EZINNE DORA KAYODE—–Excelling in a man’s world
By Josephine Agbonkhese
A trained Lawyer, real estate developer and a rare football enthusiast who has earned a global reputation for being the first female football licensed agent in Nigeria, Ezinne Dora Kayode is certainly not your regular kind of woman.
A celebrated FA-licensed football agent, she has, over the years, translated her love for football, combined with her vast knowledge of the law and fundamental human right, into helping footballers secure smooth and favourable contractual agreements with clubs.
Also the wife and manager of Olarenwaju Ayobami Kayode, the former Golden Eaglets, Flying Eagles, The Dream Team and Shaktar Donetsk striker who is currently on loan at Sivasspor of Turkish Super League, she has over the years played a notable role in helping her husband and other footballers fare better in their careers.
In this interview with Allure, the Law graduate from Madonna University, Anambra State, speaks on her work, life as a female football agent, family, her career goals this New Year, as well as her vision for Nigeria.
Naturally, women don’t like football, so where and how did your interest in football begin?
We love football in my family. We talk about football a lot; my brother, mother and me. My mum is a lover of football. It’s a thing of the family.
You read law. At what point did you abandon the legal profession to become a football agent?
My husband had a very bad situation with some of the agents. When he met me, he told me and I decided it was time for someone close to him to come in, someone with his interest at heart. I gave a couple of agents some trials but they couldn’t manage things well. I came in during his Manchester City transfer. Somebody needed to fill that gap and I decided I must stand up to that responsibility. That was how it began.
Without any form of experience?
My brother is a lover of football; he knows practically everything about football. So, he tells me things and we read a lot. I also was able to gather a lot from my husband’s past experiences.
What’s it like managing your husband?
It’s easy because he is an easy-going person and a good listener. Most men aren’t good listeners but my husband is, he listens and then comprehends. He is just the perfect person to work with. He also knows whatever I’m saying is the fact. It’s been a very beautiful journey with him in this football career.
You are an FA-licensed agent. How has it been for you over the years, especially with regards to managing your husband?
It has never been easy. With the clubs, there are always misunderstandings and someone has to come in the middle, especially while at Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine. It was a very difficult time. He had difficulty trying to adapt and then, at the end of the day, some people might prefer some players over others. It was a very difficult situation for him there, and then we had to come together to see how his football could go on. It was however, pretty difficult in Ukraine.
How did you eventually pull through?
We had to make a decision with the management and when some clubs were coming from France, they wouldn’t let him move, but kept giving some kind of excuses. With football, I’ve come to realise that some clubs always want to do what will benefit them. We need to learn to balance things, when thinking about your club, you should also think about the players too. Unfortunately, it’s not usually like this in the football world— maybe in a few clubs. It was really a difficult situation but finally, we reached an agreement when later, another club, Gaziantep, in Turkey, came calling. That was how he went to Turkey.
He had a fantastic season in Gaziantep, he scored 10 lead goals. He helped the team a lot because the coach believed so much in him and also loved him.
Did you meet your husband while in the field of football? Where and how did you meet?
I first saw him on TV while in the field, my family and I picked interest when we watched him play at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in 2009. He played against France. We watched as a family and he was so fantastic. Everyone kept eulogising him, we just loved his movement, intelligence and pace. Few years later, we met and I told him how I felt about his football. That was how we became friends and the rest, like they say, is history.
There is the belief that most agents exploit players; how do we get out of such?
You don’t really get out of things like that because some of these players are not enlightened, nobody is telling them about anything in football or about their rights. They are only concerned about them going into the field to play football. Even upcoming players are told nothing to help them understand the game. Personally, I don’t believe very much in the hidden because if a player is not doing well, there is no way another club will see him outside.
I want these players to know that their future is in their hands and not in the hands of any agent. You have the talent, but you need to put in the hard work.
How do you now put in the hardwork in football when your agent is not pushing you on?
Hard Work means you just need to be disciplined, most football players are not disciplined. They get carried away easily by, perhaps, the life; because they have so many privileges to enjoy. It reminds me of when a lot of people criticised Cristiano Ronaldo. Even if you might want to argue that he is not the best in the world, the guy has put in so much hard work. He is such a disciplined player, he builds himself, and is also doing extra to be what he wants to be. You really need to chase your dream but if you’re not hardworking and motivated, how can you do that? You cannot just sleep and wake up, believing somebody will just come and pick you.
