Seun Robert’s switch from football to the military still confounds most people that saw him play the Beautiful Game. He had a promising career as a youngster and his rise from grass-roots football to the Super Eagles was amazing.
After helping Premier Grammar School to win the Ogun State Principal Cup in 1983, he captained Ibadan Grammar School to win the Oyo State Principal Cup in 1984 before again leading them to win bronze at the All Nigeria Secondary Schools Sport Competition same year.
The following year, he captained Oyo State’s football team, to the National Sports Festival in Ilorin, Kwara State and was selected by the…
Ibadan Football Association as the Best Defender of the Year. Two years later, he was recruited by giants IICC Shooting Stars (now known as 3SC) of Ibadan.
Thereafter, he got a call-up to the Flying Eagles and after helping them to the final of the 1989 ECOWAS Cup in Bauchi, he got an invite from Dutchman Clemens Westerhof to the Eagles.
As his admirers monitored his burgeoning career anxiously, Robert suddenly ‘vanished’ into thin air.
“Robert was a great player whom most of us felt would take over from Stephen Keshi as captain of the national team because of his leadership qualities. He was also a very disciplined player; only God knows where he is now,” remarked a lecturer at the National Institute of Sports, several years ago.
Unknown to his followers, Robert had left for the United States of America to chart a new career path. Today, he is a Major in the US Army and was part of the country’s troop to Iraq.
Robert puts the record straight contrary to insinuations in some quarters that the Flying Eagles failure to win the ECOWAS Cup stopped his progress to the Eagles,
The Ibadan-born ex-player narrates his story:
“I would like to give glory to God for His infinite mercies and protection over me and my family. I am in the United States of America now and currently serving as a Logistics Officer in the United States Army,” Robert began.
“As a matter of fact, I was one of the three players that were promoted to the Super Eagles from Flying Eagles immediately after the ECOWAS Cup competition in 1990. The other two were Dotun Alatise and Ademola Johnson. In fact, I migrated to the US while in the Super Eagles camp with Clemens Westerhorf as Technical Adviser and Tunde Disu his assistant.
“But about a week before the Eagles’ match against Liberia, I was offered an admission and a four-year soccer scholarship to study at Alabama A&M University in Huntsville, USA.
“I was approached by a scout after our semi-final match with Senegal during the ECOWAS Cup. The scout told me that he was representing some colleges in the United States. I started the process while in the Flying Eagles camp and completed it while I was in the Super Eagles camp, with the help of Emmanuel Akpan, who was already in the United States.
“Coincidentally, I also received another offer to play professional football for a club in Spain but I had to turn down the offer. It was an opportunity which was very difficult for me to forego, due to my flair for football back then.
“I left Nigeria to study in the US on September 4, 1990 and I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance in 1995 and a Master of Science degree in Economics, with concentration in Finance in 1997.”
Why then the sudden switch to an unfamiliar terrain?
“Upon completion of my graduate programme, I enlisted in the US Army as an Automated Logistical Specialist. I was later selected to attend the Officers Candidate School and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Field Artillery Branch, on August 3, 2000.
“I was promoted to First Lieutenant while stationed in South Korea in 2002, and to Captain, during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
“In 2009, I was selected for a promotion to “Major” and simultaneously was also selected to attend the prestigious United States Army Command and General Staff College.
“It was while I was attending the CGSC that I actually got pinned (promoted) to Major. Upon graduation from CGSC, I was assigned to serve as the Battalion Executive Officer for a battalion that was forward- deployed to Iraq.
“In fact, I had just completed my second deployment to Iraq in July, 2011 before I reported to my current duty station in Germany. I have served in the Army for 15 years,” Robert added.
Interestingly, he never had the intention of enlisting into the Army but suddenly found himself in the colours of the US Army. But he admits that the love for football still lingers on.
He said, “I never thought of joining the army. My initial plan was to complete my first degree in the US and migrate to Europe to continue my football career. But one thing led to another and the rest is history.
“Of course I miss the game. I have an indomitable passion for football. As a matter of fact, I still play for fun every now and then.
“To some extent football and army are interrelated. They both require team work, selfless service, personal courage, and loyalty to one’s country or team. You also have to be able to make quick decisions and think outside the box too.”
Unlike now when parents encourage their wards to play football, Robert was part of the generation whose parents were mostly opposed to their children identifying with football.
“My parents were against me playing. I had to sneak out several times to play football during my secondary school years. Unfortunately, my father died before I could even start getting paid for playing football.
“I started playing football at the early age, while I was in primary school at Ebenezer Primary School in Ibadan. My football skill was raw at that level until I met late coach Abayomi Akande, popularly known as Gomez, who started polishing my football skill.”
He still remembers his time very vividly saying he enjoyed playing for a great team like 3SC. But he admits that some strikers gave him nightmares during the years the domestic league was at its competitive best.
“Honestly, I played for 3SC from 1987 to 1990 and I tremendously enjoyed playing alongside great players like Felix Owolabi, late Muda Lawal, Ogbein Fawole, Raymond King, Mutiu Adepoju, Tunde Odubola, Samuel Elijah, Layiwola Alabi, Kabiru Adejare and the team’s other great players.
“But I had a tough time playing against Bella Momoh and Dimeji Lawal. They were very mesmerizing,” he said.
He recounts his time in the domestic league saying, “There were lots of memorable moments but my best moments were during my time in the Super Eagles camp. I was at the peak of my career and was looking forward to playing in the 1994 World Cup and the 1996 Olympic Games.
“However, one of my worst moments that I can remember was on the opening day of the 1990 season. IICC was playing Enugu Rangers at the Adamasingba Stadium in Ibadan. I had a couple of chances, overlapping from the left flank, which I was unable to convert into goals to put IICC ahead. Unfortunately, the match ended in a 0-0 draw.”
He blames the decline of the country’s football on “poor management, consistent reliance of national coaches on Nigerians footballers abroad, which in my own opinion, will continue to cause deterioration and less attention in the local league. We must employ subject matter experts in football to manage the affairs of the football body.”
Robert wishes to return home one day with his family to contribute his quota to the country.
“I am married to a very beautiful and loving lady, former Miss Bola Abdul-Azeez, from Ilorin. She is a Business Administration graduate from the University of Maryland. We are blessed with children. My wife and I hope to live in Nigeria after I retire,” Robert sums up.
Written by ’TANA AIYEJINA
for Sunday Punch