“It ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward.”
Most filmgoers will recognise this famous line from the Oscar-winning movie series Rocky, and speaking to Nigeria captain Rasheedat Ajibade, one is reminded of Sylvester Stallone’s famous line. “Training isn’t a punishment,” she told FIFA.com in the mixed zone after her side’s goalless draw with England at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Jordan 2016. “Training makes us stronger and tougher and will help us win the next game.”
At the press conference beforehand, the agile and technically gifted Ajibade proudly accepted her award as the Live Your Goals Player of the Match, although the prize could not fully mask her disappointment at the result. However, the more you speak to the right-footed forward, the more you realise that such disappointment only stokes her competitive spirit further.
Bottom of a competitive Group C, Nigeria failed to score against Brazil and England and Ajibade is in no doubt as to their team’s main problem. “In the next game, we need to work on finishing our chances,” reflected the Flamingoes’ No10 on her side’s lacking the necessary attacking punch. “We’ve not managed to score in two games. Obviously that has to change.”
Down but not yet out, their final game sees Nigeria take on Korea DPR, who currently lead the group, and a boxer on the ropes is often the most dangerous. “Who we play in the next game isn’t important. The important thing is that we recognise we need a win. And if we do exactly what the coach tells us, then I’m convinced we’ll get a positive result.”
I love training and I love pushing myself. I’m a competitive person. If someone says ‘Do 15 reps’, I do 100!
Unsurprisingly, confidence levels in the camp have dropped somewhat after drawing those two blanks, but Ajibade for one is not about to let that affect her. “Our players don’t have that much experience, so it can happen that they doubt themselves,” said the skipper, her side’s top scorer in World Cup qualifying. “So, with my experience, I try to be by their side and give them encouragement. I always say to them: ‘You can do this! So come on, let’s get out there and win!’”
In 2014 Ajibade competed at the U-17 World Cup in Costa Rica, helping Nigeria reach the quarter-finals. Now aged 16, she wants to draw on that experience and is not one for waving the white flag. “I came to the tournament with the aim of getting a better result this time around, and I think my experience from two years ago will help me,” she said confidently. “I really believe in our strengths as a team and I know we can achieve that.”
In order to do so, the FC Robo attacker is ready to give everything and more than willing to cross the pain barrier. “I love training and I love pushing myself. I’m a competitive person. If someone says ‘Do 15 reps’, I do 100! As a modern player, you have to try to develop yourself every day and never stop. That’s how it has to be if your goal is to become a professional.”
Talented and driven though she is, Ajibade admits there are days when she does not have a burning desire to train. On those days, however, she is reminded of the target she set for herself. “When I wake up and I don’t feel like training, I think of my life goal, which I agreed with God. That always succeeds in motivating me to never give up.”
On 8 October at 4pm local time in Amman comes Nigeria’s final group game against Korea DPR, a game the Africans must win to have any hope of reaching the next round. Ajibade will be hopeful and confident that she and her team will be “ready to rumble”.