Afolabi thrilled with Monaco move
Two years after he turned his back on French football, Nigeria World Cup defender Rabiu Afolabi, 31, has returned to AS Monaco with the aim of helping the club from the principality to regain top flight status in no time after they were demoted this past season.
Besides playing for Sochaux in France, the experienced defender has featured for Standard Liege (Belgium) as well as Austria Vienna and Red Bulls Salzburg (Austria).
He speaks on his latest adventure in this interview:
Question: Rabiu, why did you choose to finally join AS Monaco?
Monaco are a good club with a rich history both in France and in Europe. They are an ambitious club with so many talented young players in the group. Everybody at the club wants to win things. This mentality compelled me to be part of the team.
Your transfer barely beat the deadline as several other clubs like German second division side Eintracht Frankfurt were also keen to sign you. What really tipped the balance in favour of Monaco?
Today AS Monaco arein the French second division, but they still remain a top flight club in more ways than one. It is true that Frankfurt were a possibility for me, but I was also swayed to come back to France, whose culture, language and football I know very well.
Two years after leaving France, what do you now think of the country’s football?
I have some good memories of French football. In France, if you are not physically ready you cannot survive, whether in Ligue 1 or Ligue 2.
Are you ready to make your debut for Monaco and have you spoken with to coach Laurent Banide on how he intends to play you?
I have been so well received that I do not feel like I just joined the team this weekend. I had a little discussion with the coach. He knows what to expect from me, so I know hewill seek to fully exploit my qualities.
As for a comeback, I think I need a little more time. Since June I have been training alone. I was supported by a fitness coach, but it is not the same thing as training with the whole group. For two months I have not touched the ball. Physically I'm okay, but I need some more time to be fully ready.
Did you know some of your new teammatesbefore you joined the club?
I have faced some ofthem in Ligue 1, likes Peter Hansson, Marama Vahirua and Cedric Muratori. I also know Thorstein Helstad because he was my teammate at Austria Vienna for two seasons before I moved to Sochaux. The others I do not know too well, but from the first day I saw a lot of qualities in the group and also a great atmosphere.
What do you think of the club’s results so far?
Personally when Ilook at the results I am surprised and I'm even more so after joining the team. In football you cannot say anything in advance, but I am confident that the results will eventually improve. We just need a win to get going. I remember last season Lille did not start very well, the rest is now history...
You have made over 20 appearances for theSuper Eagles of Nigeria, but since the 2010 World Cup, you have not featured for the team. Have you quit international football?
No. At the moment Ihave not been picked for the team, but nothing suggests I will not return one day. You know it's a bit complicated in Africa. The officials the federation and coaches change and so too many players.
The current coach was in charge of the Olympic team and has drawn many players from the younger generation to rebuild his team. He has launched many young players and has a huge pool to choose from as there are many good players around the world.
Would playing in the French second division boost your chances of returning to the national team?
To play for a big club like Monaco even in the French second division should actually help me toreturn to the team. But what matters most would be your personal. In the 2009-2010, we won the title and made a decent European campaign with Red Bull Salzburg.
This helped me to feature at the World Cup. I know that if everything works out at Monaco, I will have my chance again. I’m still ambitious and if I am good with Monaco, I can still feature major international competitions.
Although Nigeria did not fare very well at the 2010 World Cup, the first to be held on the African continent, what do you still think about the tournament?
It was a dream come true to be part of this event. To play at a World Cup in Africa was a great honour. In 2002, I was also picked for the World Cup in Korea, it was a great moment in my career, but in 2010 far exceeded all that. I am very proud to be part of the first generation of Africans to have experienced this. But I was also disappointed we did not go very far in this adventure, Nigerians deserve better.
What do you now wish to achieve?
First, I have come to Monaco to be part of those who will lift the team back to Ligue 1. My ambition is to play in Europe one day with this club. I am yet to decide what I will do after my football career I'll stop when my body says stop.
For now I still feel like a kid on a field and as this is the case, I will continue. Sometimes I tell myself that I could play up to 40 (he laughs).