LEKE JAMES: I would have been a medical doctor…

Molde FK Striker, Leke James is a Nigerian player who has been hugging the headline for the right reasons in Norway. He was the second highest goal scorer in the Norwegian top-flight last season with 17 goals and he is currently his club’s leading scorer despite an injury blighted campaign. In an interview with Tunde Liadi, James speaks about his encounters with current manager of Manchester United, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer,  his desire to play for the Super Eagles, his quest to discourage youth restiveness in the volatile Kaduna State through an annual competition to fish out hidden talents from the state and other sundry matters.

 

Prolific striker with Norwegian top division team Molde FK, James Leke has recounted his encounter with current gaffer of Manchester United Ole Gunnar Solksjaer changed his career for the better.

Leke, 27, has had a roller skater experience playing in Norway until he had to move to China at the end of the 2015 season.

His first incursion into the Eliteserien, the top flight of the Norwegian football league, was with Aalesund as he joined them from Bridge Boys, a youth club associated with Julius Berger FC in 2011 and remained there till 2015, scoring 37 goals in 90 appearances.

After playing for about four seasons in Norway, James made the bold move to relocate to Chinese side BJ Enterprises in the summer of 2016. Despite playing only 27 games split over two seasons in China, James was able to score 13 goals before he sustained a serious injury in his second year.

“My decision to move to China wasn’t motivated by money but by the quest to change environment and try something new.”

“My time in China was a great experience despite having played in Europe. It was nice to see what Football looks like in Asia. I was impressed because the mindset I had of going to China was thinking it would be too easy for me there but when I got there I was surprised at the level. The standard of the game was higher than what I expected. I also had to adjust to a new culture, mentality and food. It was a new experience for me,” said James.

OLE GUNNAR SOLKSJAER

It was in this trying time that Solksjaer, then coach of Molde FK came into his life and career.

“The injury I had happened in my second year in China and I had to undergo surgery which kept me out for about a year so I decided to complete my rehabilitation in Norway which feels like home for me after Nigeria and where my reputation was still intact. At that point Molde FK was under current Manchester United manager, Solksjaer.

“Solksjaer made inquiry about me and found out that I was free and he invited me to join them at Molde. I did and I completed the last phase of the rehabilitation there and I started playing again after a year out to injury.”

The Nigerian hailed the impact of Solksjaer who he said gave him sufficient time for the injury to properly heal.

“The response of my family members and loved ones were also good. They stood by me because the injury was so bad that I was contemplating early retirement.

“It was really a challenging period for me. It was as if I was in hell because a lot of things were running through my mind.

“I was able to recover and many thanks to Ole Gunnar Solksjaer because he gave me time to recover well and helped me to get back on my feet again. When I came back the progress was amazing. So here I am.”

He applauded Solksjaer managerial style and revealed that his humane disposition to him and the fact that he was patient with him during his nightmarish injury problem makes him indebted to him.

“Yeah I considered the idea of moving to Molde because it is where my house is and Solksjaer wanted me to come as he found out I was free. We have a great coach-player relationship,” James pointed out.

“We (he and Solksjaer) met in Spain when Manchester United was there, he visited us and we had a little chat.”

The striker was the second highest scorer in the Norwegian Eliteserien with 17 goals from 28 games last season and despite missing some games this season due to injury and ill-health James has seven goals from 14 league games and two additional goals in their Champions League campaign, which was truncated by Hungarian side, Ferencvaros in the playoffs round.

However their performance in the lucrative club competition earned them automatic qualification to the group stage of the Europa League competition where they are up against Arsenal, Rapid Vienna (Austria) and Dundalk of Republic of Ireland.

SUPER EAGLES

Leke is also looking forward to playing for the Super Eagles of Nigeria.

“I am not desperate but I feel my form for the clubs I have played for in successive seasons in Europe should have at least earned me an invitation to the Nigeria national team. It is a thing of joy to play for one’s national team and I am going to cherish it.

