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–Headmaster, Mutiu Adepoju confident local players can restore Super Eagles pride In this interview with DAVID MESHIOYE

As the Nigerian soccer populace are still reeling in disbelief of the Super Eagles failure to qualify for the AFCON 2015 in Equatorial Guinea, former international, Mutiu Adepoju believes that the local players are vital to the process of channeling a new path for the senior national team.

In this interview series focusing on tapping from the wide experiences of most celebrated Nigerian players from the glory days, Adepoju, a former Racing Santander of Spain forward harps on the need for the country to look inwards, by concentrating on local talents to rebuild Nigerian football…

Comments over Nigeria’s AFCON miss won’t stop. Where did it all go wrong for Nigeria?

It is a bad situation for the country, it is painful Nigeria won’t be at the next AFCON to defend the title she won just two years ago. Nevertheless, we just have to move one from that disappointment and fashion out how to move the game forward. We need to rise up from the ashes of defeat and move on as a nation.

Did you see this coming from the qualifiers?

Of course, we all saw it coming right from the time the qualifiers started. The players were not really consistent with their performances for both club and country and this really affected the way we played those qualifiers. There are matches we ought to have won out rightly without much ado, but we ended up losing those games. We lost at home then failed to beat Sudan where South Africa won. Besides, there was a lot of crisis within the country’s soccer governing body; I mean NFF were embroiled in lots of issues that really affected Super Eagles as well. We cannot really blame the players entirely; I think the crisis within the FA also contributed to Nigeria’s failure to make it to 2015 AFCON.

Zenith Ziva

A lot has been said about the need to look elsewhere, while a school of thought think coach Stephen Keshi should stay on, others feel getting a foreign coach is the way out. What is your thought on this?

(Laughs) It is difficult to say because a local coach took us to AFCON and won it where lots of foreign coaches have failed. Keshi must be commended for that feat because only few managers can win AFCON with the little resources at his disposal. Yes, he will not be defending it next year but the record cannot be erased. I cannot really speak for NFF; it is their responsibility to decide on that. Do we need a foreign manager? If NFF really want one, will they be going for a top class manager or just anybody from Europe? That question can only be answered by NFF alone.

What did Clemens Westerhof bring into the class of 94 that is missing in the present Eagles? Can you tell our readers ?

Well, Clemens Westerhof brought sanity into the team and that really showed on the field of play. He brought in that will and the players were committed to that cause; ensuring the name Nigeria is written on the World map. Most of the players were competing to play for Nigeria and that was key to our success at that time. I think the current players need to learn from that if they must succeed. It does not really matter how experienced and tactically sound the coach is; he can never succeed where the players lack hunger and the will to give their best to the nation.

Are you saying that a code of conduct should be re-introduced into Super Eagles again to achieve sanity in the team?

Actually, I never played under any code of conduct; we were professionals and did not need to be told what to do. I strongly believe every player knows the right thing expected of him. I believe our players know what playing for Nigeria requires and should not be told why they must give their best. It is quite unfortunate we won’t be going to Equatorial Guinea 2015 but that should not drag us backward, rather we should learn from where we fell.

Keshi insisted his initial plan to build his team with a core of home based players was derailed by the previous NFF board. Do you think he should show much faith in local players or bank totally on foreign based players?

Absolutely! Keshi was right when he started with the local players. I remember he went to AFCON and won with a team that was mostly made up of local players. That was a great feat but at one point all of that changed and that plan was not consistent. I strongly believe Nigeria is blessed with lots of talents and it won’t be a bad idea if he ( Keshi) can show faith in the home based players; they have never let him down in the past and surely they will deliver once again.

Opinions have been divided over the role of John Mikel Obi in Super Eagles. Do you think he has done enough to lift Super Eagles in recent times?

Mikel should not be singled out, whatever happens to Super Eagles. It is a team sport and everyone must put in their effort to ensure the national team succeed. They just have to put their acts together and work towards the team’s success. I think Super Eagles need a strong leader, that is what the team needs now, besides every member of the team must give their best whenever they’re called to play for this country; that is when success can be achieved.

It is believed players’ commitment is nowhere near that of the Super Eagles class of ‘94, do you agree with this view?

It was a different feeling then; what was paramount in our minds was just to play and play for Nigeria irrespective of the incentives. But things have changed now; most of our players feature for their European clubs week in, week out and there is so much money in the game now. Perhaps that may have affected players’ commitment. I believe our players have what it takes to move the country to the pinnacle of world football, if they can give their all.

What is the way forward?

We need to know where we have missed it. We need to design a platform on which our football must be built. A lot of lessons must be learnt from our ouster, more importantly it is high time we look inwards and put our faith in some of our home based players. Let’s develop our league and our national team will be better off.

How long will it take Nigeria to get a striker who uses his head effectively in front of goal like “The Headmaster”?

It all depends on the kind of striker; there are some strikers who never care to meet up with pull out and crosses while others love to take the risk. Besides, some coaches might not be too keen on crosses, so strikers may not labour much because crosses hardly come into the six yard box. Using the head effectively requires talented players taking lots of risk. As for Nigeria, it is just a matter of time.

Going down memory lane; you have continued to say it loud and clear that France 1998 will forever remain fresh in your memory. What went wrong in the game against Denmark?

Lots of people were already looking beyond Denmark right before the ball was kicked and that was absolutely wrong on our parts . Everybody felt Denmark are a defeated foe before the match itself and it was difficult to bounce back after two goals hit us in the first half. I think our first two wins over Spain and Bulgaria gave lots of people much confidence that we would get to the last eight. I need to say here that our loss to Paraguay exposed our weaknesses, which Denmark capitalized on. It was a bitter lesson.

Thank you for talking to Complete Sports Saturday

You are welcome!

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