Over the last year, football fans in the Central Highland province of Dak Lak have often seen a foreign man warming up in the early afternoon and preparing training tools for footballers at Buon Ma Thuot Stadium.
This man is Iliya Buba, 33, from Nigeria. Buba is the chief coach of the U17 team and has volunteered to train the provincial team.
“I volunteer for the U17 team because football has no age limit in coaching,” Buba said. “A coach is always a coach, what matters is how you compose yourself, believe in your God, believe in yourself, believe in your players and believe in your employees. I took the job first because it’s my wife’s province, I need to contribute to the community. I am happy with it because the players are responding to my training positively.”
At 2 pm every weekday, Buba’s footballers are at the stadium. They stand in two lines and start their practice under the guidance of Buba and two Vietmamese assistants.
“Buba is a strict coach, but he always creates conditions for his players to prove themselves,” said Nguyen Phi Ha of U17 team. “He is always on time and hates slowness. He often gets to the stadium early and is the last person leaving the field.”
Buba is not just interested in training footballers on the field. He also cares about his players’ lives. He often goes to the Dak Lak Sports Training Centre at night to visit footballers’ rooms and talk with them.
“Buba lives sentimentally. When a footballer is sick, he pays a visit every day and buys extra medicine for him,” said Ha’s teammate, Ha Anh Son. “He also takes us to go swimming and watch football on the weekend.”
The biggest obstacle with Buba is language. To overcome this difficulty, he co-ordinated with his friend to open an English class for footballers every Saturday. He focuses on teaching football language so they can understand him.
“Thanks to Buba, the U17 team have better physical strength, spirit and tactics. He passed his passion for football on to all of his players,” said Vo Thanh Danh, director of Dak Lak Sports Training Centre.
Under the guidance of Buba, the team hope they will do well at the coming National U17 Football Championship.
Passion for sport
“I love football with passion. There is nothing that you can do to take me away from football or any thing that concerns football,” Buba said.
When Buba was 11 years old, he made a small football pitch in the compound that his family lived in. He planted grass for six months and it became the best pitch in his community. Adults and children used to come and beg to play with him. He organised inter-street tournaments, and it became a yearly activity until his family moved away.
Buba started his professional football career in 2001 for Udoji United in Anambra State in Nigeria, a Premier League team.
“I played very well so I received a number of offers from other clubs, and I signed with Elkanemi Academy Warriors, also a premier league team,” he said.
“I had the opportunity to train for the World Cup in the Republic of Korea and Japan in 2002, but was not able to play because of the high level of corruption in Nigeria – essentially, each player needed to have a ‘godfather’ to pay off the coaches. This was not possible for me.
“I was there because I was a good footballer, but could not progress and play for my country because I didn’t have a rich family. As a result of this experience, I understand how football should be managed in order to assure fairness to the players, especially those from developing countries.”
Buba has been to 24 countries for training, courses and seminars about football before coming to play in Vietnam in 2005. He played for Tay Ninh and then the Nam Dinh first division club.
While competing with his club in Nha Trang in the southern province of Khanh Hoa, he met and married Nguyen Nhat Dan Thanh, a girl from Dak Lak Province.
In 2010, Buba set up Buba FC, which aims to provide opportunities for players based on their talent, hard work and skill, and aims to ensure that FIFA will recognise the team and its players should they need legal support.
In 2013, he suffered a severe injury while playing and had to end his career.
Although he hasn’t played football professionally, his passion for football is always in his heart. He chose his wife’s native land of Dak Lak to settle and bought an apartment near the provincial sports training centre to follow sport activities conveniently.
When Buba watched the provincial U15 team, he was deeply impressed by the team’s powerful playing style.
“The team played very enthusiastically,” he said. “When I was small, I also played like that. I liked them very much and wanted to train with them.”
He decided to take the AFC’s ‘B’ and ‘C’ Coaching Certificate course held in the southern province of An Giang in 2013. After that, he returned to Dak Lak and volunteered to coach the U17 team.
“I wish I would coach Vietnam’s national team someday and Vietnam would qualify for the world cup,” Buba said.
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