–Golden Eaglets head coach, Emmanuel Amuneke on how to salvage Nigerian football
The 1993 African Football of The Year, Emmanuel Amuneke will be charting a new course next month when he leads the Golden Eaglets to the African U-17 Championship in Niger Republic from February 15th – March 1st .
Complete Sports Saturday speaks to the former international who is the head coach of the Nigerian team, on the task ahead and the future of the Super Eagles…
It has been rough and patchy as far as U-17 national team’s preparations are concerned. What in your opinion, has been the most challenging aspect of the job?
So far so good, it has been neither here nor there. By the special grace of God we have been able to put a good team together, which in no time will gel to become the dream of Nigerians. What really matters now is the level of team fitness and ensuring the team gets better daily. We are trying to teach the players all they need to know before proceeding to the African Championship in Niger. Besides, there is an issue of weather condition to contend with.
Talking about Niger Republic, how much do you know about Niger and other group opponents?
Yeah, it is important to do that but that is not what we are doing right now; what is paramount before the coaching crew at this point is to work on players’ bodies conditioning. I think we still have about three weeks before we play Niger Republic. We are trying to see if our players understand all they have been taught. We don’t want to feature in Niger to make up the numbers, rather we want to continue Nigeria’s dominance in the cadet category.
Are you under pressure to deliver in Niger Republic? Would you regard it as not successful should Nigeria fail to defend the U-17 championship trophy?
This is not the first time I am hearing this issue of pressure. All we know is important to our life is hard work. Going to Niger as defending champions is no guarantee that we are going to run over all opponents. We intend to push ourselves and tell Nigerians the truth. Hopefully, Nigerians will see what we are doing. We are not here to take the glory; God will take all the glory for whatever achievement that comes our way.
Super Eagles’ absence at the AFCON has again questioned Nigeria’s seriousness to rub shoulders with top teams in the world. Winning the 2013 AFCON and failing to qualify for 2015 is like taking five steps backward.
A country that fails to come up with a developmental programme for the youth has no future. The way forward is what we are doing now, a lot of our young people are surrounded by liars. Every youth here wants to travel to Europe but they fail to realise that playing in Europe is demanding. You can’t ask people to give you what they don’t have. Football has gone beyond talent, you must have the information to move the game forward. Nigeria need to invest in the youth. The German team that won the World Cup played together for ten years. The German government invested a lot in their team before it eventually paid off last year in Brazil. Players who are coming from different parts of the country, must have some information that will help build a strong national team.
Nigeria has struggled to build a strong national team since the exit of Clemens Westerhof. Where did it all go wrong for Super Eagles?
Yes, Clemens Westerhof told us the truth about ourselves. We had players who were hungry and willing to go extra lengths for the national team. Whether we like it or not we just have to tell ourselves the truth if really we want to move on as a country. Westerhof was very honest to us and really pushed us beyond our limits to succeed. A lot of players under him were ready and determined to work hard too. All these put together made us succeed as a team. This is the simple truth we have to tell ourselves.
Opinions are divided over what the future Super Eagles should look like; while some pundits think the current squad should be disbanded, others feel the coaching crew should be completely overhauled. What is your take on this?
Well, this is not the first time I am hearing this; lots of people have been demanding for total overhauling of Super Eagles. This is Nigeria where anything is possible. I could still recall vividly when we failed to qualify for a major tournament then; lots of people were asking for our heads.
Firstly, Nigerians need to realize that our players are human after all, no matter who we all want to blame for woes. Though they can be plying their trades abroad, that does not change the fact that they are human and can make mistakes at any point in time. Yes, they were given the opportunity to represent Nigeria, but we must not totally blame the coach and players for Nigeria’s AFCON miss. Disbanding the team and sending the coaching crew packing is not the solution to our football .As a nation, it is high time we evaluate ourselves and ask why we failed to make it to AFCON 2015. We can apportion blames on players and coaches but we must not forget the fact that football is a collective issue. We all have to take responsibility for Nigeria’s failure to qualify for AFCON 2015, which is when we can begin to move forward as a football nation. A lesson must be learnt from this, so that it doesn’t repeat itself.
At the moment, Stephen Keshi and Amodu Shuaibu are at daggers drawn over a comment made by the latter on the pages of newspapers. What in your opinion should be done to ensure our football does not suffer as a result of this imbroglio?
I want to personally appeal to both men to bury the hatchet and come together for the sake of Nigerian football. Whether we like it or not, we all owe Nigerians the truth, it doesn’t really matter who is in charge now or not. The reason most of us coaches are in the thick of things is simply because we are privileged. We owe Nigerians the truth and this has nothing to do with ego or pride because we will leave the job one day whether we like it or not. Both men need to settle the rift if there is any and work towards the success of this nation.
Like Ronald Koeman, Luis Enrique, Pep Guardiola, Emma Amuneke, this is a generation of top class coaches who once played for the Catalan giants. What was life like with these top coaches during your stint at FC Barca?
Yeah! we met when I was in Barca and the experience was splendid. Ronald Koeman was part of the backroom staff then when I came to Barcelona. I am happy Koeman is doing well right now and we are all happy for him. He was in Valencia and things did not work out well for him, he then moved to Holland before he eventually got the Southampton FC job. It feels great to see people I have shared the same dressing room with, doing so well in coaching. I think ours is a generation of coaches and I am proud to be an FC Barca product too.
You refused to spill the beans at the 1994 Nations Cup after rumours had it that Westerhof confined you to the bench over contractual disagreement. Why did you choose Zamalek of Egypt ahead of other top European clubs?
The truth behind that is simply not on the grounds of any contractual disagreement. I was on the bench simply because there were better players at that time. You will agree with me that Super Eagles was loaded to the hilt at that time and it would only take extra effort for any player to break into the team. I had no problem with Westerhof as people suspect. I had to maintain my composure and wait for my time, which eventually came in the final game of the 1994 Nations Cup.
Thanks for talking to Complete Sports Saturday.
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