Ahead of Wednesday's league meeting, EnyimbaFC.net caught up with striker Ibrahim Mustapha, formerly of El Kanemi Warriors, to discuss a wide range of topics, spanning his experience as an Elephant and his personal life.
How did you you feel when you heard of Enyimba's interest
Normally, when you play football, you are aware that people notice you. It was not just Enyimba who wanted me, but when news of their interest came, it was a challenge to me. I had been hearing many names of current and past Enyimba players, especially Mfon Udoh. So, I said - small as I am - let me come and make my own name too. Definitely, it's a big challenge for me to be here.
Your experience settling in
As you leave your hometown, you meet different people, different religions, different traditions, different friends. Different supporters too. You can be sure some people will like you and some won't. The distance wasn't too much of a problem for me, because with El Kanemi we used to travel by road from Maiduguri to Lagos, and also other places. So, the experience moving from Calabar is almost too easy to me. (laughs)
Best buddy in Enyimba
Definitely my roommate - Chinedu Ohanachom. We came to the club together, and we live together. Also Friday (Achimugwu); sometimes, he calls me and tells me what is what.
Many people have been very helpful to me, like (Ikechukwu) Ibenegbu, and even the skipper just calls me sometimes to tell me that I'll score, and I'll make it here. Afelokhai too, most of the time he's giving me advice, telling me, "Ibrahim, do that, it'll help you." I like the way they talk to me.
Qualities needed to thrive as an Enyimba striker
In football - and this is not only in matches; even in training - you always want to score goals. Goals value you as a striker. Enyimba always signs big players from big clubs, for example (former striker) Ismaila Gata - he also was a big scorer for his former club before he was signed. There are many forwards, but we come together, and we challenge ourselves. From there, you know who is who.
For me, if you are called a striker, you must always score goals for the club, no matter what happens. For me, it's a challenge. Since I've been here, I've scored four goals so far, but I'm always thinking, wondering, "What's happening with my goals?". I want to improve it, because always the coach tells me, "Ibrahim, do that, you will improve." But I'll try and see what happens within the remaining 13 matches, because my target this season is 10 to 12 goals.
How do you handle being benched
Well, as a player, always you want to play. But that's the coach's decision: he sees us in training, and decides based on how we play whether or not to use you in the match. But if I don't play, I wish the other forwards well, and pray that they score. If they don't, it will reflect badly on all of us! If one person doesn't do well, they will say, "All the strikers are not doing well."
What's it like working with Gbenga Ogunbote?
Coach Ogunbote is a big coach in Nigeria. Everybody knows him. I have a friend, Sunday Adetunji at Abia Warriors, who is one of his former players. So, before I came, I asked him, "Such and such a person is coach at Enyimba, and he wants me to come. What do you think?"
He immediately told me some of the coach's likes and dislikes, and then he said, "I know, Yuga, you can do it. Go and improve yourself." As he told me that, it improved my morale, and I knew I had to play under this coach! As we go on, I enjoy the way the coach works. You know, even with your father, there will be some crisis sometimes, but within 30 minutes, it's resolved. But I really enjoy working with coach Ogunbote.
He always tells me that, as a striker, when I'm given a pass, I should try to move the ball forward. You know, I've worked with many coaches, like (Ladan) Bosso and Salisu Yusuf; I remember, sometimes before I've used the ball the way coach Ogunbote tells me now, and coach Bosso tells me, "Ibrahim, don't do that." Same thing the way I did things there, sometimes coach Ogunbote doesn't like it. As a player, when you come under a new coach, you must play the role he wants you to play. Even if you don't agree with it, just do as he says.
First experience playing professionally while fasting during Ramadan
Ah! I remember! I was at El Kanemi, and it was the Quarter Final of the Federation Cup in the 2013/2014 season. We played in Abuja against Enugu Rangers. At that time, fasting had started. You know, we in the North must fast, as Muslims. Some people keep the fasting aside, and after the match they pick it up again, but I said let me try it. As we started the game, after about 10 or 15 minutes, I was done. I told coach Salisu Yusuf to change me, and he said no, that it was too early. I just managed to play 30 minutes, and then he took me off. Since then, I haven't had a problem.
Another Cup match, this time against Dolphins FC in Nasarawa - we lost 2-1, I think - that one, I played 90 minutes. That first experience with the 30 minutes made me see that, if I could play that, then I could play till full time. But fasting in football is not easy.
Are there grounds for suspending fasting during matchdays as a Muslim?
As a Muslim, it's cases like illness that should make you keep your fasting aside. But not when you're healthy and strong. Fasting is good for every Muslim, those 29 or 30 days. But some players cannot fast and play football at the same time, it's not everybody that can do that. I personally can, but it's not the same for all Muslims. They can keep it aside and continue the following day, but in my opinion, that's not good.
Finally, what is it with the 'Yuga' nickname?
(laughs) I've had it since I was born. Honestly. There is one friend of my father, named Abba. Soon as he saw me, that time (as a child), he said, "This one will be 'Yuga'."
One day, I asked my dad what the name means, and he directed me to go ask Abba. As I went to Abba, he told me that it was not time yet; that when it is, he will tell me the meaning. But no, it's not an Hausa word.
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