Izzi Football Association (IFA) tournament has remained a friendly football competition played annually among Izhi speaking people of Ebonyi State with a view to fostering unity in the clan.
Recently the competition has become a center of attention of sort as the association is strongly growing in popularity and strength.
In view of this development and in preparation for this year’s tournament, our team of reporters had an exclusive interview with the founder and chairman of the association, Barr Boniface Ezeagu who explained in details of the plans for this year’s competition and new development witnessed in 2022 edition.
The chairman who was visibly encouraged with our visit didn’t hesitate to bare his mind on the many success stories of the association, challenges of the group over the years and their prospects…
Turning Point: May we know you, sir.
My name is Barr Boniface Ezeagu, founder and chairman Izhi Football Association.
Turning Point: Sir, can you tell us the recent development as it concerns the upcoming 2022 IFA competition?
The preparation is on top gear. Of course, you know football competition is capital intensive and we have always had it difficult to get sponsors. Taking our mind back, we started this competition in the year 2000. As of that time, I was able to sponsor it myself. Things were not as costly as they are now. With time and with the poor economy, it became difficult for me to continue to sponsor it alone, and we began to seek for sponsors. On that ground, Sir Architect Edward Nkwegu came to our help. For some years, he helped us. At a point again, will I say we fell into darkness because there was nobody to sponsor us and there was no money.
Eventually after some while again, the present speaker of Ebonyi House of Assembly, Rt Hon. Francis Ogbonnaya Nwifuru, in fact, effective from last year came to our help and decided to sponsor it. We had a lot of challenges before that of last year but eventually we recorded huge success last year.
Turning point: Ok sir, when will this match kick-off?
It will kick-off on 2nd of October, 2022. Our Target is to play the final on 26th December so that the heat of party rallies and all that will not disrupt what we are doing.
Turning Point: Ok sir, what is the innovation that you see in this league that hasn’t been there in the previous years?
Eeehh! Of course you know in the previous years, our prices were less such that any group that came first used to go home with two hundred thousand naira but these days, the price for 1st position is one million, 2nd position five hundred thousand while 3rd is three hundred thousand naira.
Turning Point: Do you see players from IFA prepared enough to compete favourably with players at the local, national and international leagues?
Let me tell you, just after last year’s competition, a particular development Center Coordinator reported to us that three(3) of his players that played for him last year are now playing national league_three of them.
So, the people that are playing in those foreign teams all originated from local team like this. There isn’t much difference between them and our own players.
We are developing and showcasing them for people to harvest. And let me add, what we have observed in the past is that any time we are playing, you will see talent hunters. These are people who have made it their business that anywhere there is a competition, they will go there and watch and you will not know but at the end of the competition, you see them approaching some of these players for contact and from there, they will pick them. So, asking whether they can play is out of it.
Turning Point: Where do you wish to see IFA players in the next ten years?
Remember, Okocha was playing this street football, Kanu Nwankwo and all those popular players, they all started very lowly and eventually today you hear their names everywhere. So in the next ten years, if this competition is sustained regularly, I can tell you these talent hunters will pick very many of them and take them away to play for international leagues.
Some football agents are going round picking and sending players outside for training most of whom will eventually become international players.
So,what we just need is to continue to sustain this competition where these players will be engaged regularly and such people that picked the other players hover around any time we have competition and they will pick them. From our competition we have some of our players that are playing for Calabar Rovers and so on.
Turning Point: Sir, what are your words of encouragement to these players and those who will be joining them on the coming tournament?
Well, my encouragement is this: you know what we are experiencing now, people are now billing the Coordinators a lot of money to play for them. No, it is when you think that your target is just to play on the competition day only that you consider money first but if your target is to go beyond that, any little thing they will give to you, go and play for that DC and showcase your talent so that these agents that go around looking for good players will pick you.
If you now begin to bill them so much, the coordinator that hasn’t the money will not pick you and you will remain in the village with your talent. So, let the youths try to be selected to play, not because of the money but to enable themselves be shown to the world.
Turning Point: Sir, what are you asking of football hunters or agents and coaches from outside the State in respect to recruitment of these younger players?
Let them come around whenever we have our competition, monitor some of the players and at the end, we ask them to pick them because that’s actually the aim of the competition.
Turning Point: Thank you so much, sir.
I am glad to have you and appreciate your presence.