Benjamin Ogedegbe is one of the few upcoming Nigerian soccer stars making waves in the United States and he has a dream to play for his fatherland at the Rio Olympics. He is the son of ex-youth international, Nathaniel Ogedegbe, who featured for the maiden Flying Eagles squad in the late 1970s. In this exclusive interview with ANDREW EKEJIUBA he speaks on his career rise and why he wants to play for Nigeria at the Olympics. Excerpts:
Can you give us a brief background of your playing career and your profile?
I had exposure from a young age to highly competitive play. I represented my state in regional tournaments. In the summer of 2011, I played for the DC United U-16 team in the Generation Adidas Cup. I then played up an age group with the U-18 McLean Academy team for my last two years of high school. I was recruited and offered a scholarship to play college football at IUPUI and am currently at George Washington University in Washington DC. I had the opportunity to play for the Indiana Fire National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) team in the summer of 2014.
How much do you know of Nigerian football and your idols in the round leather game?
Nigeria was one of the first teams I watched growing up. At a young age I would always watch games with my dad. I avidly followed the Olympic Games in China and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
One of my biggest idols in football is Jerome Boateng, his pace coupled with his calmness on the ball makes him a player I try to model my game after. I also really liked Puyol when he played for Barcelona; he was a fearless defender and a true leader of his team.
Why do you want to play for Nigeria instead of United States where you grew up?
I grew up knowing that my dad, Nathaniel Ogedegbe, had an opportunity to play for Nigeria and I’ve always wanted to follow in his footsteps. I have also had the opportunity to watch Nigeria over the years and they play a very exciting brand of football. I am also a fan of Jürgen Klinsman the US Head coach who has done great work with the United States team.
Are you confident that you could make the Dream Team (Nigeria’s Olympic team) if given an opportunity to fight for first team shirt?
I’m confident I could make the team if given an opportunity after watching the team play over the years.
How much do you know of the Dream Team coach, Samson Siasia?
I grew up listening to my dad talk about legendary players from his time in Nigeria and Siasia was always included in those conversations. I also had the opportunity to meet and talk to him at a US camp in Indiana.
What major differences have you seen in the tactical approach of Nigerian teams in big tournaments when compared to what is obtainable in United States?
The Nigerian teams I have seen play a very dynamic and attacking style of football which is beautiful to watch.
What major achievements have you accomplished since embracing football?
Being selected as a first team player and starter on the NPSL team which is a combination of some professional players and the best college players from the state Indiana. Playing at highest level of football competition against the best Academy in the United States and representing my home state, Virginia, in the regional Olympic Development Program competitions.
What are your dreams and aspirations for engaging in football?
I dream to follow in my father’s footsteps and one day play professionally and for Nigeria.
What are your strong points/areas in the round leather game and your best playing position?
I have played in a number of positions. I started out as an attacking forward and then played midfield, right back and l am currently in the center back position. Playing in a number of positions gives me a good perspective and helps with my ability to organize my teammates and initiate attacking plays from the back. The strongest aspect of my game is one-versus-one defending.
What do you think you can bring into the Dream Team to make it rock-solid?
I can bring the ability to defend the best opposing player, initiate the counter attack, as well as send clear communication to my teammates.
Who encouraged you (even among your parents) to take to football?
I have been playing football since the age of four and I can thank my father for that. Throughout my life he has always been the person to reassure me and support me in my games.
Finally, can you share with us your memorable moments in football and your low points/moments?
One of my most memorable moments was stepping onto the field against a team from Lansing, Michigan in the NPSL in front of over a thousand fans. It was my first NPSL game at the age of 18 and I helped our team earn a shutout against the league champions.