“I thought I’ll have a girl, I didn’t know I’ll have an Umaru”, the words of the Atsaka patriarch after his first son, Daniel was born.
“My mother told me he was out of town when I was born, he returned the day after”, Daniel recalls.
He was born February 16 to a civil servant father and a mother who is a nurse.In a clime where parents question their children’s nicknames, his was handed to him by his father.
A devout Christian,and the first of four children, Daniel’s upbringing was all about uprightness and discipline. Just like his biblical namesake, Piousness is his watchword.
Etafia and Being Champion
He is made for football, he believes. While children like him received toys, he received football after football.
At Age 7, He would receive his first pair of soccer boots, and not long after he’d receive his first pair of hand-gloves from the legendary Greg Etafia.
“It felt unreal”, he muses, pining.
His gold medal from winning the State Catholic Trophy with Mount Saint Gabriela Secondary School is pristine. It’s a point of reference.
I Think Then Play…
“I never got beaten for playing football, not once, I got beat for abandoning the house chores”, He chuckles on completing the statement.
The emphasis on discipline ringing through again.In most African homes, the world is Black and White. Daniel’s football dream had the support of his parents from the outset.
“My father was a very good footballer, but he never made it to the professional level, He won Gold at the NUGA Games for the University of Ibadan”, He quips.
Till the Atsaka patriarch’s passing, He’d be a lamp that guided his son’s footsteps.
Daniel followed the laid down rules.
Education is a must in the Atsaka home, Daniel holds a degree from the prestigious University of Agriculture Makurdi, home to the UAM Tillers, a team who have flourished in a varsity League held in Nigeria.
He has done that as goalkeeper of Lobi Stars,a club he joined in 2009. They were on on the title prowl in the NPFL this season before the pandemic broke out. Daniel believes they stand a chance of winning under Coach Ogunbote.
“One day, the trainer came to me and said, you are a better goalkeeper than outfielder, that was it. He gave me drills I’d never seen before.”
His route to goalkeeping is familiar. Daniel always played with older age groups, such was his talent and skill as an outfielder, his coaches would send him to goal to avoid him been bullied.He’d even deputize in town and estate competitions for the main goalies. His road to goal tending had begun.
Mr Benue, Mr Nigeria
Daniel is MrBenue. He has been there all his life, having been discovered on the streets by Pepsi Football Academy, He would play for Lobi’s Junior team before heading to Gboko to play for BCC Lions.
Fate would return him to Lobi where he has been since 2009 playing under 7gaffers experiencing the highs and lows including a moment he can’t forget.
“We got to training one morning and the coach sees one of us smiling, asks why, the player says he has internal joy, the coach, seemingly angry retorts, “Boro Banka Internal Joy” sending the player off the pitch. The boy didn’t play for a while” He recounts. That moment shaped the reality for him.
His biggest influence is however Nigeria’s 2013 AFCON winning Goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama.
“I have learned something from every coach that I have been under. I continue to become better and I want to be better than Vincent Enyeama, my influence.”
Enyeama is Mr Nigeria in between the sticks, and whenever Daniel looks at the former Lille man, he sees a target to beat.
“I’m very sure I’ll play at the highest level, my late father always encouraged me to never settle for less. God willing, I know I will get there.”