When angry, Mikel would disappear to play football – Tony Obi
Tony Obi is one of seven siblings of Nigerian professional footballer John Mikel Obi. In this interview, the older brother of Nigeria’s Super Eagles Captain speaks of his brother’s love for alubo (a Nigerian staple food made from cassava flour), and how M
Daily Trust: What was your childhood like with Mikel? Tony Obi: It was not really easy for all of us because we all grew up together at 15 Pankshin Street opposite the Jos Township Stadium. We grew up in a public compound where we occupied two rooms with one shop in front of the compound. Our mum owned a bar and used to sell pepper soup. DT: Did Mikel play a lot of football as a child? Tony: All of us did. We are a family of footballers; I played ‘Greater tomorrow’ while they were training in Township, we used to play football with friends from other streets and Mikel was the smallest among us. Sometimes, we used to ask him to leave because he was small and we were scared they might break his legs but he would cry and insist on playing. My immediate younger brother, Ebere, also plays; he is now with Heartland FC. Mikel always used to force himself to play with us and sometimes we would pity him and let him play.
DT: Did your parents encourage football or were they more concerned about his performance in school?
Tony: Our dad encouraged all of us to play, he used to be a player himself, he played for Gombe United or so. Mikel started from Igbo league and then to Plateau United while he was still in secondary school. From there, they had a friendly match with the Under 17 National team here at the Jos township stadium and he played very well. That night, one of the coaches came looking for him. I told him that my brother was sleeping but he asked me to wake him and my father. Later they gave him the address of the hotel they were staying and invited him to join them. Even before he joined Plateau United, my father encouraged him. He however told them to be careful with him so he doesn’t break his legs. DT: Mikel looks quiet, is that his personality or is it just for public appearance? Tony: Yes, Mikel doesn’t talk much; he is really DT: quiet Didn’t and humble.that make him vulnerable to bullies as a kid? Tony: As a child he didn’t talk much, we didn’t bully him but when he gets angry, he would only pick his boots and go to Township or Baptist area to play football. We usually go out to look for him and once you go to Township or Baptist, you will find him there playing football. DT: What kind of a brother is he? Tony: He is a very good brother. He takes care of the entire family; he is the breadwinner. DT: What kind of a father is he? Tony: We haven’t seen him together with the children yet, but he talks about them a lot. They will be coming home soon together. DT: How often do you get in touch? Tony: We communicate but hardly see. Even when we call, we don’t immediately get him because of his busy schedule. It may take him a few days to call back. DT: What was his favourite food as a child? Tony: Pap and alubo (thick cassava flour pudding). He loved alubo so much because as kids, we didn’t have money for semo so it was alubo we used to eat and he loved it so much. DT: What about now? Tony: Even the last time he came back home, he requested for alubo (laughed). DT: Can you share an interesting childhood memory with him?
Tony: Our dad instructed that he should be the one to prepare alubo for the entire family and also wash plates because he wasn’t doing any other house chores. He was so much into football. But Mikel will still go and play ball and forget, so by the time he comes back in the evening around 7 or 8pm, another person would have prepared the alubo. Mum will flog him, but tomorrow he will still do the same thing. DT: How does he relax? Tony: By listening to music. When he is not training, you find him with an earpiece listening to music, he loves to relax. DT: What are some of the places he loves to visit when he comes home? Tony: He usually stays in Abuja where we go to meet him. It’s been a long time since he came to Jos. In fact, he hasn’t been to Jos since our dad was kidnapped a few years back, but he is planning to come home soon. DT: What is the downside of being Mikel’s brother?
Tony: There are places I go to and I wouldn’t want people to know that we are related. Once they know, if I want to buy something, they will immediately increase the price and when I complain they will say, ‘Are you not Mikel’s brother; Mikel has a lot of money’ so when it comes to that kind of situation, I don’t like people knowing that I am his brother.
DT: What is the upside of being his brother?
Tony: The major upside has been the fame and respect that has rubbed off on us. When people see us, they respect us and it has been a pleasure because he has brought fame to the family. DT: Being from a humble background and now with fame and money, has it changed him? Tony: No, no, his character has not changed; he is still humble. Even his friends from Jos sometimes visit him in Abuja when he is in the country. DT: If he weren’t a footballer what else do you think he would have excelled in? Tony: His football talent manifested early in life and that overshadowed everything. I cannot imagine him doing anything other than football.