosing to represent Nigeria at international level but  he is “very proud indeed  (to wear the national colours of Nigeria)and I still have the cuttings”.

He said his father, who died last month aged 89,  and his  family encouraged him when he opted to play for the Eagles.

However,  he said  they did not influence his decision to play for Nigeria but only supported him after making up his mind to make the trip to Nigeria to play in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Burkina Faso.

Agboola said, “(It was) my decision indeed. I only got encouragement from my family. I was the very first player from English football to play in the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Senegal.”

After playing in  two USA ’94 World Cup qualifiers, Westerhof  stopped inviting Agboola. He missed out on a place in the Tunisia ’94 Africa Cup of Nations  won by Nigeria as well  as the USA ’94 World Cup.

Agboola might have fallen out of favour with the Nigeria manager  after he called it quits with Swansea  City to join a non-league  Surrey  side Woking in the summer of 1993.

The former Charlton Athletic player insists he has no regrets not winning the Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia or representing Nigeria in their first ever World Cup appearance in the United States.

“It was out of my control, so I have none (regrets),” he said.

Agboola says he  is a great fan of  Nigerian football, saying, “I still follow Nigerian football all ages”.

The ex-player is backing  the Eagles to make an impact in this summer’s World Cup in Brazil.

“I think the Eagles can give a very good account of themselves and progress to latter stages of the World Cup given the right opportunities,”  he said.

He added, “I’m not currently involved in football I work in the automobile industry but I’m planning a come back into the game I love so much.”

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