–Austin Eguavoen speaks up on tackling the rot in Nigerian football
Former international, Austin ‘Cerezo’ Eguavoen is one of the very few indigenous coaches who has had the rare privilege of working with virtually all grades of the Nigerian national soccer team. He has the U-17 team, the U-23 team and the Super Eagles with the exception being the U-20 team. In this interview with Complete Sports Saturday, the Gombe United handler shares his thoughts on the dwindling state of Nigerian football.. INTERVIEW BY DAVID MESHIOYE.
What is it like to watch AFCON 2015 without Nigeria participating in it?
Actually, it is quite unfortunate that we didn’t participate in this tournament. I am very unhappy each time I watch the tournament and don’t see Nigeria’s flag at the competition. I am sure the players who are the principal actors are feeling the pain of missing out more than every other person. Having said that, the tournament has come and is about to end now. We just have to work hard so that we don’t miss out next time.
Pundits feel missing AFCON 2015 has taken Nigeria’s football three steps backward. Do you think this pitfall could have been avoided?
Well, I have said many times that a house divided against itself cannot stand. There shouldn’t be any form of in-house fighting; rather we need to stick together as one body. As a football lover who wants the best for the country and for us. But if we have a different body which says hey my election is on, we can move on. We had a lot of distractions like the election going on at that time with people counting votes and a whole lot of issues going on when we are having the qualifiers. Until we keep our focus, put our house in order and then support whoever is in charge as an administrator or technical person, we will not have any problem.
Opinions have been divided over what Super Eagles future should look like. While a school of thought has called for total overhauling of Super Eagles, others feel it will be unwise to throw out the baby with the bath water. Where do you stand on this issue?
I will not say I totally agree or disagree with that idea because there are still some players who still have a lot to offer. And if you look at most teams today, you need to have a mix of experience with youth. When you go out there you still see teams playing with lots of experienced players. It is not always safe to have a team out there without some experienced players. The team has to be guided by at least four experienced players on the pitch. Yes, you can bring in fresh legs and keep building your team but I don’t subscribe to a total wipe out of the national team. The Flying Eagles are coming up strong while Samson Siasia is also raising a formidable team too. We have that tradition of raising a formidable youth side. Let us see how far they can go. By the time the U-17 graduate to U-20 and same for the U-23, we are going to have a formidable squad once we mix them with some of the experienced ones. We can’t say yes because they have been playing for 20 years, then they have to go; no, that will not work. Let us have a mix then I am sure we will have a formidable team. I remember quite well when the likes of Sylvester Eboigbe were phasing out and we were coming in. We played together and I learnt a lot from them. When we were going out, the likes of JayJay Okocha were coming in. Also Mikel came in during AFCON 2006 in Egypt and they played together too. We are not going to throw everybody out. They are still very relevant. It is not healthy to wipe out the entire team, it will be disastrous to do that.
You have managed lots of clubs and national teams till date. What has been the key to your success thus far?
I think it is about dedication and just giving back to football. I thank God for my life and that of my family members for their support. I thank God for the kind of occupation he gave me. It is not about the money here but the respect people accord me. When people see me and appreciate what I have done for Nigeria, I always want to give back to the country through coaching so that football development does not become stunted.
The likes of Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola , at one time or the other, have had issues with their respective clubs management over matters important to them. In most cases they resigned but in your case, you have had smooth relationships with clubs management. Do you ever fear losing your job? How come you get new jobs easily?
Hey David! I don’t agree with you totally. If you respect me I will do the same, I believe respect is reciprocal. You must treat me with respect if you expect such from me. I know my job and I lay my cards on the table and tell you what my programmes are. I ask what my employers want, where they expect the team to be at certain times .Then we come together and see how things work out, the means of getting to where we want and everything goes on well. I thank God that till now, most people I have worked with will testify that I have not had any problem with people I have worked with simply because we have that mutual respect for each other. But when you try to say I am nobody then you will see the other side of me. But fortunately nobody has done that to me. Even when I am leaving, it is done on mutual respect because there is always tomorrow.
Talking about tomorrow, Shuaibu Amodu and Stephen Keshi have been at loggerheads over a statement made by the former on the pages of newspapers and this seems to be tearing local coaches apart. Have you waded in to settle the rift? What is your take on this as regards Keshi’s future?
This is a difficult question because I think some of our friends in the media blow issues out of proportion. I don’t think there is any row between Keshi and Amodu. Probably he (Amodu) was misquoted when he said he doesn’t want Keshi to be rubbished, that is exactly what I read and he doesn’t mean any harm. Some people benefit from such reports. The coaching association is one happy family and we have resolved not to say any bad thing about one another. Yes, we can criticize each other constructively but we don’t have to pull ourselves down. The same Keshi won 2013 AFCON for us and suddenly are we saying that he is not good anymore? Keshi is not Nigeria’s problem. We have to find out what the problem is. My conclusion is that because of the internal fighting, our house is not in order, so if any coach comes there tomorrow he is still going to have the same problems.
What is the difference between managing clubs and national team? Which is easier?
I think the national team is easier. Though it can also be difficult to an extent because it is a different thing from club football, there are lots of good players around you and in some cases players come around 48 hours before a game. For a proper tournament, you need at least three weeks to prepare adequately and you should have the best legs in the country around you.
Managing the national team comes with it’s issues; there is serious pressure because you are carrying the expectations of the whole nation on your shoulder and if you don’t deliver, you are in big trouble. But if you look at the club sides, you have to bring in the talents and harness them into future national team materials. Is the league good enough? No! This is because the government is not doing enough pumping money into the league while there are no sponsors for clubs. Yes, we have Globacom sponsoring the league but other corporate bodies should come forward and sponsor clubs too. You also have the problem of having to travel from Gombe to Warri for a weekend game and then returning to Gombe to play on Wednesday, for example, which to me is a bit difficult if you compare it to managing the national team. I think it is easier to manage national teams than clubs except Enyimba F C who always want to remain up there and want the club managed well.