OBAFEMI Martins, Ayo Makinwa, Oluwafemi Ajilore, Ifeanyi Emeghara, Babatunde Collins, Adesina Lawal, Justice Erhenede, Akeem Agbetu, Adigun Salami, Ayinde Lawal, Yakubu Akilu, Jude Nworu, Adeola Runsewe, Sylvester Igbonu, Izunna Uzochukwu, Paul Onuachu and Frank Onyeka.
What is the connection between the aforementioned footballers?
For a fact, these household names in the football sector are all products of FC Ebedei, a Sagamu-based Nigeria Nationwide League side famed for its ability to discover and sell some of Nigeria’s biggest names on the planet.
Founded by Churchill Oliseh, a lawyer, player’s agent and an astute football businessman, in 1998, one would have expected the club to have become one of the biggest sides in Africa, with the array of star players they’ve churned out on a consistent basis in over two decades.
But if you think Oliseh, elder sibling of retired footballers Sunday, Azubuike and Egwuatu, should by now have used his huge wealth of experience to steer his club to the top just like Real Madrid president, Florentino Perez, Barcelona’s Bartomeu etc, you are mistaken.
Ebedei play in the third tier Nigeria Nationwide League and have never been promoted to the topflight. But while other clubs do everything, sometimes even against the rules, to ensure they play at the highest level, Oliseh is comfortable with his club’s status.
As a businessman, who understands the football market very well, he is more involved in the transfer of players abroad than winning trophies and laurels. And Ebedei are perhaps, the only club making profit from regular sales of talented young footballers, while others buckle under the economic crunch and the ever increasing debts threatening their existence.
The club started in the amateur ranks of the league 23 years ago, and Oliseh had his plans clearly mapped out: they were going to serve as a feeder team to European clubs. In doing this, he had to discover a raw talent, had him join his club, nurture him, before onward transfer to a club in Europe.
Danish Superliga side FC Midtjylland, great admirers of African talents, came calling. All they needed was grab Ebedei players, expose them to European football and its massive first-class facilities and good welfare package, before further selling them to bigger European clubs.
It was big business and the Danes held on to the deal!
Ebedei’s affiliation with Midtjylland has reportedly yielded the transfers of over 200 players from Nigeria, who have gone on to play in Denmark and other parts of Europe. In turn, Ebedei receive support and grants from FC Midtjylland, including training equipment and kits, which have largely helped in getting new recruits adapted to top class facilities before the trips abroad.
Our correspondent learnt Ebedei also earn three per cent from the sign-on fees of some of their players in their future transfers, after moving on from the Danish club.
How does Oliseh identify the precocious talents he’s exported over the years?
“There’s no year I don’t visit about 30 states in the country to scout for talents even in the conflict areas,” he told Sports Extra. “The network is vast and the structures are spread internationally. So, the results are the manifestations of the hard work we put in.”
Onyeka, his latest product to have hugged international headlines, joined newly promoted EPL side Brentford Tuesday for £9m , the highest fee the Bees ever paid for a player, before Kristoffer Ajer, from Celtic, broke the record after joining on Wednesday .
Oliseh spotted him in 2013 and admits he had a raw diamond in his hands immediately he watched the now 23-year-old tireless midfielder.
“I spotted him during a camp selection I had back then, on the outskirts of Benin City,” he said. “He was very skinny and feeble when I first saw him but his talent was never in doubt.”
No doubt, Martins, who is No.5 on Nigeria’s all-time top scorer list with 18 goals in 42 games for the Super Eagles, is Ebedei’s most celebrated product. After joining Reggiana in Serie A in 2000 alongside Ebedei mate Stephen Makinwa, his speed and eye for goal caught the attention of giants Inter Milan, who immediately grabbed him in 2001.
After a standout five seasons at San Siro, he went on to play in Germany, England, where he grabbed Birmingham’s winner against Arsenal in the Football League Cup final in 2011 and Spain in a trophy-laden career that also saw him play in Russia, US and China.
The likes of Makinwa, Ajilore (Beijing Olympic silver medalist), Emeghara, Igbonu and Izuchukwu also had fine careers for their clubs and country.
Last season, Onuachu, who first left Ebedei for Midtjylland, was top scorer in Belgium’s topflight with 30 goals, helping Genk claim the Belgian Cup.
Oliseh disclosed that before he established the club, he was already involved in the movement of high-profile players to Europe, with retired Olympic gold medalist Dosu Joseph one of them.
He said, “I have been contributing to the business of football, growth and development for close to three decades. Go and check, I have produced players for the national teams at all levels since 1995. I took Dosu to Reggina prior to the 1996 Olympics. When Jo Bonfrere saw him after his first training, he said, ‘this is European top-class goalkeeper.’ He didn’t feature during the qualifiers for the Olympics but he was the first choice at the Olympics and for the Eagles until that unfortunate injury.”
In a tough football sector where sponsorships and endorsements are hard to come by, he believes the football authorities have not done enough to turn football to big business.
“It’s just that the country and the authorities have failed to recognise this fact which is so obvious. What they need to do is just to meet and see how they can further modify the structures which we have put in place over the years through the hard work we put in. It is part of the tradition at FC Ebedei and its working.”
With the European transfer market fully open, you can be sure Ebedei will play an active role as usual.
“Of course yes,” Oliseh said. “You will marvel at the new set of our up-and-coming players. We won’t stop doing what is right because the environment does not encourage us.”
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