Q & A with Sunday Mba
He was largely unknown before the start of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa but following a superlative outing capped by two fantastic goals against pre-tournament favourites, the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso in the final, Sunday Mba has now become the stuff of legend in Nigerian football folklore.
Born 24 years ago in the southeastern Nigerian town of Alayi in Abia State, the precociously and prodigiously talented attacking midfielder began his football education at the Pepsi Football Academy in 2004.
His talent shone through and less than a year later, he was snapped up by six-time Nigerian champions, Enyimba. He was to proceed to Enugu Rangers and Dolphins before joining Warri Wolves in 2010.
Mba was one of the cornerstones of Super Eagles head coach, Stephen Keshi’s novel project of building the senior national team around domestic talent. He repaid the gaffer’s confidence by posting big performances that culminated in a third Afcon triumph for Nigeria.
Mba had a heart-to-heart conversation with supersport.com and discussed his goals at the 2013 Afcon, Mikel, Moses, women, pets, ‘special’ food and a proposed move to Europe amongst others.
Supersport.com: Congratulations on an unbelievable 2013 Afcon, Sunday.
Sunday Mba: Thank you very much supersport.com.
Supersport.com: A lot of Nigerians expressed reservation about the final 23-man list for the 2013 Afcon especially with big names like Peter Odemwingie, Kalu Uche and Obafemi Martins excluded. How did you guys who made the list deal with the apprehension of Nigerian fans?
Sunday Mba: We didn’t really think too much about it to be perfectly honest. We trusted the decisions of the Big Boss (Keshi) and since he had confidence in the 23 of us selected, we knew that was the most important thing.
Keshi always told us that the ball was now in our court to go out there and prove him right and I am sure we did that. He told us that if we got good results at the Afcon, no one would criticise us anymore and I can say he is right.
Supersport.com: You were left out of the team for the first two games at the Afcon against Burkina Faso and Zambia. You must have felt terrible.
Sunday Mba: To be honest, I felt bad about the fact that we were not playing well and not about my failure to play in the first two matches.
I am a complete professional and for me, the team comes first and I also knew that all 23 of us could not play at once.
Supersport.com: You eventually started your first game of the competition on January 29 at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg against Ethiopia……
Sunday Mba: Yeah, I did. I vividly recall a conversation I had with the coach before that game. He told me that I had been doing it right in the previous games I had played for the national team and that he expected a repeat.
I was fired up as I was never going to let the opportunity slip from my grasp. The rest as they say is history.
Supersport.com: Next up was that quarterfinal game against the Ivory Coast. Be honest, you guys were scared?
Sunday Mba: (Laughs) Well, I won’t use the word scared but we all knew it was not going to be an easy game. I mean, these guys were like the favourites for the competition so we knew it would be tough.
We knew that if we had scored two more goals against Ethiopia in our previous game, we would have avoided the Ivorians but we also told ourselves that if we beat the Ivorians, the trophy would be ours.
Supersport.com: Nigerians watched in pleasant surprise as you guys beat the Ivorians 2-1. How was that feat achieved?
Sunday Mba: We fought for each other and played as a team. We believed that Ivory Coast was the strongest nation left in the competition and that if they were eliminated, no other team could stop us.
Unity was the key in that match. If we had not played as a team, the result may have been different.
Supersport.com: And then you scored the winner against the Ivorians after a mazy run…why didn’t you pass to a teammate?
Sunday Mba: (Laughs again)….you know just before I scored, I was getting edgy. I kept looking at the time and saying to myself that we had to finish things in normal time. I sincerely believed that we were stronger than them on the day and could win if we showed self-belief.
I kept repeating and telling myself that I needed to do something extraordinary so when I got that pass, there was no way I was going to pass to anyone!
I pushed on and saw the space so I kept running with the ball….I took a shot and…(breaks down in emotional silence).
Supersport.com: What was the feeling when you saw that shot beat Boubacar Barry and nestled in the back of the Ivorian net?
Sunday Mba: I was shouting, 'I am the man…I am the man'….hahaha, it was an forgettable moment. One I will never forget in my life.
Supersport.com: Next up was Mali in the semifinals and a lop-sided 4-1 scoreline. Did the team expect to win so emphatically?
Sunday Mba: No we did not. However, after the first few minutes, we saw that the Malians were not as strong as any of the sides we had played earlier and we knew we would win without too much of a struggle.
Supersport.com: You scored the winner against Burkina Faso in the final….
Sunday Mba: Yeah, we knew them well having played against them in the first game. However, we saw they had improved as we watched them beat Ghana in the semifinals and knew we had to be careful.
The coach asked us to be focused against them and realise that we were playing a final.
We took his advice and we won.
Supersport.com: It was a goal of genuine quality as well.
Sunday Mba: Yes it was (pauses). I knew I had done myself proud. I also knew I had done my family, my city, my state and more importantly, my nation proud.
Supersport.com: Who is your best friend in the Super Eagles?
Sunday Mba: Chigozie Agbim and Godfrey Oboabona. We are always together. Great guys. I am actually very free with all members of the team and I can say I am close to all members of the team
Supersport.com: And the funniest member of the team….
Sunday Mba: (Laughs). Azubuike Egwuekwe…a complete clown that draws a laugh from everyone.
Supersport.com: What role did the two Chelsea FC boys, Mikel and Moses play in the team and at the camp.
Sunday Mba: Those guys are really special. They inspired us all. Very humble and unassuming. They are very professional as well and great examples to us all.
Supersport.com: Tell us about that special woman in your life.
Sunday Mba: Oh no (laughs and pauses). Well, I am not married. That is all I will say.
Supersport.com: Your favourite meal?
Sunday Mba: Rice and plantain with tasty fish. And for pets, I love dogs…..not big ones but the small cuddly ones (laughs)
Supersport.com: How do you unwind?
Sunday Mba: I love to listen to good music.
Supersport.com: Surely you are on your way to Europe…..
Sunday Mba: Well, I am taking my time about this. Like you know, the transfer window in the major leagues across Europe has closed.
I won’t lie, I have been inundated with offers from England, Spain, Italy and some other countries but I will not be hasty in reaching a decision now.
When the time is right, Nigerians will be informed of my next destination.
Supersport.com: Thanks for your time, Sunday.
Sunday Mba: You are always welcome.