On February 7, 2021, the English Premier League had some fantastic fixtures with the cable network offering such interesting games as the Tottenham Hotspur against West Bromwich Albion; Wolverhampton Wanderers versus Leicester City; Liverpool versus Manchester City and Sheffield United against Chelsea.
Back home, the clash of the day in Lagos was the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) game between MFM FC and Heartland of Owerri at the Agege Stadium. Few journalists and fans were allowed to watch the game due to the COVID-19 protocols, but for the few inside the stadium, it was a day not to be forgotten in a hurry.
The match was memorable not because of the quality of the match on display. Rather, the fans were given a glimpse of the quality of stars the country is endowed with. To many, it was also a lesson on how some coaches bury talented stars even when their teams are struggling.
The game was slowly dragging on with Heartland leading when MFM coach, Tony Bolus, decided to make changes to his fumbling side.
That was how Paul Obata and Akani Elijah came in to change the flow of the game and convince the sparse crowd that there are more to Nigerian league than they have seen.
Within minutes of their introduction, Obata combined well with Elijah to start making life uneasy for Heartland defenders.
And then the question cropped up: “Why would Coach Bolus keep these two exciting players on the bench while his team struggled for creativity in the midfield?”
Obata’s deft touches and ability to hold on to the ball gave MFM fans hope that despite their home loss to Heartland, the future looks bright for the club.
The consensus among the fans in the stadium was that 24-year-old Obata has the potential to become the next big star of Nigerian football. But he needs encouragement to realise his potential.
Speaking to The Guardian after the match, Obata thanked God for giving him the opportunity to show fans a glimpse of his talent, adding, however, that the day would have been complete if they had won the game.
“We were expecting to win the game, but unfortunately the result didn’t favour us. Our next game will be an away fixture against Kano Pillars where I hope we will get the three points.
“This is my first season at MFM. Before the league started, I had issues ranging from injuries to my papers and because of that, I didn’t play the first game of the league. At a time, I lost confidence in myself and so many other things played out that I tried to put myself together to get back into playing what I love best, which is football.”
Obata has not been without worries in his short sojourn in the NPFL.
He was with Akwa United for three seasons until the team changed management and his fortunes nosedived.
He said, “I had to leave Akwa United when Coach Kennedy Boboye came on board as the manager. I had some misunderstanding with him because he also came to the club with his own players.
“I had no problem with that because as the coach of the team, he has the right to make his choice, but it affected his attitude to some of us.”
The Delta State-born attacker said he moved to MFM FC on the advice of his agent, adding that he had offers from many other clubs.
“When I left Akwa United, I had so many offers before my agent decided that I should come to MFM FC, and so, I didn’t have any option than to come here. As a player, my own is just to come, play and leave. I don’t know why God wanted me to come to MFM FC, but I believe He knows the best for me.
“My focus is on working hard and giving my best anytime I am called upon to play. By God’s grace, I want to play for the best club around the world. I believe I am the best in my position and because football is all about opportunities, I believe with hard work my skills will take me to where I want as far as football is concerned by God’s grace.”
Obata, who believes he is as skilful as his idol, Christian Ronaldo, is happy he has a big window in Lagos to showcase his talent.
“I am happy with my current coach, who encourages us to keep improving on our game. This sort of attitude gives me the strength to do better next time. With a good coach by my side, I think the world will be at my feet by God’s grace,” he stated.