PRECIOUS MONYE was the punk-styled bandana-wearing all-action midfielder who made midfield play-making look so easy in the early 90s…….
Monye stood out on the football pitch. You could pick him out from a mile with his high punk hairstyle and trademark bandana headband. More importantly, he also stood out for his industry and silky skills at the heart of midfield for clubs and country.
Born on the 22nd of December, 1974 in Udumoje Ugboko in Aniocha North of present day Delta State, he moved to Awo-Omamma in Imo State where he got enrolled at the Santana Primary school and was easily the standout football star in the school team.
If Santana Primary school was the beginning of his football journey, secondary education at Comprehensive Secondary School, Awo-Omamma offered a bigger platform for Monye’s talent to blossom and, soon, his name was on the lips of everyone who saw him play as one for the future.
NEPA Football Club of Aba officials got reports about the exploits of the young schoolboy and offered him a trial which he grabbed with both hands and impressed so much he was given a deal straightaway. At NEPA, he teamed up with such outstanding but young players such as Hillary Azodo and Emeka Unaka who went on to play for the senior national team.
He played the 1987 football season with the Aba side and was so impressive that another Aba side, Enyimba International FC offered him a better deal. His fame went far and wide beyond Aba and earned him a trial with Enyimba, then under the tutelage of coach Chimeziri Igoni.
Making the switch across town to Enyimba was a no-brainer: they offered better prospects and, of course, there was the little matter of a bigger pay-packet. The fact that he also played with talented players such as Karibe Ojigwe who went on to conquer the world at Japan ‘93, Chukwu Ndukwe who won silver at the AFCON in 2000 and Chinedu Anazonwu who made the Scotland ’89 squad with him. Together, they turned Enyimba into a decent side which played beautiful football and was difficult to break down by the opposition.
True to expectations, Monye carried his skills to Enyimba and because they played in the national league, it was easier for national team selectors to notice and extend an invitation to him.
Hear him: “I was first spotted by the Golden Eaglets coach Sebastian Brodericks while still at NEPA and he promised to come back for me the following year. Even though I had moved to Enyimba, he kept his promise and invited me to the team which was preparing to play in the qualifiers for the 1989 edition of the U-17 World Cup. This was in 1988 and I was happy to help Nigeria qualify for Scotland.”
Getting into the squad was not a stroll in the park with a whole lot of talented players vying for places in the squad which has been dubbed as arguably Nigeria’s most talented under -17 squad ever, even if they failed to win the trophy.
“It wasn’t easy to make the squad, I must confess. I had to fight for a place in the squad with the likes of Sunday Umoru, Patrick Mancha, Olusegun Fetuga, Benedict Akwuegbu, Victor Ikpeba, Godwin Okpara, Jide Oguntuase among others. Nevertheless, I have to say that I made it to the World Cup deservedly. Nobody was sure about his place in the final squad but when the coaches start giving you certain responsibilities in the team and on the field of play, you then begin to harbour thoughts that maybe you have a chance.”
After breezing through the qualifiers, the Golden Eaglets landed in Scotland and played in Group C alongside China, Argentina and Canada. In the first game against Canada, Monye was a 31st minute substitute, coming on for Andofa Akosu as the Eaglets romped to a 4-0 win with goals from Ikpeba and Oguntuase adding to Kayode Keshinro’s brace.
Second game was a 0-0 stalemate against Argentina and Monye started from the bench again until the 34th minute when he came on for Patrick Mancha. He started and played the full 90minutes in the final group game against China with the Eaglets winning 3-0 courtesy of goals from Fetuga, Ikpeba and Sunny Umoru.
The Eaglets topped the group and faced Saudi Arabia with whom they played out a goalless draw in the group stage at the maiden edition four years earlier at China ’85. Monye started and played for 62 minutes before coming off for Patrick Mancha. Again, it was 0-0 after full and extra time and the Saudis triumphed 2-0 in the ensuing penalty shootout with the Nigerian lads missing all four of their kicks.
“The mood in camp that night was one of mourning. We were all very sad even though the officials tried to comfort us. Our only consolation was that we played good football which everyone attested to. Even the legendary Pele of Brazil tipped us to win the competition and predicted that we’ll go far in our careers. Football can be unpredictable sometimes.”
Back from Scotland, Monye went back to Enyimba but his days at the club were numbered. he was soon back in the national team with the U-23 team and was part of the squad that won a bronze medal at the 1991 All-Africa games in Cairo, Egypt.
He played one more season with the Aba team and crossed over to cash-rich Udoji United who were just promoted to the elite division and took the Nigerian league by storm. In 1992, while helpin Udoji pursue a first-ever league title, he got called up to the senior national team, the Super Eagles and became an integral part of that team as they played the qualifying games for both the 1994 World Cup and African Nations Cup.
In 1993, Monye was named in the Flying Eagles squad to represent Nigeria at the African Youth Championship in Mauritius. Ultimately, the team did not win but participation did not harm his growing profile and his was one of the first locally-based players’ names on the roster for the Super Eagles. That he played for the U-20, U-23 and senior team virtually at the same time spoke to his talent and work ethic.
“Things moved at such a fast pace for me that it was difficult to take in all at once. I was in and out of one national team or the other so much that I almost didn’t have time to play for Udoji United who were paying my wages at the time but it was such an honour to wear the green and white that I hardly though twice about it once I got the call. Being called up among the several hundreds of equally talented players was a blessing. I still remember my first time with the Eagles. Despite a star-studed midfield with Thompson Oliha, Friday Ekpo, Moses Kpakor and Mutiu Adepoju among others in the midfield, I got to play my fair share of games and was always in the team. In all, I played four games in the US ’94 qualifiers and five in the Nations Cup qualifiers.”
One enduring moment that would remain with Monye forever was the opportunity he had to line up with Stephen Keshi who was his idol.
“My first game for the Super Eagles was against Sudan but my toughest, unarguably was the 4-0 win over South Africa at the National Stadium in Lagos. It was tough because it was the first time I was playing in the same team with Stephen Keshi who I’d admired over the years and I was desperate for his approval. He was initially skeptical when he saw me in the line-up and wondered who the small boy was. All the same, as a captain, he came over and encouraged me to go in and give it my best shot. I didn’t want to put any foot wrong and I think I did well because he came over after the game to commend my effort. Since that first game, he always ensured I was his roommate whenever the national team was in camp.”
He was on the team to Algiers when Nigeria secured an historic first-ever World Cup ticket although he didn’t make the match-day squad and that was his last official involvement with the national team although he played in some preparatory games before the World Cup proper, his last being against Ajax.
Monye, still very much sought-after, moved to Stationery Stores of Lagos for one season but was soon off to Sharks of Port Harcourt for the 1994/95 season. After a season at Sharks, he was soon on his way to join Reggiana FC of Italy on a three year deal. He was loaned to A.S Cosenza and then Videoton FC in Hungary.
A nagging injury forced him to return to Nigeria for two years for treatment and recuperation before going back to Europe. He was in Romania for six months before returning to Hungary to re-join Videoton where he played a further two seasons before moving to Malta to team up with Birkirkara FC.
He was with Birkirkara for three seasons before crossing to Hamrun for a year and then Sannat Lions FC where he was player/manager till he ended his career in 2009, thus bringing the curtains down on a career that spanned over two decades.
He’s done his coaching badges and is now the holder of a UEFA A licence.
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