NDUKA Ugbade used football to dust hardship in his family and that makes him happy. The round leather game accorded him the advantage to make a name and been useful to members of his family and others.
For a young boy who couldn’t further his education beyond secondary school, but has earned a name in the lexicon of world soccer that excites him the more. Today, many Nigerian youths draw inspiration from him.
Ugbade, fondly called ‘Paulo’ by soccer enthusiasts made history by lifting a FIFA World Cup in China in 1985. His image brings memory of the world conquering Under-16 youth team that lifted the first FIFA World Cup by an African country. That was 33 years ago, when Nigeria defeated then West Germany in the finals to lift the trophy, at the Beijing Workers Stadium in China, Nigeria’s and Africa’s first major trophy in football on the global stage. Ugbade’s 1985 team inspired millions of Africans that they can make impact on the global scene with their football skills.
The team’s exploit would go to open doors for subsequent generations of young talents on the African continent. Ugbade has lived football all his life, since he could remember as a kid, it is the air he breathes. He metamorphosed from joggling ball to a pundit and now football manager.
“I started playing football at a very tender age, right from primary school into secondary school, but I never expected that I would get to such level as the Youth Sports Federation of Nigeria (YSFON) team that metamorphosed into the National Under-16 team which later became the Golden Eaglets after we won the World Cup in China, We never thought we were going to win the World Cup but it happened with me being the captain of the team,” he said. Beside his captaincy, Ugbade stood out in the defense for the team.
Three times, he was chased away by officials as he tried break into the training ground of invited players as Nigeria prepares to select players for FIFA U-16 World Cup in China. Ugbade wanted to prove his mettle. Ugbade kept going to the training ground every day. window of opportunity opened one day with just fifteen minutes to the end of the training when the coach said, “since we have been chasing you away and you don’t want to go, let’s see what you can do.” Ugbade had little time to impress the coach and he did.
The former Mountain of Fire and Miracles FC coach started his professional career in 1989 with El- Kanemi Warriors of Maiduguri, before travelling to Spain to trade tackles for CD Castellion, later joining Real Aviless. He returned home to re-unite with El- Kanemi Warriors, later signing for Calabar Rovers. He hanged his boots after plying his trade for Perak FA in 2002.
Ugbade was part of the Flying Eagles that won the silver medal at the 1989 FIFA Under-20 tournament in Saudi Arabia. Nigeria lost to Portugal in the finals but his name stood out at the quarterfinal match against former USSR in Damman, Saudi Arabia, dubbed the ‘Damman Miracle.’
He scored the equalizer, completing a remarkable comeback with a goal in the 84th minute to end the game, when Nigeria came back from four goals deficit, to counter Sergei Kiriakov brace and goals from Bakhva Tedeev and Oleg Salenko to level score, forcing extra time before edging out the USSR team on penalty shootout that ended five goals to three in favour of the Flying Eagles. Damaman Miracle was the first ever comeback of such score line in any FIFA Championship. Ugbade didn’t progress into the senior level as was expected.
The former Golden Eaglets assistant coach scored his first international goal for the Super Eagles of Nigeria in a Tunisia 1994 CAF African Cup of Nations qualifiers against Ethiopia played in 1993 at the National Stadium Surulere, Lagos in a 7-1 routing. He played for Nigeria at Senegal ’92 where the Super Eagles won silver. His first senior goal came in the qualifiers against Ethiopia at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos. He was part of the 94’Super Eagles at the African Cup Nations in Tunisia, that brought home Nigeria’s 2nd African Cup of Nations.
His low point in football came when national team coach, Clemens Westerhof excluded him from the USA 94, FIFA World Cup squad. He likened it to a football suicide. He described the experience as very bad, “I nearly went mad and it had a very negative effect, and it made me stop football for some years.”
It was a painful experience. It was something I was really looking forward to, but, unfortunately, some people gathered against me to ensure that it never happened. In fact, I never knew that there would be many more World Cups for me to be involved in because I was so pained that I left football for almost three years. I have forgiven him because, I went to Senegal ’92 Nations Cup as well as being part of the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations winning team when I was not even attached to a club.”
Ugbade played 22 times for the senior team between 1992-1994. It pain Ugbade recalling how he was neglected by football authority when he was injured. He acknowledged helped offered him by late Rasheed Yekini. “I got injured and was neglected playing for Nigeria. I was never helped to treat myself getting better, I spent my own money two years to go to Spain, invited by late Rasheed Yekini then playing for Sporting Gidon. I stayed with him for about 4 months. I did MRI and discovered it was Chronic, instead of operating; a laser was used to heal me. I got healed and started playing again.”
The former Super Eagle defender wants African countries to place more emphases on information than formation if they are to win the World Cup, “African team should start playing intelligently and relying more on information than formation. The moment this starts to happen, it shouldn’t take an African team eight to twelve years to win the World Cup. For the time being, most of our grassroots coaches must learn from what information means aside from formation in the time we are living now. Winning laurels is no longer limited to talent alone but application of that talent even against formidable opposition,” he said.
Ugbade is married to Stella Uzoma with three children Victoria, Sharon, and Patrick.