If you watched the OFC Champions League this year there’s a very high chance you might have looked at the teams, seen Lupe Ole Soaga’s squad and gone “hang on, there’s a Nigerian playing in Samoa, why and how?” That Nigerian is Kenneth Kerewi. In this exclusive interview with Football in Oceania he talks about how he ended up in Samoa and what he does when he’s not playing football.
He grew up playing football from a very young age, like a lot of kids in Nigeria, and throughout the years he has admired players like Edgar Davids and Clarence Seedorf and the Nigerian Super Eagles stars like Jay Jay Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu.
With three of those four players being midfielders it was perhaps inevitable that Kenneth himself ended up playing in the midfield. In fact he is so versatile that he can play all over the midfield line.“I am disciplined when on the ball, and I have good recovery rate when not on the ball, with good defensive tackles and cover up that adds to the strength of the team as the extra player with high work rate. Also, I am great ball-passer, delivering through balls, creating one -two plays and I love to help my team control and keep possession,” Kerewi tells Football in Oceania about his style of play.
And for that the coaches love him.“My coaches enjoy my playing attributes because I keep to tactical instructions combined with my technical skills.”
Like many young Africans the 36-year old had a dream of becoming a professional football player, but for him and so many others, the big lights and sounds of Europe never happened. Instead Kerewi has played for clubs in Bhutan as well as Nigeria.“In Bhutan I played in one of the South Central Asian international clubs tournament with top clubs participating from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand & Singapore,” Kerewi says.
And now he’s in Samoa.
“I ended up in Samoa with my desire to get the opportunity to play in the OFC Champions League with Kiwi FC of Samoa in 2016. This how I ended up playing in the Samoa National League till date.”He didn’t get the chance to do so, due to a lack of funds according to the BBC, but he did arrive later that year, and in the 2017 version he would make his debut.
The Nigerian jumped the short distance across to neighbouring American Samoa to play for Utulei Youth in the Champions League, before returning to Samoa to play the National League season for Kiwi. It was thanks to that league performance that he was snatched up by the best club in the country, Lupe Ole Soaga, to play this year’s Champions League.“I was among the few players from other clubs that did well during the 2017 Samoa National League that was drafted by Lupe into their Oceania Champions League squad to play them,” Kerewi says.
The Lupe team did very well for themselves, going through to the main round of the competition after the successful qualifying in American Samoa.
“It was a great team we had, we were determined to go onto the next stage from the qualifying stages that was held in Pago Pago. And we created history scoring the highest scoring game in the history of the OFC Champions League against the American Samoan team (Pago Youth) and I scored a goal in that historical game that ended 13-1.
“Our style of play was different, and you could see the dominance of Lupe during all our matches in the qualifying stages,” the 36-year-old remembers.
In the group stages of the Champions League Lupe ended up in the group with eventual winners Team Wellington, New Caledonian side Magenta and hosts Marists. In Honiara the Samoans had a tough time but put in a few great performances to gain the approval of the locals despite ending last in the group.
“We won the heart of the crowd in the first match against the New Caledonia team. We had over 10,000 spectators cheering and throwing their support on us even though we lost the game by 2-0.“Though we lost all our remaining two games but we gave a great fight, especially on the last game against the Solomon Islands club – Marist. Eventually we crashed out of the tournaments with our heads high up because we convincingly won the hearts of the spectators on every game and we made a mark that noted that the Samoan clubs are catching up on the other countries in terms of playing tactics, technically, formation and discipline,” Kerewi says.
Kerewi sees himself staying in Samoa for the foreseeable future, but should other offers come his way he will have to think about it. But for now he is happy in Samoa and he is helping the football community grow.
“I do see myself staying in Samoa for long at the same time good opportunities from other countries are coming in for as a result of me playing in the Samoa National League and playing in the Oceania Champions League. So, for me, if I get offers playing outside of Samoa I will for sure take those opportunities, but Samoa will always remain my base of return, my home.
“I am helping the Rush Soccer organization from the USA expand here in Oceania continent through their international club partnership opportunities. And by the grace of God, we have successfully announced the launch of Samoa Rush Club having Lupe Ole Soaga as the partnering club from Samoa with Rush, giving birth to Samoa Rush. Also we have successfully announced Papua New Guinea Rush through FC Morobe Wawens as the international partnering club with Rush from PNG.”