Garba Lawal: How Eagles Should Play To Leave World Cup Legacy In Russia

Garba Lawal: How Eagles Should Play To Leave World Cup Legacy In Russia

Former Super Eagles midfielder, Garba Lawal in this interview with Completesportsnigeria. com’s JOHNNY EDWARD recalls his France 1998 World Cup experience and predicts the current Gernot Rohr’s team’s chances at the 2018 FIFA  World Cup in Russia this summer.

You played at the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France, could you share your experience with us?

It was a memorable one. Every player’s dream is to play at the World Cup and I was lucky to have represented Nigeria at the 1998 edition in France. The opening game against Spain will go down as one of the greatest comeback wins we recorded in the history of the tournament. I provided an assist and scored the leveler for the team before Sunday Oliseh sealed it with that wonderful goal.

We had so many talented players in that squad at that time. If you made that Nigeria’s1998  squad, you must thank God for that because there were lots of exceptional players around then who were playing weekly for their respective clubs and that’s why lots of great players cry and regret when they miss the World Cup.

It meant the world to me and I won’t ever forget that I scored against one of the best goalkeepers (Andoni Zubizarreta) in the world at that time and in the history of Spanish football in general.

What are the chances of the Super Eagles doing well in Russia this summer, considering the kind of Group D opponents they will confront?

We have a good chance like the other teams. It’s not going to be easy for the Super Eagles, but we must be clinical. We must win games to go far in the tournament which is important. Our opening game against Croatia is a must win if we are to stand a chance of making it to the next round.

We have seen Gernot Rohr’s midfield in different formations with different players. In your opinion, which players are the best for the Super Eagles in that position?

We both are not in the counsel of the coach. The manager will tell us through his selections. My opinion won’t change anything, neither  yours. All I know is we need experience to excel in Russia. Mikel Obi is aging, but he has experience in abundance. The way he plays now can’t be compared to the way he started out. It’s normal that he can’t play 90 minutes at this level now consistently. His exposure at the biggest stage in football is key to our success in Russia. I hope the younger players will help him in the middle.

Who else do you think will complement Mikel’s experience in the midfield?

The likes of Ogenyi Onazi and Wilfred Ndidi can provide solid defensive cover for Mikel to be free to operate well behind the striker. The pair also can provide shield for the centre-backs. That will be a solid paring in my opinion, but the coach will decide.

Garba Lawal in action for Super Eagles during his playing days

In terms of creativity, the burden falls on Mikel. Do you think our team can compete against the likes of Croatia’s Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Ever Banega and the likes?

I won’t give a straight answer because that is down to the talent this current generation have produced. The 1994 and 1998 squads never depended on any player to get going when it got tough. But now when a player is out of the team due to one reason or the other, there’s problem, Nigeria start panicking. Then we had two quality players in every position and you can call on any player to fill in the void, but now, we will start thinking. Same cannot be said of this current squad.

By now we should know who is in and who is out judging from the consistency of our players at club level and what they have done during the course of the qualifiers. We don’t have those kind of consistent players anymore. Creativity is lacking, no doubt, but what we lack in that area we have in strength, power and hard work.

It baffles me most times. I wonder If the current crop of players ask themselves why many people still rate the 1994, 1996 and 1998 squad as the best Super Eagles team ever. They don’t show in their game that they want to leave a legacy behind with the way they play. There’s a problem already and they are comfortable dropping it at the feet of the coach. Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi, Moses Simon, Kelechi Iheanacho can create chances, but can they compete with those names you called out?

Do Super Eagles depend on individual players  in this current squad to win games?

Well, I believe football is a team game. Rohr will tell us that. But it’s obvious that when some players are missing, we struggle to hit the gear in games. The team struggles without Mikel, so that answers your question, but they need to be encouraged.

What formation will you rather suggest the Super Eagles deploy with the calibre of players Gernot Rohr has in the midfield?

You approach a game based on the strength of your opponent and the players you have at your disposal. So Rohr may decide to go with a 4-4-2, 4-1-4-1, 3-5-2 or 4-2-3-1.

