Bala: Aiteo Cup victory over FC Ifeanyi Ubah sweetest career moment

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Technical adviser of Niger Tornadoes Abubakar Bala has described the Aiteo Cup semi-final victory over FC Ifeanyi Ubah as the “sweetest moment” of his coaching career.

Ahead of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) 2017/18 season, Naijafootballplus.com caught up with Niger Tornadoes Technical adviser Bala Abubakar.

Abubakar, who is one of the youngest coach in the NPFL reflected on the previous season and how his team lost in the Aiteo Cup final against Akwa United.

Speaking in this exclusive interview with Naijafootballplus.com, Abubakar also talks about his coaching career and preparation for next season.

Naijafootballplus: How are you coach? Thanks for joining our interview session.

Abubakar: “I’m honoured, it is my humble pleasure to chat with your medium.”

Naijafootballplus: By your own assessment, how would you describe last season’s performance of Niger Tornadoes?

Abubakar: “As a young coach, I will rate the season high and a huge lift for my career. It was difficult getting this opportunity to coach Niger Tornadoes at this top flight level after years as a grassroots coach. The league was good and the Aiteo Cup was excellent. We were so close to winning in the final but luck wasn’t on our side. I think we were able to prove our critics wrong and give them a different opinion about this team.”

Naijafootballplus: Let’s talk about your coaching career, how is the experience coaching a top flight club?

Abubakar: “I have been part of Niger Tornadoes coaching staff for a while and I was there when we secured promotion. I have learnt through the ropes on the job and I was patient enough to wait for my time. When Abdullahi Biffo left, I was given a chance. Many people doubted me, they didn’t believe much in me but I wasn’t worried. I was confident of what I could offer and deliver, I understand it is difficult in this part of the world for young coaches to be given opportunity to be head coach. I am happy and excited, less than two years we were able to play in the Cup final after a long time in the history of the club. Despite playing away from home, we sustained our top flight status. The experience is huge, the job is challenging and the pressure is something that can soak someone up. I give glory to God for the success so far.”

Naijafootballplus: Lets flash back to the Aiteo Cup final. Your team dominated the game against Akwa United, despite coming into the game as under dogs. How painful was it losing the game on penalties?

Abubakar: My players gave their best and proved the critics wrong with a dominant performance. We couldn’t connect to our final balls and converted the chances created, we dominated but lacked that final touch on the ball to break the game. We had advantage in the penalty shootout but yet we lost it. I don’t want to make excuses about the pitch and the balls, I think we could have done better in the attack and also make use of our dominant performance. Overall, my boys gave us a good performance, they were able to fight till the end. The journey to the final was tough, I am excited we finished the season among the best clubs in Nigeria.”

Naijafootballplus: Which round was the toughest for your team in the Aiteo Cup?

Honestly, the journey was very tough. Plateau United game was one of the toughest, but our first leg result motivated us. We almost got a double over them in Jos but we failed to keep our heads high when we had the two goals advantage. The toughest game was against FC Ifeanyi Ubah in the semifinal, playing against the champions was challenging. We were two goals down at home in the second half, the fans almost gave up on us but I kept pushing my players. We made two substitutions and I told my players to push and get one goal, we got the goal and I told them winning is possible. We were able to organise and set up tactically after the first goal, the goal also restored our confidence. It was an amazing come back, the sweetest moment in my career at Tornadoes. Going to the second leg, the team spirit was high and we were able to set up defensively and stayed compact. We could have got some goals in Nnewi but the mindset wasn’t right. That game will live with me for a long time.” – Abubakar

Naijafootballplus: How are you looking forward to the new season?

Abubakar: We have started pre-season and we have few new players with us, when the transfer documentation are done we will reveal their names. Some players are also leaving, seeking greener pastures. We will ensure we don’t make too many changes, continuity is important for the team. We are not sure yet of returning home but Lokoja has also given us everything to be called home. We are staying focus ahead of next season, we heard about the WAFU Cup holding next season but we are yet to receive any official confirmation. I hope WAFU will stage the competition, that will help us improve the team and compete with other Western African teams. I hope we can surpass last season success, build on it and move up the block with a title or continental ticket next season.

Naijafootballplus: Thanks for chatting with us, we wish you all the best next season.

Abubakar: You are welcome.

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