Defender Joshua Akpudje has revealed he turned down a mouthwatering half a million naira salary to join four-time NPFL champions Kano Pillars during the close season.
The 21-year-old imposing centre-half told busybuddiesng.com that he rejected the Sai Musa Gida in order to prioritise his development with Lagos club MFM FC.
For a player who only made his Nigeria Professional Football League debut last season, Akpudje has enjoyed a meteoric rise in stature and profile over the past year.
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His assured performances in defence and close relationship with former MFM boss and assistant coach of the U23 national team Fidelis Ilechukwu helped him earn a call up to the U23 national team despite his limited first-team experience.
Despite the huge strides he recorded last season, Akpudje, however, revealed that being restricted to just nine appearances in the league left him disillusioned and considering his options for the future.
“Last season was a bridge, so I could not play a lot of games because I was just coming to the NPFL, so I only played nine games,” he told busybuddiesng.com.
“My first game was the one I played against Remo Stars before the [U23] national team camp. After the game against Remo Stars they kept me on the bench, I could not play against Enyimba at home, so it was sad to me but I had to keep on working hard.”
Ilechukwu’s shock departure to Heartland FC in the close season came as a surprise so that when Kano Pillars came calling, Akpudje said he was seriously tempted to make the move up north.
However, conversations with mentor and former MFM captain Austine Opara (who is now at Enyimba) and Ilechukwu’s replacement at MFM Tony Bolus convinced Akpudje that remaining at MFM was best for his career.
And it is a decision that he has not regretted.
“It was Kano Pillars calling me then. Looking at the picture then, I hadn’t experienced a lot, I had to experience, I hadn’t got the league experience down,” Akpudje told busybuddiesng.com.
“And I spoke to my captain, [Austine] Okpara, so he told me, Josh, I’m his brother that he can’t tell me to go to Kano Pillars because me going to Kano Pillars, they will look I’m small, I’m just coming to the league, they may pay me five hundred thousand but money is not everything, me playing is more reckon to me.
“So he told me not to go. Pillars kept on calling but I told them I want to play my season here in MFM.
“Although my coach [Ilechukwu] left, I was like, wow my coach has left, this will not be easy for me.”
“So the coach had to come down to Abuja, that’s the new coach, Bulus and he told me that he heard I want to leave, and he said I’m going nowhere because I have got nothing yet to leave.
“So, I can’t be lying to myself and I have to keep my head down and keep working hard and he said we can work together.
“I’ve played 14 games this season, ninety minutes and I’ve won six, and I’ve tried my best, I’ve done a lot with myself and he’s happy with me and he’s a good father that everybody loves him. He shares his time, he shares what he has, the same thing with coach Fidelis Ilechukwu. So I’m very happy with both of them.”
Having established himself at the heart of MFM’s defence this season, the player who is still gutted at being dropped for the U23 AFCON in Egypt last year has his sights firmly set on doing well for MFM and, hopefully, secure a good move for himself abroad.
“For my team MFM here, this season, people had counted us off the second time again, like last season. This season we’ve won two away and taken some draws, and I believe that we’re still going to do more and more in this 2019/20 season,” Akpudje who scored all the goals in MFM’s 2-1 win over Jigawa Golden Stars in midweek said.
“I’m looking up to myself getting a better team in Europe, and for now, I have to stay focused with what I have now and keep on working hard, and pray that God should order my steps and make way where there seems no way for me.”