My husband’s football started in Ibadan and I can tell you it was a whole lot of hard work. At that time, there were about 10 players sleeping in a room and every day, they went for training. Most of them stayed back to train more. Now that he doesn’t have a club, my husband trains twice a day and only rests on Sundays. When you see him, you will see he is physically fit. He also doesn’t eat everything he sees because he knows he’s a football player. So, this is what I’m saying about hard work, you put in your best, while depriving yourself of things you love.
For instance, when my husband came to Austria Wien, in the first season, he said to himself he wanted to be top scorer in Austria Wien. He made a passive statement even without us thinking about it, but he made it. He made it from his heart and worked towards it. So, in the first season, he got 13 goals and also made 13 penalties. Then he said to me: “babe, next season, I need to be the goal scorer.” I asked how and he said he must, even without playing penalty, and he did it. So, you see, one has got to put in a whole lot of work; agents cannot perform magic for you. My husband stays back after every training to do more.
For you as an agent, what do you look out for in players?
I’m trying to focus on my husband right now, my whole focus is on him. We have something like an academy which we are currently building, a standard one which will bring in externals to come watch players, and also employ the service of a sound coach. We will also ensure the players have good feeding, accommodation and allowances. The academy will also teach these players discipline because it’s the yardstick for achievement in football. Like I always say of Ronaldo, he made himself a brand by working hard for it. The agent is only there to motivate and talk.
Personally, how do you cope as a wife, mother and an agent?
I got my strength from my mother. She believes so much in hardwork, she doesn’t get tired. I was raised by my mother and she showed us another part of the world. You have to survive in any environment you find yourself in, you must not choose it. So, when it’s not going well, you need to find your balance.
Where did you grow up? And how was growing up like for you?
I grew up in Aba in Abia State, one of the most popular cities in the Eastern part of Nigeria. I didn’t find it easy because we (my brother and I) were not born with a silver spoon, but my mother made it interesting through her hard work.
You seem like a simple person when it comes to fashion? What is fashion like for you?
I am a very fashionable person. When I’m angry for example, the thing that makes me smile is going into a mall and getting myself some things. When it comes to fashion, I’m an addict. The people who knew me right from secondary school days know that I’m a very fashionable and neat person. So, fashion is like my second source of happiness.
What’s your signature fragrance?
I love perfumes but do not have any particular brand. I love to smell good, so I’m for any brand that makes me really smell good. I have so many brands right now including Louis Vuitton, Maison, Casanova and Dolce & Gabbana.
What won’t you wear in the name of fashion?
Bikini, because I’m not a bikini person. I’m not really an exposing dresser. I love it when people do that but it’s just not my style. Fashion, for me, is what makes me feel comfortable.
Would you say you’re living your best entrepreneurial life?
Yes. One hundred percent. I am living the life that I love.
What would you say is the best lesson you’ve learned in life as a person?
Life has taught me to be very strong. Not to cry over spilled milk. This life has built me, we’ve made so many mistakes and are still learning but I’ve become a very strong person. I’m naturally a very sensitive person. In fact, growing up, I cried over little things; but right now, no. You hardly see me cry. I’ve learned to be a very strong person because this is what the world wants to see. They have built me that way and there’s no going back. Football itself is not for babies, it’s for strong minds. If you’re not strong physically and mentally, you will be broken along the line.
What would you have been if you weren’t a football agent?
I would have been in the entertainment industry. Music precisely because I love music a lot; good music helps us heal and gives strength.
As his manager, what’s your eventual dream for your husband’s career?
He has a goal to reach his destination. We are halfway, we are getting there.
It’s the start of a new year; do you have a resolution for 2023?
I don’t usually have a New Year resolution but we are working on a new project and by God’s Grace, we will wrap it up this year.
What are your career goals for 2023?
To help and watch my husband achieve all his goals and objectives.
It’s election year for Nigeria; what is your wish for the country this year?
I pray that God, in His infinite Mercy, will heal our nation and put smiles back on our faces.
With your experience, what do you think players should do to be well off and enhance their retirement?
There should be a life after football. You’re not going to play football till the end of time. At some point, you will retire. So, what keeps you going? This is why I always say I have been awake from 2012 till now, the boys have to invest. Whatever will give you money and keep you going after football, you should put your strength and energy to it. You should invest in properties and other kinds of things that will guarantee your sustenance.
PHOTO CREDIT: BAMIYO ISELEMA EMINA