Alex Oluwatayo Akande is black and magic!
Powerful right foot, relentless energy, unfading smile even after a horror tackle, the once unknown foreigner has endeared himself to the people of Hong Kong.
Donning his No. 8 jersey for SC Kitchee, the Nigerian born footballer and business man, spoke with Adeola about life in the far east, playing for the Hong Kong national team and his love for Nigeria – his native country.
As a kid growing up in Nigeria what were your dreams?
My dream was to become a professional footballer, my parent played a major role, they enrolled me in the Pepsi football academy and from there my dream came to reality I’m doing what have always wanted.
Have there been any moments during your career when you’ve thought that football wasn’t for you anymore? If so, how did you deal with it?
No! I’ve never had such moments! But I can’t say it has been all rosy because have had some trying times but then at that moment I realized I had to go more harder and stronger to overcome every obstacles that comes my way but I never thought of quitting.
Did you ever prepare for a plan B if your football career didn’t take off?
Answers! Yes I wanted to become an engineer initially also while I was in London I went To A culinary school so I’m a trained chef, also go Into some business but major I want to go back to university to study more and gain knowledge! Maybe go back to study engineering or business.
The discussion of football being an easy career is often a controversial one; do you think being a professional footballer is easy?
Football is not as easy as people see it! They say shoot it like this, pass it like that but in reality it’s a different ball game! Its more technical, just like mathematics when you add 2+2 You already know the answer it’s the same as football and more so you have to be disciplined, be focused and also have a listening ear so as to be able to apply the tactics and theory the coach taught you and you have to bring that to the game n make people see you and show your quality. Trust me football is not easy. And being a professional footballer there are something’s you can’t just Do, you can’t just pack your bags and say you are travelling, you have to report to authorities for permission it means being responsible because you’re being responsible! You’re being paid you have to act right because you have young people watching you too.
You play for Hong Kong’s national team now, being a Nigerian by birth what difference does it make” what’s the level of racism”?
Well, racism is everywhere and sometimes you get to ask yourself what is wrong with being a black man, have had series of terrible experience but being that I’m a citizen of Hong Kong I come out to talk about it and tell you can you please be polite when you talk to me! Because you can’t look down on me because I’m black and thanks to my fans and my team mates they have been supportive.
Being a professional footballer I’m privileged to educate people about it, let them know no matter your color be it black, white or red we are human and that’s superior to any color. But really HK is a good place and it’s a multi-cultural city, everyone is welcomed, in Hong Kong level of racism is very low
Can you share with us lessons you learnt as a football player that you could apply later to life off pitch?
I will say impossible is nothing, never say die, you should never give up on yourself, a typical example was a time my club was down 1-0 at 87 minutes And we need to win the game, 90 minutes one goal at piece and added time 93 min we scored the second goal! It happen this way because we didn’t give up. And generally especially in football if you apply your knowledge on the pitch to your daily life trust me you would be successful because football is like an institution of learning it encompasses everything you need, how to love and care for people, respect others, self-respect, taking up responsibilities, time management and so on.
Racism is everywhere and sometimes you get to ask yourself what is wrong is with being a black man. i’ve had series of terrible experience but being a citizen of Hong Kong, I come out yo talk about it and demand politeness when i’m being addressed.
How has your relative fame affected the way that old acquaintances treat you?
My name is Oluwatayo and people from my hood calls me Tayo, I grew up in Mafoluku, Oshodi. What I am saying in essence is that I am still myself, I don’t look down on anybody, when I’m home I go look for them, I need them and they also need me too at least I will be an inspiration to them, “if Tayo can make it I can make it too”.
The point is who am I to start feeling all big and all, a lot of people have been there before me and some are nowhere to be found but some are still standing strong because they were good to people, GOD didn’t bless you for yourself he blessed you so you can be a blessing to others.
You love to give back asides giving out good item and gifts do you have any other project?
I will like to give back through sports like start an academy so as to take this young boys off the street, off drugs coming to Nigerian and seeing under age boys of 12 n 13 taking drugs is saddening. My visit this time have met with some big shots in Lagos told them my dreams and they are in full support! Major is about using sport as a vice to keep the kids off drugs.