Super Eagles also don’t have quality options in the striking role with Odion Ighalo as the team’s only recognized striker. Do you think he can deliver in Russia?

He is our best bet going into the World Cup. But the likes of Ahmed Musa, Kelechi Iheanacho could also provide cover in that role as well. We need all these players to be in good shape for the World Cup.

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  • Chima E Samuels 3 years ago

    Gambo we miss you seriously…. Nice view you sabi ball

  • ako amadi 3 years ago

    I congratulate Complete Sports for bringing us the expert opinions of former players like the great Garba Lawal. It always makes for absorbing reading by those of us who are mere football fans. Permit me however to contest a few points. First of all Garba Lawal makes controversial and inconsistent statements for someone in the NFF Technical Committee. Two years ago he said it was no use inviting “foreign-based” players, even though he himself played for over 10 years in Holland and Bulgaria. Yes, I agree with him, the class of 1994 was exceptional, and I was lucky to watch their qualifying games in Lagos in 1993, and the World Cup proper in the US. They were fantastic footballers, but our opponents grossly underrated Nigeria. Remember that Nigeria qualified on goal difference ahead of Ivory coast. Recall that apart from Stephen Keshi from Anderlecht, no other Eagle was had cemented a place in a world class league – Chidi Nwanu, Siasia, Oliseh, Eguavoen Amokachi were just starting out in Belgium; JayJay was playing from the bench at Eintracht Frankfurt where Tony Yeboah was the star; Uche Okechukwu was at Brondby in Denmark, Amuneke at Zamalek, and Peter Rufai came from Dragons in Benin Republic. Another advantage was that the team went to the World Cup with Clemens Westerhof and Bonfrere Joe, the duo that took them through the qualies. But in 1998, we had won the Olympic gold in Atlanta, 1996, and went to France very arrogant, and with a coach, Bora Milutinovic, who came to reap where Phillipe Troussier had sowed. It was tactically wrong to fire a Frenchman in a World Cup in his own country, but equally unwise to have brought in Peter Rufai from his holiday to join the team. The result was disaster!
    Now the world knows about the quality of Nigerian football and nobody is writing us off anymore. Our current players know where they stand, and are aware of their limitations compared to their opponents. The talent we have is terrific, never mind that our boys are not in Barcelona and Real Madrid. It is also great that the money issues appear to have been taken care of. All that is needed is for Gernot Rohr to plot the implementable winning strategy, without undue interference by Garba Lawal and the NFF Technical Committee. I have a question mark over that.

    • Prince 3 years ago

      @Amadi…you speak with profound facts and sheer bravery…..just my kind of kinsman!….all what you said, I stand and concur!!!
      The current SE players are young and kinda inexperience going to the mundial….but I will give them all the support, prayers and encouragement ever necessary….my reason is simple….I AM LOOKING TOWARDS A BRIGHTER FUTURE!!!…..imagine Uzoho in goal for the next CAF tournament…imagine A. Iwobi replacing Mikel as our next playmaker…H. Onyekuru on one side of the wings and V.Moses on the other…Ebehi glowing in that defense position….our midfield standing their own against oppositions under the team-captainship of W. Ndidi!!!….THAT’S THE FUTURE !!!……
      The truth is that our lads knows what it takes to be at the world cup and they will go there and give it a fight and I sincerely believe that Sir G Rohr will surely propel the boys to give out their very best in RUSSIA!!!…in that true german-9ja never-say-die spirit !!!
      Snr Man Lawal spoke well and his facts are ok….and if I am a member of the coaching crew, I will be listening to all suggestions and advises from every concerned positive thinking Nigerian who has the interest of the national team at heart…and that will in a little way aid some of my decisions!!!
      I will not accept team selection or player suggestion because I will give faith to my scouts and also to the lads that have labored so hard to bring us this far…!!!
      All the same, we are in the right direction…..we have never produced such a young squad of such talented and existing players who qualified our nation for the FIFA world cup under the claws of Cameroun, Algeria and Zambia…WITH A MATCH TO spare!
      Even our previous star-studded; matured big-league playing SE players DID NOT qualified us for the past mundials, in such special way…we have always sat on the edge of our seats until the final match while doing calculations and permutations if we will make it or not!!!
      I believe in this set of players….all of them that have being involved with the SE since the first day of qualification……This team will put smile on the face of Africa…just like what Senegal did in 2002… and I will stand by any player selected to go and fight in Russia!
      @Amadi….I salute you!!!

