Popular actor Bob-Manuel Udokwu talks about his involvement in sports while growing up, relationship with Nigerian footballers and more in this intriguing interview with PETER AKINBO
While growing up, did you take part in sports?
Yes I was into sports. At some point, I took part in tennis, long jump and triple jump. As a boy I played football as well, but I did not go beyond that level.
Which sports do you follow closely now?
I belong to a tennis club and I watch some matches when I have the time. I also watch international football matches. I mean the crunch games like the final of a tournament. I don’t really follow leagues or regular matches like that. If the Super Eagles are playing, for instance, I will follow their games out of patriotism, but once they crash out, I switch off to something else exciting. However, if Nigeria is playing in a final, it becomes a priority that I must watch, but if it’s just a random match for Bob-Manuel to watch, no, I don’t do that.
What do you think of women’s football in Nigeria?
Women’s football is not as popular as men’s football. I must say, that I have a lot of respect for our Falconets. I understand that at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, they just beat Canada 3-1, which is a record, because this is the first time the team will win all their group stage games at the event. I think the girls are doing better than our boys, and I don’t know why, but I can hazard a guess that it’s because the boys have too many distractions. Our male teams are more distracted than the females.
What do you think of Nigerian sports in general?
For football, our ex-internationals, I respect them a lot for what they’ve achieved. Now, there are some whose names come up in international leagues all over the world like Victor Osimhen, Alex Iwobi, Samuel Chukwueze and Wilfred Ndidi. I respect these guys a lot, I am impressed by their talents. Our athletes also did very well at the recent Commonwealth Games. The likes of Ese Brume, Tobi Amusan and others did us proud getting us so much gold medals. It causes me concern that the country they are doing so well for is disgracing itself in terms of political leadership. So, you see my pain. If only the political class can match what these girls are doing in sports to promote the name and flag of Nigeria, I think we will all be much happier for it.
Do you have a relationship with the ex-internationals?
Some of the ex-internationals are my friends like Austin Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, Peter Rufai and others. We run into ourselves once in a while and I respect them a lot, they did Nigeria proud in the past.
In your opinion, who do you think is the greatest Nigerian footballer ever?
I don’t want to get into it because I feel I will make the wrong choice. However, Rashidi Yekini carved a niche, I was listening to a run-down on achievements where they were comparing Osimhen and Yekini. I was astounded when I heard the number of goals that Yekini scored. Okocha also comes to mind, but no two people are the same. I know that he played entertaining football that even when Nigeria lost, you couldn’t forget his dribbling. And he actually gave interviews about his days in Germany and why he got back at them in his own way with his dribbling, it was his own reply to racist remarks when he was playing. It’s instructive, what he did, it was passive activism. It was his own way of pushing back against racism in Germany. I once told him about his dribbling clip, which FIFA used as a promo some time ago, where the opponent was looking so lost chasing the ball. I told him, ‘Well, any day you get on the set with me to do a movie, I will show you why I am the king in the movie industry’ and we both shared a good laugh. Both Rashidi Yekini and Okocha are good; let me leave it at that.
Would you encourage your kids’ participation in sports?
Sports like the arts are purely driven by talent and talent is divinely given by God. And if one has good fortune, you also get trained; you get into the right place at the right time and get discovered. Having said that, those we have celebrated today in this interview having done well by themselves by Nigeria did not give themselves the talent likewise myself, otherwise, you could have picked up anybody on the street to interview but you’re interviewing me based on who I am and what I represent. I acknowledge the fact that talent is given by God, for me, I don’t own the one I show to the world, it is owned by God who gave me the talent. Having said that, without mincing words, if I discover that any of my children display any traits in any field of sports, I will not hesitate to encourage that child to explore the full potential of realising the world-class ambition in that sport, but education must come first.