The moment we were introduced, my eyes unconsciously settled on his head. perhaps because he was popularly known as the headmaster during his heydays on the soccer pitch. In this interview, the former Super Eagles player revealed the other side of his persona.
He never headed a school before but he knew how to use his head (literally and otherwise) to score goals that left his counterparts in awe. This fetched him the unique nickname, ‘headmaster’. Nigeria’s ex-international Mutiu Adepoju is one of the best players the country has ever produced. His performance at the FIFA 1989 World Youth Championship in Saudi Arabia seemed to have earned him a place in the football hall of fame. Now living in retirement, Adepoju, however, misses those days etched in evergreen memories when he was active on the field.
Leaving Nigeria in the late 80s after playing with the U20 team in Saudi 1989, Adepoju became one of the most sought out players in the team. Little wonder he left the shores of Nigeria to play in the Spanish team real Madrid, even if he didn’t make it to the B side. After much weal and woes, Adepoju finally returned home in 2006 to manage his former club, Shooting Stars FC till late last year when he resigned.
Recalling how he became a footballer, the headmaster didn’t mince words when he said “I’ve always known I wanted to be a football player.” Growing up in Ibadan under the tutelage of his father, Adesola Adepoju, who was also a football player(though he never played outside the confines of his community), and his uncle, Bayo Adepoju, who was also a player in the Shooting Stars back then, it was certain that he was heading towards his dream career. Bitten by an apparent bug that was imminent in his family, it did not take much time to hone his skills. He quickly learnt the ropes and joined his first team in Ibadan, Shooting Stars FC. But his family was not the only push he needed to expose the ingrained talent in him. “Pele and Segun Odegbami were my role models back then. Watching them play inspired me.”
From Coconut Head to The Headmaster
Adepoju did not just develop a knack for connecting his head to the ball in the national team; his ability to wreck opposing teams with his calculating head goes back to his days in secondary school. Even back then he was known for using his head to score goals. This quickly fetched him the nickname ‘coconut head’ among his peers. Whether the nickname described his shape of head or explained his heady scoring tactics, he bluntly refused to comment. The only reason he could deduce was his ability to jump very high (and of course connect his head to the ball).
“Back then in secondary school, my mates were always scared to use their head to drive the ball into the goal post. I, on the other hand was very eager to use my head. It was a very big advantage to me because I could jump so high. I jumped higher than my mates who were taller.”
Here is Mutiu’s hat-trick-a good header must be able to jump high and be very calculating to know the exact time of the flight of the ball and to make a direct contact. The winning edge comes from twisting the head to the aimed goal post. This tactic has transcended the field of play and become a ticket that he applies to everything he does. It explains why he is always focused on whatever he does.
While still playing for shooting stars, the love bug bit the headmaster and he fell in love with his sweetheart Bimpe whom he met through a friend in 1989. Though they didn’t meet in the classroom, the fashion designer and cosmetologist waited for the headmaster for three years before they finally tied the knot in 1992. Happily married with four daughters, Adepoju makes it a point of duty to keep his family happy all the time. “It was difficult at times for me and my family back then because I had to travel out of the continent to play. At such times, I would be away for a period of two months or more, but when I’m home, I’m home. I do all I can to ensure that my fatherly and husband presence is felt.”
Obviously there’s no dilly dallying on how focused the headmaster is in his home just as he was on the field. Wondering if any of his daughters would venture into football, Mutiu revealed that they play basketball instead and he encourages them as any loving dad would do. He probably transferred his jumping skills to his daughters. Raising a family in Spain, Adepoju was a bit worried about his children missing out in their cultural heritage, thus he ensured that they visit Nigeria as often as possible to learn their mother’s tongue.
I don’t take alcohol
Keeping with the dictates of his religion, Adepoju admitted that he doesn’t take alcohol. Besides he had a bad experience with booze. He narrated his first ordeal this way-
“The first time I had alcohol was back in secondary school. As boys who were eager to explore life, I took alcohol but after that, I puked. I didn’t like the taste. And because of my upbringing, we abhor alcohol in my home; I decided to stay away from it. Most times in the club, my friends usually query me for being a teetotaller, they wondered if I still wanted to go back to the field. I just don’t like it.”
Even if he doesn’t love the taste of beer and spirits, he seldom takes red wine and champagne.
Contrary to his stern look, the retired Nigerian footballer loves to keep it simple and classy in his jeans and shirts/t-shirts. As a husband to a fashion designer, one would expect him to sample different attires but this is not the case. “I love wearing jeans and shirts. It gives me a simple but classy look. I wear suits sometimes but the jeans and t-shirts are my favourites.”
Despite his long stay in Spain, the Ibadan in him has not been erased completely. Delightfully, he disclosed that his favorite meal any time, any day is ‘amala and ewedu soup’. But can he prepare it? he proudly nodded in the affirmative.
Football Any time, Any day
Though he roused some wagging tongues when he featured in Yomi Fabiyi’s movie ‘Ona Abayo’ (Way Out) as a guest artiste last year, the headmaster said that he has no other passion but football. After resigning from the Shooting Stars FC as club manager late last year, it’s no surprise that the international footballer refused to let the cat out of the bag on his next move but he certainly assured that his life revolves around football. He spoke so passionately about his lovely moments in his active years as a footballer. Probably the most reveling for him was his brace against USA’s goalkeeper Kasey Keller who was then the best goalkeeper in the world. This victory placed Nigeria in the finals against Portugal in the FIFA World Youth Championship in 1989. Besides football, he is an ardent lover of Nigeria music.
Winning the world cup
There was no denying the passion in his voice that he would like to see Nigeria win the world cup but this he said would require consistency and planning. “We need consistency and planning if we are to win the World Cup. Not just planning on a short term basis but long term. Spain had never won the World Cup but they started what they are gaining today 10 or 15 years ago. We need facilities all over the country to help groom these players properly. We have to be visionary in our planning.”