Ramon Azeez fairy story in Spain after scoring for Granada against Barcelona last season has singled him out as one of the most successful Nigerian players in the La Liga. The Nigeria international caps for the U17, U20 and Super Eagles, shares the good and bad times of nine seasons (his entire professional career) in Spain, with Taiwo Alimi.
While he looks forward to returning to the Super Eagles after his short national stint in 2014 and 2018, Ramon Olamilekan Azeez has described his first transfer abroad at the age of 18 as a huge step that jumped start his career.
The 27 year-old former Nigeria U17 and U20 midfielder, noted that though he left his parents when he was still a teenager the tough times and nurturing he acquired helped him acclimatised to top European football.
He said: “When I left home (Nigeria), I was barely 18 and it was not easy because I was moving to a big club in Spanish La-liga. Almeria is a big by any standard and though I was happy to land a great club, I was also apprehensive because it is my first time of leaving home and my parents on a permanent term. I was at 18 in a place with different weather, culture and language and at the beginning it was very tough and difficult. It was complicated for me especially because of the language, but with time I got used to it as I learn and start speaking the language. That was the very important moment for me.”
Even, his parents were not comfortable with his leaving home and being on his own. All they wanted him to do was go to school and take up a professional career. “My father really wanted something different for me. He was talking about going to school, graduating and be a doctor or accountant. In-fact my parent did not want me to play soccer. My mum in particular was always apprehensive when I go out to play. She believed I would hand out with miscreants and she would lose me because she was of the opinion that those that played football on the streets are street boys.”
Azeez recalled an episode when he got into big trouble with her mother for using his school sanders to play street soccer.
“It was a funny incident which I would not be tired of telling. I was always getting injury playing with my bare feet on the street, especially when other kids were using boots and canvasses. On this particularly day I played with my school shoes and I was home sleeping. Around 1AM fast asleep and she just woke me up and said ‘where are the shoes that I bought for you’ and I said I’ve washed it not knowing that she had already seen it and kept them. I looked for the shoes and couldn’t find them and I told her I don’t know where they are. At that point she started beating me and yelling. But, thank God because that phased passed and I’m thankful that she brought me up well to be who I am today.”
That was until his father saw something in his game and convinced Azeez’s mother to allow him follow his dream. “I was focused and that changed my father’s perspective of football. He also liked to watch football and that made my mum to also key into my dream. She is always praying for me.”
Still full of praises for Almeria, he said his ‘boys club’ nurtured from boy to man. “I spent six years there and enjoyed the best atmosphere to grow. The management was patient with me and encouraged me to play for my country whenever I was invited to play for the national teams.”
Azeez started off with the Almeria B team in 2012, same year he was transferred to Spain and a year later, got promoted to the Andalusains main squad with the club having just recently promoted to La liga.
“I scored my first La liga goal in December 2013 against Real Betis and the second against same team when we met again. “
Though he fell on bad times in 2015, he did not stay down for long as he returned to the main squad and in between played at the World Cup 2014 under late Coach Stephen Keshi. He was in the Nigeria squad that played Iran on June 16.
He was to return to the national team after five years in 2019 after he had moved to Granada and playing well again in the La liga.
He recalled with nostalgia, his goal that sealed victory for Granada in the 2-0 win over almighty Barcelona.
“Scoring against Barcelona was a great thing. We were impressive in that game and it gave me a good feeling. Playing in the La liga has broadened my horizon. I understand La Liga better now. We play like a team and for each other.
“Before that game, no one believed in us that we could win that game. Before we went for the warm up, even before then, in the days leading up to that game we knew the team we were up against and that was enough motivation for us. In training, we were fired up because we had to double our preparation.
You could feel it in training. When the game started, we did not know we would score but I was the one on the spot and actually thought it was in the net before I got there. All I did was to touch the ball into the net. But after the replay I realised I touched the ball into the net and that was awesome. After 45 minutes, the coach said we would make history today and at the end of the game we did make history. I received a lot of calls that day that I spoiled many bets against us. It was a great moment.”
The win, Azeez said boosted the confidence of team after two years in the wilderness before returning to top flight action in Spain.
Last year June Granada drew 1-1 with Mallorca to secure their return to the Spanish top flight with a match to spare. The result left Granada second in the standings and five points ahead of third-placed Malaga who beat Albacete 2-1.
Granada’s tally of 76 points made sure they could no longer be overhauled by either Malaga or fourth-placed Albacete, who both have 71 points and will enter a playoff.
“We had a great 2019-20 season and we are happy because it was our first year upon return to La Liga. We hope that we can continue on that this season and build on our success of last year.”
“During the 2019–20 season, Granada was a Copa del Rey semi-finalist, defeating the last season champion Valencia CF among others. The club finished the season with a historic 4-0 win over Athletic Club which allowed its first time classification to play the UEFA Europa League in history.
SHORT AND SHARP WITH AZEEZ
I feel humbled to be here when we were down and came back to the La liga. It’s a great feeling and very happy to be part of it. To be back in La Liga after some years is a great feeling for me. I have contract with Granada till 2022 and this is due to the belief they have in me and my game.
Playing for the national team is a great feeling. I was in the team that won silver at the 2009 FIFA U17 World Cup. I played regularly and made my mark in that team. In 2011 I was invited to the U20 and played at the World Youth Championship where I also played as a regular. When I got the call up for the Super Eagles in 2014, I was elated because it was an opportunity to play at the highest point of football event; the World Cup. That experience was good.
I cherish playing for the Super eagles because it is the highest level any player can think of to represent his country.
I hope to return to the Super Eagles soonest because wearing Nigeria colour is always a priviledge for me, so whenever I am giving the opportunity to represent my country again, I will grab it.
As a midfielder I have some great midfielder that I look up to. I understudy them to measure up to them too. One of them is Zinadine Zidane, Xavi Harnandez and Deco. They are all great players and playing in Spain gives me the opportunity to watch Xavi. He’s a delight to watch.
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