Award winning investigative journalist, Fisayo Soyombo, in this interview with ABIODUN ADEWALE, talks about his love for football, Liverpool and what he expects from the Super Falcons at the ongoing 2023 Women’s World Cup
Did you ever fancy becoming a sportsman and not a journalist while growing up?
A sportsman, maybe yes, I would have been a striker who could play like Cristiano Ronaldo but I wouldn’t have been able to dribble because my dribbling skills are zero. But the times I played football as an adolescent, I was a good No.9 and I was a striker that could score goals. I can say there was a slim chance I could have made it as a footballer. But I could have become a sports journalist as well because that’s one area I would have excelled because when I’m passionate about something, I go all out.
What was the highest level of your football?
I didn’t play a lot, just a few times. I played primary school a bit and in secondary school just for fun. I made my primary school team as well. And funny thing is the Physical Education teacher considered me too brilliant to be a good footballer. So, I was usually on the bench.
You are a Liverpool fan and with one Premier League title in 30 years, 19 in all and arguably the most successful team in England, how does that feel?
First of all, winning the title in 2020 after a long wait felt good. It was the first time Liverpool were winning the league since I started supporting them. By the way, I started supporting Liverpool in 2005 during the Champions League final. The first title in 30 years was awesome, I expected us to follow it with some more, it didn’t happen but I know it will still happen. We now have six Champions League titles too, as well as some other domestic cups. I support a big club with a history to be proud of.
What attracted you to Liverpool?
I liked the way Steven Gerrard carried the team on his shoulders. He made me fall in love with Liverpool, the night in Istanbul and many other moments Gerrard had for us.
How painful was it to miss the title by a point in 2019 and 2022?
It’s crazy. Sometimes I’m like, ‘who is this Pep Guardiola’? But the guy is good at what he does. They play good, they win and you have to give it to them even though we would have loved to win. If not for them, we would have at least three EPL titles or more under Jurgen Klopp. The run in both seasons were on the edge. Two teams pushing each other until the last day of the season. Liverpool have the mentality, but you just have to give it to Guardiola and Manchester City as well. I won’t also forget 2013/14, although it wasn’t Pep and it was a slip by Gerrard that took the race out of our control.
From 2005 till date, what are your highs and lows with Liverpool and which moment ranks the highest for you?
There’s been a lot. From the 2005 Champions League final to the 2006 FA Cup final. Since then there was really nothing until a League Cup some five years later. Also, we lost three finals under Klopp in 2016 and 2018 which were really painful. After those dark moments, we won the Champions League again in 2019, before our first Premier League title in 30 years in 2020. COVID-19 could have stopped us from claiming that, but thankfully the season ended without the fans. In all of these, the 2005 Champions League final win was special. Three goals down at halftime, everyone felt it was done but we got back three good goals, and we won on penalties. It’s one of the greatest football matches ever. It’s the best for me.
What did you make of Liverpool’s performance last season?
I feel we were unlucky with injuries. We had an ageing midfield and at the start of the season Luis Diaz got injured, Jota also got injured, it was just too much. Sometimes people will say ‘but it was the strikers that got injured and why did we concede so much goals’, but the thing is, when your team is not an attacking threat, you then face more attacks and teams are more confident to run riot at your defence. At times, when teams want to attack you, they are wary of your threats and they track for that reason. Remember the Champions League final we lost to Real Madrid in 2018. When Mohammed Salah was still on the pitch, Marcelo stuck to the left-back, but the moment Sergio Ramos took Salah out, Marcelo started playing like a winger and contributed to Madrid’s attack and one of the goals against us. So, last season, the injuries disrupted our season and it became difficult to carry on from there.
There’s been a midfield overhaul, are the signings what you desire as a fan?
Yes, we are shaking up the midfield with the departures of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita and James Milner but I still don’t mind if Fabinho also leaves. However, I think Henderson has to stay. A lot of people tend to underplay the value of leadership in the performance of a team. Everything does not happen on the field, there are people off the field who keep other players in check like ‘this is Liverpool, you have to train high, you have to stick to your diet’ and all of that. Henderson has been that kind of leader who carries the team on his back. At the same time, if we get one more quality midfielder, we are good to go.
How do you see the chances of Liverpool returning to the Champions League next season and challenging for the title?
Liverpool aren’t suddenly a bad team, we have what it takes to win the league. If we have no major injuries, there is no way we won’t return to the Champions League next season.
You look fit for a regular journalist. How do you manage to create time for that?
I don’t play football again, but I workout a lot. Initially it was about my tummy but when I got into the gym, I saw lots of other benefits like how working out helps my mental health, I saw that if I was having a bad day and I hit the gym for about two hours, I would come out being happier and I started seeing the gym as a place where you don’t just go to lift heavy weights but you go to lift heavy weights off your mind.
The Women’s World Cup is on, how far do you think the Super Falcons can go?
If they do well, for me it will be zero credit to the Nigeria Football Federation. It was bad preparations as usual, owing the coach and the bonus row. We’ve had bad leadership in football for so long and they get away with it because they operate outside of politics, which gets all the attention. For me, any progression to the knockout stage would be fantastic. But you know the Nigerian spirit gives us an opportunity to win whatever we can and if any African team will win at the Women’s World Cup, it will be Nigeria.