In the concluding part of an exclusive interview, Nigeria’s super agent Atta Aneke speaks on why Nigeria stars, from Mikel Obi to Odion Ighalo, have thrived in Norway and why this is the favourite destination on your way to the big leagues of Europe.
He also speaks on his experiences and what has made him stand out despite cut-throat competition in the football business.
SCORENigeria: Considering the high cost of living in Norway as a country, why then would a Nigerian player who is interested in playing in Europe be interested in choosing Norway. What kind of presentation would you do to such player to convince him that Norway is a good place to start from?
ATTA ANEKE: First of all, I’ll use the example of Nigerian players who moved to Norway and did exceptionally well before they moved up to the bigger leagues, you have John Obi Mikel, Chinedu Obasi, Odion Ighalo, Anthony Ujah, Nosa Igiebor, Aaron Samuel, Fegor Ogude, all of them eventually ended up playing for Nigeria. So, Norway as a starting point, I believe is the best in the world.
There is nothing like racism in the league, Nigeria players are well respected, when you come, you don’t start in an academy, you actually go straight to the main team, you play games and in every game there are between five and 10 scouts from different clubs in Germany and all these leagues, that’s where they love picking players from.
So, this is why I believe it is the best starting point and if you look at some other leagues where Nigerian players go, they go into their academy, they are not actually paying that much. If you go to Portugal, you look at the Nigerians there, the salary now is decent, you don’t get rich the but you have a good life, the salary comes in time and you have the opportunity to where ever and you see many Nigerians going to big league first, but they end up coming back to Norway to join a team on loan.
I believe for me it’s one of the best places, it’s not one of the toughest leagues or the best league in the world, but it gives you opportunity take your game to the next level. For me it’s a fantastic place.
Norway is your base – you live there, you work there, but where else do you have strong contacts?
The thing is, if I have to be honest with you, if a have 12 good players, I’ll have visa for all 12. For me, I also teams in Denmark, Sweden, Russia and everywhere asking me to recommend them players, but for me it’s very important to be close the players, to bring the players to somewhere I am close to, where I can guide them, where I can give them the right support for them achieve and go to the next level.
So, if you look at my player list, I have players in Germany, in Israel, in China, in Denmark, in England, everywhere, but of course Norway is my main base.
Why would you take a player to China?
China to be honest is all about the money, for some players to secure their future. And sometimes, I will give you the example of Aaron Samuel. He was playing with Sarpsborg 08 in Norway and the team who were trying to sign him were wasting too much time and at that point he really wanted to move and nobody was willing to pay the asking price of Sarpsborg.
So, when Sven-Goran Eriksson came to Norway and watched him, he sat down with me and him, he convinced us and we made that move, and he still got the opportunity to move to CSKA Moscow later.
You could say these players are happy, meaning financially and otherwise?
If you speak to Chima Chukwu, also if you speak to Leke James in Beijing and speak to some other Nigerians there like Obafemi Martins, I believe they will tell you that life is also good there and for some guys it’s also important to be financially stable.
We also have example of Fred Friday who I took to AZ Alkmaar in the summer, he also had an offer from China worth more than a million Euros net a year, but he chose to go to AZ.
It’s not as if I recommend my player to go to China, but we sit down I give them the pros and cons of going to China and then it’s up to them to take the decision based on what I put on the table.
What have been some of your transfers over the years that have been most fulfilling for you personally?
Financially, of course Odion Ighalo and Aaron Samuel, those are big big transfers, but sometimes pleasure for me would for example be Uduak Idemokon going to IK Start.
He came to Lillestrom on trials, but they did not give him a contract, so too Greenland. They liked him, they wanted to take him back, but he did not get the visa because of some misunderstandings. So I managed to convince Start to take him on a free loan with an option to buy.
I didn’t make a single kobo. I actually used my own money to make the transfer go through.
It’s not about the money for me, it’s the project, seeing what looks impossible and making it happen, that’s what also give me as much as joy as making good money in another transfer.
Suleman Abdullahi ‘Daddy’ made great move to Bundesliga 2 from Viking only for him to suffer a long-term injury.
He did very well in the preseason, they were happy with him before the injury. It was a very strong step that he took after we got offers from MLS among others, but German second Bundesliga is a perfect stepping stone after the Norwegian league
Do you get worried if your players don’t get national team call- ups?
No, because one thing I have never done and people thinks that if you have one, two, three players in the national team means you bribe somebody, you have spoken to the coach.
I believe that the players should just keep doing well, then if he’s called up, it should be based on merit, so I am not worried about any national team.
Of course, it’s a great pleasure when you have a player in the national team, but the national team doesn’t pay your bills, it’s a great honour, but don’t kill yourself, when it’s time you’ll get your chance.
Have the fluctuating fortunes of the Super Eagles affected your business over time, like if we don’t qualify for the AFCON, does that not affect the value of the Nigerian player on the market?
It will always affect in a way because each time you speak to the team, they’ll ask is Nigeria not in Nations Cup or why are they not in the World Cup. Of course it makes them maybe look to other markets, thinking that the league is better in those places because their national teams are doing better.
But it seems that the new national team after the new coach came are better because the coach picks you based on what you do in your club in Europe. It looks like at least Nigeria is doing better and better now.
Which also means good business for you.
Ifeanyi Mathew was one player you took to Norway last summer. The Lillestrom sports director said what really amazed him about Ifeanyi was that he quickly adapted to life more than even expected., What more can you say about Ifeanyi?
What I’ll say is that he also impressed me with his fantastic mentality. The same way he was when he came for trials was the same way he was when he started scoring goals and doing well in the league.
He is humble, he’s hard working, he treats everybody with respect and these are the qualities you need to succeed to be a great player not only on the field of play, you could see that this guy has pure class.
How far do you think he could go?
I believe that he can play well in a league like the Bundesliga or any top league in Europe. I believe if he continues to do well, he will soon be in one of the top leagues.
Any interest so far?
Yes, already there’s been interest. In the summer or after the season he will attract bigger teams. I think we should be a little bit patient and not jump to the first offer. There’s been interest from MLS for instance straight away, but I don’t think it is the right step for a player like him.
No interest from any of the big clubs in Norway?
Yes, people have noticed him, but everybody knows that he just came, so they know that Lillestrom will like to hold on to him at least for six months more, but already now there are scouts watching his games and I know that some of them have noted his name, but he has not played many games, they still need to see more of him, but he’s obviously a player who teams will have a look at.
You have maintained coming down to stage scouting tournaments in Nigeria. Who are some of the players you discovered this way?
Aaron Samuel, for one. In 2013, he left his club in the premier league, came to Abuja, showed himself and look at where he’s now making millions of Euros a year and all due to the fact that we came down.
If you look at what he did in the league in the same year, I think he had zero or one goal, and if I just sat in the office and say no, he only scored one goal in the league, he wouldn’t be where he is today.
What do you tell a lot of young Nigerians who are desperate to leave the shores of the country?
My advice is for them to be patient and not just go to some places that are far worse than Nigeria. There is no team in Scandinavia who will buy a player who went to Fiji or went to Sri Lanka or Bangladesh.
I understand in some situations where may be an older player it is an opportunity to make some money and you don’t really have the chance to go to Europe any more, but young players should really think about the right next step and also never pay any money to any agent.
I have never taken any one kobo from any player to travel or get a visa or anything. If an agent asked you for that, I believe he’s not a real agent and so beware of those kinds of agent. That’s my advice.
Thank you very much for your time