“Some are saying it might be because I am playing in Norway but it was from the same Norway William Troost Ekong got the recognition to play for the Super Eagles while he was playing for Haugesund back then. I believe every player that is doing very well for their clubs and are consistent should have a shot at the national team.”

His experiences playing for the national teams of the U17 and U23, he said, give him the self belief that he would do well at the senior level too.

James was in the Golden Eaglets set of 2009 that won silver at the FIFA U17 World Cup in Nigeria while he played in the Austin Eguavoen led U23 team in 2011. The team failed to qualify for the 2012 Olympics football event.

When asked if he desires a move to the illustrious English league, he said: “At 27 I can still play in England given the opportunity. Though, work permit has been a hindrance but I have got offers from there, hopefully it will be sorted out soon.

“For some reasons I didn’t want to leave Norway because of something that I am aiming at here,” the attacker informed.

“It is the reason why despite having several offers on ground, but I have been the one delaying it because there is something I’m aspiring to get here which requires that I am in Norway for quite some time before I could get it. Hopefully the time to leave is near.

“It is a tough league and highly physical and that is why if you succeed in the Norwegian league I think you can succeed in any other leagues. The standard and quality of the game here are satisfactory.”

James thumbed up the Super Eagles progress under Gernot Rohr and he tipped the team for their fourth Africa Cup of Nations crown in Cameroon in 2022 if the technical crew stays intact and the rebuilding process is not truncated.

“I think Eagles’ technical crew headed by Coach Gernot Rohr is doing a good job with the rebuilding process of the team. Young players are being involved and the team is playing now with a known formation and consistently too,” James commented.

“I am certain that the team will continue to grow from strength to strength and winning the next Africa Cup of Nations is a possibility if the team doesn’t relent.”

NIGERIAN LEAGUE

He also beckoned on the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to create enabling environment that will ensure that the talents that are abound in the country are properly harnessed and made to flourish.

James noted that his wish to give back to the society that made him to set a foundation which has been organising grassroots football competition for the youths of Kaduna since 2016 and that some of the talents discovered have the prospect of taking their careers abroad if they are serious and are successful at trials that will be organised for them.

“If we are talking about talent, I think Nigeria is blessed with it. That is the reason why I have been funding a programme in the North that has to do with young players and it is really amazing the number of talents you see there.

“It is such a blessing to our country but I think a lot of things need to be put in place to expose, nurture, groom these talents to give them a proper foundation which will probably help our football in the country at a long run. It is really amazing the number of talents being discovered almost every day in the country.”

HIS FOUNDATION

James also explains the reason for the annual competition in Kaduna State named after him that has been on since 2016: “It’s an annual competition, started in 2016. The aim is to give back to where I started from and to expose talents. I bring scouts from Europe to watch them every year. I think it’s an opportunity for some talents to achieve their dreams.

“It may not hold this year because of the Coronavirus pandemic. I want to inform you that three players were supposed to travel in the summer but got stuck in Nigeria because of the pandemic. We are still hoping that things go back to normalcy soon so that the process can be finalized.”

James categorically stated that he won’t like to veer into coaching when he finally hangs his boot and that he is considering going into football administration and players’ management.

“Yes….something like that especially with the young players. I’m not looking into coaching.”

MEDICAL DOCTOR

Amazingly, the Molde FK striker hinted that he could have been a medical doctor and working in a big hospital if not for football and that his admiration for the job came as a result of his early exposure to the Profession through his mother who is now a retired nurse.

“I definitely would have become a medical doctor without a second thought if not for football. I really love the Profession. My mum is a retired nurse and I always admired the doctors whenever I visited her at the office back then,” James noted.

James is happily married with two kids and he said that being married has turned around his life and that it has made him to be more focused and responsible as a man.

“It has made me more responsible and kept me more focused. And also helps me to set my priorities right and made me more mentally strong,” added James.

Before you Run (1)

“Whatever political level you have laced up to run for: presidential, governorship, senatorial, house, local government, or ward, before you run, hear now what you are coming in to run or govern.”

 

Visit the newspaper for this and other news