JOHN OGU: I’m gradually overcoming my aerophobia

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Days before hitting Asaba en route to Egypt for the 2019 Total Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), Super Eagles’ midfielder John Ogu speaks about life and football in a lively conversation with MORAKINYO ABODUNRIN.

His fear for flight is palpable and despite his macho-look usually looking agitated so much he’s always a butt of joke of Super Eagles’ colleagues while on national team assignments.

Fear of flying, according to an online encyclopaedia, ‘is a fear of being on an aeroplane (airplane), or other flying vehicle such as a helicopter while in flight and it is also referred to as flying anxiety, flying phobia, flight phobia, aviophobia or aerophobia.’

But Super Eagles midfielder John Ogu says he’s is gradually overcoming his flying phobia with his resolve to commit his ‘goings and comings’ to his maker.

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“It is sort of a weird thing to me being up there inside the big bird,” the 31-year-old Ogu, fondly called ‘Thirty’ by close pals, told The Nation. “But I’ve started getting over it by remaining focussed and putting everything in the hands of God by praying for safe flights. I think I’m different now.”

Since 2013, Ogu has become one of the familiar faces in the Super Eagles and he reckons the coach Gernot Rohr-led side will be hard to beat at the Total Africa Cup of Nations Egypt 2019.

“I don’t really need any other extra motivation going to the AFCON in Egypt because I consider it a big blessing every opportunity I have to be in the Super Eagles,” explained the former Akwa United midfielder who made his international debut with Super Eagles as substitute for injured Victor Moses in a 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Kenya in Calabar on 23rd March 2013.

“We already know that there is a big task ahead of us because the Nations Cup is a big tournament and I think we have the opportunity to go there and win it.

“I’m personally motivated for this opportunity and I know that everybody in the team is equally motivated to go out there and do our best.”

In 2013, Ogu was not part of the squad when the late coach Stephen Keshi led the country to her third title in South Africa and the Hapoel Beer Sheva’s midfielder said he was looking forward to the opportunity of being crowned African champions as well.

He said: “I don’t think we are under any pressure, really. We are all professionals and we have the attitude and mentality to go out there and do our best in order to win the AFCON.

“Nigeria won the AFCON in 2013 and we all appreciate the kind of respect it brought to our country; so we are also looking forward to this coming AFCON with the view to bringing honour to our country.

“We know it’s not going to be easy but we are going to give our best in Egypt. We just want the fans to be behind us and continue to pray for us because we are determined to do our best at this AFCON so that we can also make them happy at the end of this tournament,” states Ogu as he speaks on other sundry issues.

Lessons from Russia

No doubt we have learned so much from our mistakes at the World Cup in Russia and I think we used it in our subsequent matches in the qualification for the AFCON. Now we are very much aware of our mistakes at the World Cup in Russia and we will try as much as possible not to make the same mistake at the AFCON in Egypt. It would be a different ball game at the Nations Cup and we just have to come out strongly from the start. We have a group of talented players that have done so well for themselves with various clubs and I think everybody will be ready to bring the spirit and success they achieved at their various clubs to the national team.

No easy games at the AFCON

There is nothing like a walkover because we have Burundi and Madagascar in our group at the AFCON. There is nothing like a walkover in any of the matches in a tough tournament such as the AFCON because all the teams worked hard to qualify. That means it’s not going to be easy because everyone would come with the determination to succeed. We are not going to underrate any team; we are going to be serious and take each match as it comes. Without any exemption, every other team can give us a tough game and that is why we can’t look down on any team. We just have to focus on ourselves and ensure we win our matches. Like the manager (Gernot Rohr) would always say that we are a collection of players as a team and I think that is even our greatest strength because there is no particular player we are looking up to in our team. Everyone one of us wants to just give our best. We have enough quality in our team but we are not getting carried away at all. We will not be afraid of taking on anybody at the AFCON.

New young faces in the Super Eagles

These boys you mentioned including Samuel (Chukwueze); Victor (Osimhen) and Paul (Onuachu) are talented players and they had a very successful season at their clubs and that would certainly give them enough motivation and confidence coming into the Super Eagles. I think everybody in Nigeria is happy seeing these young lads who can add value to the team. We don’t see them as too young to be in our midst because we are all professionals here; and every one of us is already looking forward to the Nations Cup. These are talented and very hungry lads who want to bring honour to the country.

Life in Israel

I played in Israel for five years and I had great experiences over there. The Israeli league really helped my career and even as a person but now I want a fresh challenge for my career. I think this is the best time for me to take that step forward; I left Israel a proud man. Now, I’m looking forward to the AFCON and after that, I can be talking about where next. I would decide about my future after the AFCON. Right now, it’s the AFCON for me.

Dream career before football

While in school, I’d wanted to be a banker but football had always been what I loved since I started playing on the streets. I’m not regretting the fact that I picked football as a career. I’m proud about what I’ve done despite the fact that there had been ups and downs in my career. Football is my life and that’s what makes me happy. One of the key things for me is to make people around me happy. Of course, there are so many negative things to make one cry but I’m happy I’ve not gotten to that level in my life. I don’t pray for such situation.

Being the best in Africa

Sometimes, the best don’t always get what they deserve and sometimes I don’t think some players have done better than what some of our players have done for their clubs. I still wonder why Ndidi was not selected in the Best XI in Africa the last time and I’m sure everybody would agree with me that Ndidi truly deserved to be in that list. But the good thing is that we still have a lot of players coming up and I know that very soon, we shall have players to contest for the African Footballer of the Year.

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