Remo Stars goalkeeper, Kayode Bankole, in this interview with Ebenezer Bajela talks about his delight playing in the CAF Champions League next season, his Super Eagles dream, the improvement in the Nigerian League and more

You played a major role in Remo’s success last season. As a young goalkeeper, how do you feel about that?

Well, I will like to credit the whole team for the success because football is not an individual game but rather teamwork. But personally, I am excited because playing on the continent (Confederation Cup) last season was great and now getting another opportunity to now play in the Champions League makes me very excited and filled with joy.

You kept 11 clean sheets last season coming from the back of a record 2021/22 season. This is not a small feat in the Nigerian Premier League, what is the secret to your success?

Firstly, I will say I give God the glory for the success and making everything work out but again I still have to thank my teammates because keeping clean sheets is a collective effort and not something I could have achieved on my own. My defenders did a whole lot of work to ensure that I do that.

It is true that I made some superb saves and kudos should go to my coaches for that. As our goalkeeper trainer would say ‘your efforts in training will reflect during matches’ and I think most of my saves and reflexes are as a result of training and the coaches deserve some applause for that.

You have been nominated for the Player of the Season award alongside Obioma and Duru. Do you think you stand a chance of claiming the award?

I know I had a good season but people don’t really consider goalkeepers for such awards instead they focus on strikers. Obioma scored 16 goals and won the Golden Boot which is a fantastic one for him and Duru also did well. Concentration is always on the outfield players and not goalkeepers and that’s why I said I don’t know if I stand a chance but I am not ruling out the possibility that I may win it.

What is the mood in the camp knowing that Remo will be playing in the Champions League next season?

We are super excited and we are very happy about how the whole thing went last season. We are very proud of ourselves because it is a thing of joy for us all.

On the night that it was confirmed that you would be playing in the Champions League, how did you celebrate it?

I was happy because the Champions League is something I have been watching on the television and now knowing that I will be there next season makes me very happy. I celebrated it that night with my brother who is a musician and he was performing somewhere that night. We went together and we celebrated the achievement.

A video of the club chairman Kunle Soname went viral as he gave the team N25m following qualification for the Champions League. Did he make the promise to the team before the start of the season or somewhere in between?

Honestly, we were all surprised because he hasn’t said anything about that from the beginning of the season to the end and it came as a big shock for us when he announced the reward. I think it came from the excitement on his own part too, he was very happy and it was very easy for him to do that because there was never any talk about that all through the season.

It is usually hard entrusting the goalposts to a young goalkeeper but you became the club’s first-choice goalkeeper at 19. How challenging has it been?

It is true that coaches prefer experienced goalkeepers but Remo Stars believe in young talent and that has been the club’s philosophy. It is not about being old and experienced rather they love to give opportunities to younger talent as long as you display the ability and zeal to develop and work hard. I think the credit should go to the coaches for believing in me and giving me the opportunity.

When given the opportunity, were you scared on your debut?

I have always been with the team from the NNL to the Premier League and I have faced some top division sides and I already know how it feels playing against them but I was a bit scared in our first league game in the topflight against MFM when we travelled to Lagos. We came with a senior goalkeeper Emma Daniel and I honestly thought he was going to be the one to mount the post in that game but the coach called me a few minutes before the game to tell me I would be the one to stand in the post and I was a bit nervous because I have never played in the Premier League.

The moment we stepped onto the pitch I think the nervousness disappeared and we got the business done. Luckily for me, we won the game and I also kept a clean sheet. From there the confidence came and I felt there was no big deal playing in the Premier League.

Every player usually has their best game of the season, which game will you pick as your best game last season?

I think I will pick the game against Plateau United at their home ground. After we scored to level they had two opportunities to score but I made superb saves to deny them and think those saves gave us the day.

Two seasons ago, you kept eight clean sheets in a row. The day you conceded, how devastating was it for you?

The funny thing about that season was that I never made it a do-or-die situation to keep clean sheets. It is normal to have it at the back of my mind that I don’t want to concede goals but it is not something I lose sleep over but it kept happening. The truth is I put the team first and winning was always the priority regardless of the scoreline.

The day I conceded I just had to summon up courage and said to myself that it had happened and I should remain focused on the team. But honestly, right there on the pitch, I initially felt bad about it because the goal I conceded put the opponents ahead. If we were leading it won’t have really mattered but they went ahead of us and that was the reason I actually felt bad but I was able to get over it.

Overall, the 2022/23 NPFL season looks like a success. Will you say you were left impressed?

The season was better than last season in terms of officiating and organisation. The season was very good with a lot of improvements and if things can continue like this I am sure that it will continue to get better.

Do you think poor organisation has been responsible for many of our players going to obscured leagues?

The number one thing is that players’ welfare should be taken seriously. Leagues like those in Cyprus and Uzbekistan might not be popular but they pay better than the Nigerian League. People should not forget that this game has a limited time unlike those that work in the bank, media houses or others. If you manage to get a little beyond 30 you have really tried and between those limited times, that’s when you have to make whatever you need to make to sustain yourself and your family when you are not playing again.

Imagine earning N500,000 monthly in Nigeria and when you travel to the so-called obscured countries you are earning N5m monthly you can see that the difference is clear and that’s why some players go there and this is not because they wanted to go but players welfare and packages are very important and that’s why they go there.

Like I said earlier, if things go the way last season ended and even improved upon I think a lot of sponsors will come in and the financial aspect will be boosted.

How impactful was it having the Super 6 televised?

It was a very welcome development and I must say it was nice because a lot of people enjoyed it and if we can continue to have the league televised like this it will go a long way to improve the league.

What’s your Super Eagles dream?

Definitely, I want to play for the country and make a name for myself. I have been with Team B before when we went to Costa Rica to play and I know what it feels like playing for your country even though that wasn’t the main national team but the feeling was there and it gives me the experience of how it can be. It is every player’s dream to want to play for the national team and I have it too. I am very sure that it will definitely happen one day.

How soon do you see that happening?

We had two NPFL goalkeepers in the team in their last Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Sierra Leone and that means a lot but I am someone who believes in God and the appropriate time and I believe if God wants it to be very soon it will happen very soon. I have been working hard and I know I kept a lot of clean sheets last season but I don’t bother myself about it but I just keep doing my thing and I know when the time is right God will make it happen.

As a young and handsome man, how do you handle your female fans?

(Laughs) There are no two different ways to that because definitely you are going to have a lot of them but you just have to greet them or play with an open mind. Some will of course want to be closer to you but it is the player that should know how to manage the situation because if care is not taken it will affect the career and the player has to be very disciplined in that regard.

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