James Rowe spoke to Lida’s Nigerian midfielder Veron Simon Ogar exclusively for WFi. They discussed his time playing football in Belarus, Nigeria’s chances at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, and how he became known as the Claude Makélélé of Belarus.
You signed for Lida in Belarus in 2017. How are you finding your time there so far and how would you describe the club?
What I can say is that Lida is one of the smallest clubs that I have played for in Belarus.
Lida is a very small city in Belarus and I had a good connection with the former manager that was here.
He invited my to come over and things have worked out fine so far.
As someone who has built up experience playing in Belarus at different levels, how would you describe the level of football in Belarus?
As I professional footballer here in Belarus you do not have the level of Noway, for example, where I started my club career.
The level here in Belarus is a little bit lower due to some clubs being in crisis and owing money to their players where they would in some cases pay players at the end of the season which is difficult in terms of professionalism. I would describe the level here in Belarus as being at 70 percent ‘
You had a period playing for Dinamo Brest. How do you looking back on your time there? Do you have any particular highlights?
Yes I had a great time at Dinamo Brest. I played there for two seasons and then I left and I came back.
The institution of the club changed in my opinion during my second spell. The club was bought by a new owner which in turn brought a new mentality.
In my experience that was different before I left for Lida the first time.
I would like to ask you about your time representing Nigeria at under 20 level. How do you look back on that experience?
To be honest I did not play too many matches at under 20 level for Nigeria due to getting injured in a match against Rwanda. After that I left the under 20 team and came to Belarus.
But I had a great time in the youth set up with Nigeria. Nigeria is a country with a population of almost 180 million so there was a lot of player turnover in the system, so it is difficult to be regularly selected at youth level unless you are player for a popular club in the Premier League or a world class league.
As someone who has represented Nigeria. What is your opinion about the Nigerian national team at the moment. Do you believe that they have a chance to win the African Cup of Nations in the summer?
I believe that Nigeria are currently on the right path. We have a lot of good young players in the team and a new structure where good prospects can show what they can do.
I still believe that the team must contain a mix of youth and experienced players. From what I saw in the last World Cup this Nigerian team can do great things and the country will be proud of them.
Having played in Belarus and represented Nigeria at youth level, are they team-mates you have played alongside that stand out for you?
I have played alongside so many wonderful talented players but I will say that in football you need a bit of luck. You can be really good but you just don’t have the luck.
The push is maybe not there to play at the highest level and at big clubs like Barcelona. Real Madrid or Manchester United. You just need that little bit of luck and someone to push you to the right place at the right time.
Sometimes you do not have that and you are just moving around in a cycle where players get fed up with their talent and just give up on football.
For example, Panathinaikos were interesting in signing me in the the past and when the opportunity came I got injured. I am still hoping for the best.
Are there opponents that you have faced that have made an impression on you?
Of course, I have been fortunate to play against many good players.
I must say that fellow Belarusian team BATE Borsiov have some very good players, and after I played against them they gave me positive comments that I should be playing at a higher level.
Finally, Simon, are there managers that you have had at youth level for Nigeria or at club level in Belarus that have played a key role in your development as a professional footballer?
At club level in Belarus it would have to be the former manager of the Belarus national team, Alyaksandr Khatskevich.
He was my manager when I played at FC Vitebsk, which was the first team I played for in Belarus. He had such an influence on me when I played. He used to call me the “little Claude Makélélé of Belarus”.
He gave me full confidence that I could play and I also won player of the year at the club.
He helped me understand how he wanted me to play and he saw the potential in me at the age of only 20. I gave him everything in terms of my talent and application.