“You play football because you love the game”- Kareem Omolaja Nurain

Nigerian football players have surely contributed to Indian football. Kareem Omolaja Nurain is one such Nigerian footballer. Kareem joined Spartan Football Academy of Lagos in 2002 at the of 12. In 2004 he represented Nigeria in All West African Academical Cup, which Nigeria won and he adjudged best defender of the tournament. In 2007 Kareem signed his first professional contract with the Lagos-based club Ola Oluwa Asejere FC from there he moved to Libyan Premier League club Tersanah where he stayed for a couple of seasons. Kareem is known for his solid defending and clean tackles on the ball, who can also play as central midfield. Kareem is a specialist of dead ball and scored many goals from dead ball situations throughout his career. Abhijit Ganguly spoke with Kareem about his football life.

How did you start playing football? 

I was born in a family that loved sports. My elder brother started playing football. He was my inspiration. My parents were totally supportive of my playing football.

How did you end up playing football in India?

I was playing in Libya. After the end of the league, I was supposed to go to Malaysia to play. Unfortunately, that year the Malaysian football federation stopped any foreign players from playing in the league. I had a friend who was playing in the J&K Bank (Kashmir). He suggested me to come to Kashmir and play. So I started playing for J&K Bank. Later on I played for J CT F.C (Punjab) and Royal Wahingdoh F.C (Shillong). In 2013 I came to Kolkata and started playing for Southern Samity. Soon I went to play for Green Valley F.C (Assam) and then again played for Southern Samity for the Kolkata league. After that I played for Lonestar F.C (Kashmir), Morning Star F.C (Assam) and eventually Mohammedan Sporting Club. When I was playing in Libya, I was playing as a defensive mid fielder, but here in India I play as a stopper. Playing for all these clubs was a great experience for me. I enjoyed playing for the Royal Wahingdoh the most!

What are your thoughts on football here in Kolkata? 

When I first started playing in Kolkata, there was more competition in the I-league as there were many clubs playing. Unfortunately, now few clubs are playing and competition is less. India is still far behind international standards. But the good thing is that they are developing now. Earlier most of the clubs didn’t have any academy of their own. Now most of the clubs have an academy of their own and they train players from the grassroots level. 

Do you think standard of i-league has improved because of foreigners?

Yes, it helps a lot. The more the local boys play with foreigners, the more experienced they will get. Indian players will be benefiting from learning from senior professionals who have played at the top level.

According to you what qualities should a stopper have?

Firstly, you have to have patience.  Secondly, you have to have good timing sense. You must know how to communicate with your fellow players and be a leader. It is very important to be cool and calm. 

Tell us which sportsperson inspires you the most?

REAL MADRID defender Fernando Hierro.

What has been the most memorable moment for you so far?

For me the best moment was to get the contract to play for Libya. I didn’t expect. It was a big surprise! I was practicing with a first division team there. At 9 30 in the night my agent called my brother that they want to sign me. It was a big moment for me.

Football still remains on the back foot when compared to other sports, especially cricket, in India. 

What are your words of advice for aspiring footballers here?

In Africa, when we are small and start playing football, we don’t think of money, we play just for the love of the game. Most of the African players start from the street. Money shouldn’t be the focus. You play football because you love the game.

What are your future plans?

I am planning to open a football academy for the underprivileged. Lots of children are interested in football. Even street children play football. The only thing is that they can't afford to go to an academy.

A word or two about Kolkata? 

The passion for football here is beyond imagination.  If you want to make a big name in football in India, you need to play in Kolkata. If you are a successful footballer here you can play anywhere in India.

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