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Saturday, February 4, 2023

Nigeria: Unleashing women superstars at FC Robo

When Emmanuel Orobosa Osahon started FC Robo as a football hub, it was an academy for boys. Opening to girls rocketed the academy to local stardom. Now its founder wants that impact to reach far further.

FC Robo – a football academy as well as a men’s and women’s football club – is one of those institutions that in certain circles is recognised as a giant-slayer, while outside of those circles it is relatively unknown. Chidinma Okeke, Rasheedat Ajibade and Asisat Oshoala have all been through its doors. If those names don’t mean anything to you, they should.

Ajibade plays her football for Atletico Madrid, in the Spanish womens’ league, Okeke plays for Madrid CFF, also in the Primera Division. And Asisat Oshoala, is, well, Asisat. Probably Nigeria’s most famous woman footballer, Oshoala plays for Barcelona and is a social media rock star. She also happens to captain the Nigerian women’s football team.

Behind the meteoric rise of FC Robo is its namesake and founder, former Nigerian national side goalkeeper, veteran of the Nigerian football league and grassroots coach, Emmanuel Orobosa Osahon. In a recent interview, he listed some of the club’s stars.

Emmanuel Orobosa Osahon in Mushin, Lagos. Photo : Segun Ogunfeyitimi.

“They are many but the notable ones I can mention, Esther Sunday, she was my product, Josephine Chukwunonye, they call her Alinco, she is my product, too, Asisat Oshoala, Africa’s four-time best, was my product, Rasheedat Ajibade is my product, ChidinmaOkeke, Amirat Adebisi, Aminat Yakubu, the then-dashing winger for U17 was my product, too, Christy Ohiaeriaku, national team goalkeeper that is playing for Edo Queens, among others,” Osahon said from the sidelines of a practice session at the club’s grounds near Lagos.

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It is a remarkable record, both at a national and international level and it is largely woman players who have put FC Robo – and its founder – on the map.

“My girls have always been around the national teams for the past four, five years now and they are doing well, so the female cadre has given us the accolade,” Osahon explained.

Osahon said he considers himself and FC Robo as an opportunity for talented young footballers

“As you can see now we are playing a friendly match with the boys. Nobody you know in the league is playing except two players, I’m already preparing them. As you see here I’m the ladder. Climb me to get to where you want to get to. So I am always prepared to bring another people to climb the ladder, too, so if you climb you go another people will be climbing, so the ladder is always busy,” he said of his approach to bringing new talent through the door in almost “revolving door” manner.

Emmanuel Orobosa Osahon with the members of FC Robo players in Mushin, Lagos. Photo : Segun Ogunfeyitimi.

There is certainly no lack of talent available to him. The club’s location in Mushin, a dormitory suburb of Lagos, places it at the centre of a vibrant girls’ school-level football ecosystem.

“Right now I’m the leader of Mushin Coaches Council and most schools in this area allow me to organise tournaments for them and in the process I fish out the good ones and that was how I picked Chidinma Okeke, Rasheedat Ajibade, Asisat Oshoala, among others. All were picked from grassroots competitions.”

One of the reasons the the club’s successful, however, has nothing to do with Osahon’s oracle-like ability to spot talent – an ability that has in fact led to his nickname, “The Oracle” – but rather has to do with how that talent is looked after and nurtured while under the care of FC Robo. Osahon is very aware that professional footballers have a “sell-by” date and that there needs to be something after a footballing career that can sustain even his stars, after their career ends.

“These girls I send them to school, I send them to learn trade and my next target is to send three girls to coaching course. I want to start producing coaches and if I could produce players I should be able to produce coaches. At least, the coach in Delta Queens was my player, Kazeem Alabi is product of FC Robo and so if those ones can grow from the team the girls can grow, too. I want to give the girls life after football. Now I have lots of graduates I sent to school, Rasheedat and others I sent them to school. I have widows and the injured, I rehabilitated them and they are playing good football and doing well.”

Emmanuel Orobosa Osahon talking to the members of FC Robo Queens players in Mushin, Lagos. Photo : Segun Ogunfeyitimi.

Despite the limited amount of money circulating in women’s professional football, the former Nigerian “shot stopper” is positive that the time spent developing women players is not only good for them, good for football and a joy to him but will also some day be financially rewarding for him and the club.

“It’s a story of patience, football business is patience. Do I ever knew I will produce Africa’s best, in Asisat Oshoala, do I ever believed I will produce Rasheedat and other notables? It is not a day’s job, it is not buying and selling, it is business, it’s like fetching water inside a reservoir it cannot be filled instantly, it takes a process to come up and when it is filled to the brim the water will then payoff and give back to what you have filled. I have sold properties to keep afloat. The only thing they owe me is to play well, that’s why, if they do not play well, I’m downcast, I will not be happy. I am not only satisfied but happy doing it, it’s my joy,” he explained.

Osahon’s ambition for his wards doesn’t stop with Nigerian or even African football. He is looking far bigger and is determined that Nigeria play an even bigger role on football’s international stage.

“At the apex of African football the team is almost at the peak of Nigerian football. I want a situation whereby any big team anywhere in the world will have two, three FC Robo Queens’ players,” he said, adding that he also wanted the club to be able to benefit wider Nigerian society.

“I want to use the club to alleviate poverty in my own little capacity. I want them to employ people….Through this job Asisat Oshoala Foundation has people who are working for her, so if I had Asisat Foundation, Chidinma Foundation, Monday Gift Foundation, Ajibade Foundation and people working for them it will reduce the pressure on government and society.

Emmanuel Orobosa Osahon talking to the members of FC Robo in Mushin, Lagos. Photo : Segun Ogunfeyitimi.

Currently, women professional footballers earn a fraction of what their male counterparts earn. While that is beginning to change with the growth in popularity – and increasing TV and online viewership – of women’s sports, for Osahon, greater equality can’t come fast enough.

“If the female football could pay just half of male I will be the richest coach in Nigeria,” Osahon said, wrily, before giving thanks for his God-given talents.

“I give glory to God for giving me the special gift, the eagle eye. Like Coach Adegboye Onigbinde used to say, a coach must have eagle eye to identify a star among the lots. I have the eye, grace and knowledge to identify something the girls will be tomorrow,” Osahon noted.

The “Oracle” has spoken.

Source: Humphrey Njoku| Bird|Nigeria.

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