As a little boy, Saheed Sunkanmi Ramon often used to play football in the streets around his house in Lagos. But his dad was not very happy about it, he wanted him to focus on academics.
“My father was a businessman, he was also the chief imam of Lagos so he was very strict. You have to be good in Arabic, know to read the Quran well and be very good in studies. So, I didn’t go to any academy,” said Ramon, the head coach of Kerala United FC, in a chat with The Hindu here.
That, however, did not stop Ramon from playing football. And since there was a lot of space in front of his house, many from that area came to play there. The youngster could balance both academics and sport well, so his father allowed him to play football. At 16, Ramon became a professional.
In 2008, football brought him to India and he played in leagues in Bengal, Mizoram, Assam and Tripura. The Nigerian also found love in his new country, married a girl from Kolkata and became a naturalised Indian citizen.
Later, as a coach, he hit a high when he was made the head coach of Kolkata’s Mohammedan Sporting in August 2019 replacing the seasoned Subrata Bhattacharya. He had been the club’s youth team head coach and also fitness coach earlier.
“I took Mohammedan Sporting from Second Division I-League to the I-League, we also won the Sikkim Gold Cup. I was there for five years,” said the 36-year-old.
In October 2022, Ramon landed in Kerala as the head coach of Kerala United, a club which is part of United World which also owns English Championship side Sheffield United, Belgium’s Beerschot, France’s Chateauroux and UAE’s Al-Hilal.
“I just needed a change. I wanted to see if I could do what I had done in Kolkata, somewhere else again. It’s a challenge for me,” said Ramon who is moulding his team to play attacking football.
He is now close to passing his first big test in Kerala. Kerala United has now entered its first-ever Kerala Premier League final and it will play Gokulam Kerala for the title here on Sunday.
Gokulam striker Samuel Mensah currently heads the KPL scorers list with 10 goals while Kerala has Ezekiel Oroh (9) and Yusuf Afful (8), the No. 2 and 3.
So, will it be a battle between Mensah and Oroh?
“Everybody in my team is very important. The striker is Ezekiel but we have Yusuf Afful who will support him from behind. We also have Benjamin (Arthur) who is a ‘killer’ in the midfield and Noufal and Manoj in defence. Everybody is good.”
“Gokulam is a very good team. We drew 1-1 against them in the super-six stage, the final will be a close fight.”
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