Super Eagles goalkeeper, Adebayo Adeleye, in this interview with JOHNNY EDWARD, talks about his early beginnings and his career-saving move to Israel after the Golden Eaglets misadventure in 2017 and more
Hapoel Jerusalem are competing in the Israeli Championship play-off round. What are your team’s chances of winning the title this season?
Our chances are very bright, like other teams in the play-offs, but it is going to be tough because reigning champions Maccabi Haifa are also competing as well. This season has been very tough and I think the same thing will apply to the play-offs. We managed to get through to this stage because of our hard work and I believe we can make history. We gained promotion to the topflight league two years ago and in our first season, we battled to stay up and now our second season in the first division we are competing in the championship playoffs. It’s a great step and I’m looking forward to it because it comes with a chance of winning our first league title. It’s not going to be easy, but I believe we can achieve something special. We have achieved something incredible this season and hopefully, we can aim to finish in the top three and of course we know the title is in sight.
I’m just happy to end the season in style, qualifying the team for the European qualifiers, we will continue until we reach our goal for the season.
How did your career start off?
I was born into a family of five and I’m the only male child. My growing up was quite difficult just like the average Nigerian youth out there. I started my career at a very tender age, having played grassroots football around Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos State. My struggles built me for big challenges, which saw me representing Nigeria at the U-17 level in 2017, but it was unfortunate we didn’t qualify for the tournament but I am glad I excelled.
Did your parents encourage you to go into football when you started?
Initially, they were totally against it, they wanted me to go to school but it was the point they saw my name in the national dailies, that I was listed for U-17 camping, that they gave me their blessings. Before then I used to sneak to training after school.
Did you always wanted to be a goalkeeper or player?
I didn’t set out to be a goalkeeper at the start of my career. I was a midfielder in my early days as a footballer but I always had that flair to help my youth team to man the goalposts back then, whenever we issues then. I enjoyed doing that and thank God I was lucky to have earned my breakthrough in football as a goalkeeper.
You were part of the U-17 team that couldn’t qualify for the 2017 Africa U-17 Nations Cup after losing to Niger 3-2 on aggregate. How did you feel after that setback?
I was unhappy at that time after we failed to qualify. There were lots of issues at that time in the team. Our team had been overhauled with barely a week to the first leg in Abuja because of MRI. Though we won the first leg at home 1-0 it was far from our best. It was not the team that had been training tirelessly for months. In the second leg, we could not take our chances because we lacked the experience and cohesion to really make those openings count. Niger held their own thanks to their tactical discipline and punished us in Niamey. But I’m happy I was one of the standout players.
Were you scared that ouster could slow down your career path?
At some point I did, but I believed in my capabilities. Soon after, I joined the NPFL U-17 All Stars squad and my performance at the Future Champions in Gauteng, South Africa earned me a move to Israel, where I joined Hapoel Katamon – a second division side. The scouts, who came from Europe, discovered my talent and then decided to take me to Israel. My success story is amazing and I thank God for making my name ring bells in the Israeli league.
Why did you opt for a move to Isreal at that time?
I wanted to play regularly and again Hapoel Katamon gave me an opportunity to play for their U-19 team immediately I joined. So, moving to Israel was to help my development and get better. Also, most of our goalkeepers, from Vincent Enyeama, Dele Aiyenugba and Austin Ejide all developed from there and these were goalkeepers I looked up to growing up, particularly Enyeama.
You idolized Enyeama while growing up?
I watched so many goalkeepers growing up, but I think the likes of Enyeama, Peter Rufai, Ike Shorunmu, Dosu Joseph and Thibaut Courtois stands out for me, but Enyeama is my idol and my mentor.
How has (Enyeama) influenced your career?
Enyeama talks to me regularly and encourages me to get better. He tells me I can be better than I am. He analyses my game always and advises me on where to improve on, he is a great man and I love him so much.
You eventually made your debut for the Eagles against Algeria’s second-string side last October, as a second half substitute. Were you disappointed not to keep a clean sheet?
Not at all, but I felt a bit bad I conceded a goal on my debut, even if it was from the penalty spot. I’m just happy to make my debut for my country. I believe I will get my chance on the big stage to show what I can do. My main aim is to help the team qualify for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations. I also try to train hard to convince the coaches to consider me as a first-choice goalkeeper in the future.
The Eagles take on Guinea Bissau in next weekend’s 2023 AFCON qualifiers. How confident are you on their chances bearing in mind they didn’t win their last three games?
We are desperate to return to winning ways and I’m confident we will achieve that when we play against Guinea Bissau. We have a good team to do that. Qualifying for the 2023 AFCON is a must for us, so that we don’t put ourselves under pressure. They (Guinea Bissau) are also hoping to get a result from us to ensure qualification as well. Our mind is set on winning and hopefully we will achieve our aim. We know a win for us in both fixtures will see the Eagles seal qualification for Ivory Coast 2023 and that’s our aim.