Everton stands with Akwa United stopper Olorunleke despite gaffe

By Fisayo Dairo

It is during the political season in Nigeria, one of such that we are in right now that statements like “I stand with” rend the airwaves. Fans and lovers of key political actors pledge their loyalty and commitment with such actors even in the face of stiff opposition or adversity.

The new football league season in Nigeria got underway on Sunday with a number of incidents and interesting results. Akwa United goalkeeper Olorunleke Ojo got the biggest flak; as expected so after his last minute gaffe resulted in a home loss for his club against El-Kanemi Warriors.

This was not in the script. A defeat was not what the over 6,000 fans at the Nest of Champions bargained for and not even a 0-0 draw would have been acceptable. Outside Uyo, tickets were shredded, those hoping to become millionaires overnight but waiting for the game to end to confirm their new statuses could not believe their ears and eyes as it all ended in a mirage.

He that wears the shoes knows where it pinches the most but even in the face of adversity, Ojo’s coach, Rafael Everton publicly backed his shot-stopper after the game and insisted that he would not castigate him for the now infamous error.

“Nobody is perfect. Nobody is perfect. Sometimes we (all) do wrong and if I crucify him now, it will be a big problem for his psychology. I will give him motivation (because) it is my job,” said Everton to npfl.ng.

“Sometimes the players do wrong, sometimes I do wrong. I will give him motivation instead because I believe he will change the situation in the next match,” said the Brazilian in his staggered English.

Fortunately for Ojo, fans at the Nest of Champions, as disappointed and distraught as they were, never really blamed the goalkeeper for what many of them felt was him “trying too much to help his team win.” At 0-0, fans were already leaving their seats in frustration after the pre-season hype and when the Ojo moment happened in the 94th minute, it became a case of adding insult to injury.

Akwa United have at least five full days at the training pitch to work more on their Galacticos after the realities of Sunday. Their midweek trip to Gombe United is put on hold which means the Promise Keepers will face a more daunting task of a visit to Kano Pillars at the Sani Abacha Stadium.

“I need to talk to my players on the way forward. In the game against El-Kanemi, the players did not do the same thing we have practiced in around one month. My team did not play well, I know. We have one week for correction and I believe that in the next match, we will see these corrections in the result,” added Everton.

Sunday’s win was the first time in four consecutive seasons that El-Kanemi Warriors got a result in their opening league game, they lost the previous three. While Akwa United will not be in action on Wednesday, El-Kanemi will return home to host Kano Pillars in Maiduguri.