Coach Tope Fuja is a 42 year-old Nigerian who holds a Professional License from the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBA) and FA International Certificate from the Football Association (of England).
For over 10 years, he has worked in India with different clubs, experienced in both developmental and club level. dealing with players from all race.
While it is fine to seek greener pastures in India, in this piece, he shares his thoughts with PageOne’s Amos Joseph on what may be the fate of Nigerian youngsters considering India as an option in furtherance of their career.
Tope Fuja has never handled any side in his home country Nigeria, he says, “You know, we sometimes one decide to stay where the opportunity is and grab it with both hands. I decided to remain here in India and it has been a great experience for me, an opportunity which was not forth coming from any other country especially my home, Nigeria.”
Interestingly, India was not where he started his coaching, he narrates his journey in the Asian football market before settling in Kolkata. “The journey has been good so far since I left Nigeria in 2005. When I first arrived India I didn’t stay longer than a month or there about before leaving for Malaysia where I secured a job with FC Sabah, then to Nepal where I worked with Machhindra Football Club close to two year. I was later invited back to India by Simla Youngs in 2009, and was with the team for about two seasons in the I-LEAGUE 2nd division.
I was also opportune to work with Mumbai United, and later to various clubs in India like Kolkata-based side Mohammedan SC in 2010-11, Aristocrat Hindustan Football Club for the DLF-DSA Senior Division League 2011-12. I moved back to Kolkata to help Tollygunge Agragami FC who were at then take the verge of relegation but all things being equal, we were able to escape the drop. Immediately, I was again called by Mohammedan SC as assistant coach 2014 season and then to Peerless Sports Club.
With the recently concluded U-17 FIFA World Cup, the country (India) is considering hosting the next U-20 world Cup as well, and has made their intentions known to the world football governing body. Although Cricket is still a household sport, the game of football is developing as well and the All India Football Federation is leaving no stone unturned. At club football, both the India Super League and I-League would be run concurrently this season with influx of more established players, technical inputs and good sponsorship. Coach Tope Fuja opines that “football in India is developing and it has left the stage it was when I arrived here in 2007. The infrastructures, caliber of players in the ISL and I-League, the lower divisions are also fast growing. Officiating is critical to football, and it is one area that has to be looked into and the administrators understand that so referees being drafted from other countries such as Singapore to handle high profile games. Now, some referees are on the federation contract and are undergoing series of trainings to handle “res hot” games.”
Despites the fact that the likes of fellow countrymen such as Emeka Ezeugo, Ranty Martins et al have all thrived in the system, he feels that ”India is not a good option for youngsters from Nigeria to develop. Here, there’s no patience for development. Now the country is laying emphasis on youth development so major focus is on the youth system here and they want to grow their own. Some agents bring youngsters here without adequate arrangements for their welfare. Those players go through a whole lot.
“Look at the I-league, most of those boys have been here for more than 4-5 years, and that is because the league wants to run concurrently with the ISL League so they have to sustain the I-League. Now, clubs are permitted to feature 6 foreigners in their team which is a new development.
“Players coming to India must process good quality that the Indian players can learn from, must be very strong with and without the ball especially as an African.
While commending the treatment meted to foreign players, Tope Ayodeji Fuja mentioned that good and quality welfare packages are often on the table. Tope Ayodeji Fuja noted that the players of especially African descent are respected for the quality, class and the way the player came into the country. Any top player from major European Leagues or other leagues will surely get the best.
(This article was first published on Complete Sports online).