Growing up, who was your idol?
Growing up, I loved Finidi George. He was a big inspiration to me, I was opportune to meet him and trust me he told me a lot of things that I am applying now that is why I always say no knowledge is wasted.
What has been your proudest moments on the field?
I would say 2 seasons ago my club was unbeaten throughout the season, we didn’t lose any game and that same season during the preseason we played against Man United and I scored, and also against PSG. But the truth is that the best is yet to come.
Compare to Epl, La liga, e.t all how is the Hong Kong’s league?
Well nothing really different, the major key is if you have the right players and the right coach you will have a great team. Have played in England before and Epl is more physical while La liga is more technical, you have to show skills and entertain. Epl right now is the best league in the world and it’s very physical the least you can think is just 3seconds before you make a decision. Hkl plays Barcelona kind of football.
When you lose a big game what is the tension like In the dressing room?
Everybody shuts down! Everyone is trying to picture where did I go wrong why didn’t I do it like this, you begin to reflect on the whole time spent on that pitch.
Like the time we played the champions league playoff in Korea we went on to play a shootout and I was the first to play and I shot the ball up over the bar and I looked at myself and I’m like: I killed my team, I never lost a penalty before but my boss just told us brace yourselves guys next season you’re playing and yeah we are playing the big boys league.
You have been in China for some years, are you interested in playing for other countries?
Right now I’m still contracted to Kitchee FC, though have had good offers from other clubs in Asia too it’s now left for my club to let go if not I have to wait on till then before I can take any decision. But I love kitchee we are one big family.
Professional players often compete with one another to secure a place in the first team; how does competition among players for limited positions affect the team spirit in the side?
I would say it’s brings out the quality of the player because if you lose your shirt you can’t get it back, you have to give in your 100%. Competition is very important because when there’s no one competing with for your space you will relax, that is why you will see some teams have good players on the field and also on the bench.
There’s a fairly short expiration date on an athlete’s body, especially in a physical sport like football. How are you preparing for life after football and how well do you think most players handle the inevitable transition?
Football career is a very short one, before you know it’s gone that’s why you have to plan ahead, when your body can’t play anymore you have to hands up because you can’t remain 20 forever. Well, majorly your management has a lot allot of role to play in making your life after football great because they have to educate you on how to invest and not spend lavishly.
You don’t buy all the cars in the world and not have a good investment because all these are just going to be a liability to you. I’m not saying you shouldn’t enjoy but invest more.
To every footballer if your manager or your agent is not advising you on your life after retirement he’s definitely not working for you, yes just out there for his own gain.
Have there ever been anytime you had altercation with your team mates?
No! I’m very reserved and friendly, people see me as a clown, and I make people laugh. But u know we are human and anything can just happen but in kitchen we are one big family we respect each other we settle things amicably.
Asides football what other sport do you like?
I like to play ping pong (table tennis) also love basketball but not to play just watch.
Have you got any final words of wisdom for up and coming players looking for their break?
I will keep striving! As a kid growing up I sold gala for a while we hawk at the airport. Always say to yourself I will make it, don’t just sit down take a step and you will excel.
On a scale of 1-10 How would you rate Nigerian league and what level is the Nigerian football internationally?
Well, I would say it can always get better, Nigerian league is known everywhere but you have to respect yourself before they can respect you. We have quality players but you don’t just sign players without paying them, the officiating in the league is bad. Talking about the national team they have been on n off, you don’t just call players because they play outside Nigeria to the national team, you have to consider if he does play in his club side and being fit at training is different from being match fit you have to consider all that as well. But it can always get better. Well I would say 5.
Did you ever consider playing for Nigeria?
Well some few years back when I was still playing in England I was invited to Nigeria national team under 20 camp but the atmosphere and reception wasn’t friendly. I don’t want to go into details.
How easy is it for Nigerian players to break into the Hong Kong league and Asia in general?
We have a lot of Nigerian players in playing in Asia but right here in Hong Kong it’s not easy let me say Africans in general because there was an incident that happen few years ago players from South African and francophone country misbehaved because of lack of self-discipline so that has put a bad name on African players you know over there all blacks are the same. All blacks playing in Hong Kong are Hong Kong citizens. SM