      • Bomboy 3 years ago

        I salut you too Prince. Just like Ako Amadi, you have spoken well.

    • Rufai was playing in Holland for a team called Go Ahead Eagles in 1994. He wasn’t playing in Republic of Benin. CHIDI NWANU was playing for Anderlecht who were playing regularly in the Champions league at the time. Finidi was playing for Ajax which was perhaps the top club in Europe at the time. Amunike had just won the CAF Champions league with Zamalek which was at the time even up till now the greatest football club from Africa. Obviously, most of our players didn’t play in the most glamorous leagues or clubs back then. Meanwhile, most other teams going to that WorldCup with the exception of Roberto Baggio and Romario don’t really have many top class players in big clubs or leagues. No single Home based player made it to USA that’s how great that team was. The only African team ever to be ranked 5TH by FIFA. Just like you I was also fortunate to watch some of their games at the famed AGBO ILE. The no nonsense edifice with die hard fans who are always ready to boo you, throw stones at them if they don’t win. SuperEagles rarely lost a game at the National Stadium Surulere. I was also fortunate to watch them at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas against Bulgaria. I don’t think that team was underrated, they were just a great collection of talents that were so good. They could’ve played in the final in USA 94 if not for inexperience. After the Mundial most of them went on to play for big clubs and in glamorous leagues which took them all the way to 98. However, just like how that great SuperEagles team began taking shape in 1990. This current SuperEagles is poised for greatness. In 1994 we qualified on goals difference while the present team qualified in a seemingly impossible group with relative ease. We have a young team with big heart and I’m certain these SuperEagles will make us proud in Russia. If not, there’s always room to improve and accept it as a valuable experience.

    • Bomboy 3 years ago

      What a great comment from you Ako Amadi! No one could have said it better.

  • Djeniko 3 years ago

    @Ako Amadi, which one is your own. You praised Complete Sports for bringing our ex(es) to contribute and at the same time pulling down Garba Lawal?Throughout the interview I did not read of any hint that the Technical Department of the NFF are planning to interfere with the decisions of Gernot Rohr. I see Lawal as speaking for himself and not for NFF. He made and reemphasised points many of us have been making on this forum- if Mikel Obi does not play, the Eagles look like a headless chicken just running around aimlessly. All wings should have 2 solid players in case one is injured or carded, the other comes over. The emphasis on solid. Is that not what Rohr is already trying to do? He already know his 1st eleven and the 3 ‘super’ substitutes. We on this forum can even attempt to name them with 98% accuracy. The remaining 11players to make up the 25 manlist is the teething problems Rohr, NFF and even we the CSN forumites are cracking our head. So Lawal is on point throughout the interview. This interview tell me something. The big guys in NFF are following proceedings and they are up to date. It seems like they are following on our contributions too. So those criticizing and those encouraging our players are doing a great job. Keep doing what you are doing. We all have one aim-Nigeria must do well. We will beat our record of ending up at the round of 16. Anyhow anyhow we must o.

  • Chima E Samuels 3 years ago

    Yes we are following your contributions. Lawal is on point and voiced exactly what we all know about super chickens without skipper Mikel @ Amadi don’t confuse yourself

  • Nigerian football team one of the greatest team all time. Now the world knows about the quality of the current player.

  • Bekee 3 years ago

    Garba Lawal (Chindo) is absolutely on point in this interview. But the mistake we continue to make is to unfairly compare this team with 94, 96 or 98 team instead of the 90 they are. If we do, we will be in position to appreciate this team and the coach. The team is work in progress like that of 1990. By next 4 years, I belive this team will not only match but surpass the achievements of 94-98 Eagles by God’s grace.

  • Garba Lawal speaks a lot of sense and was quite measured and considered in his responses.

    I agree with him on the following:

    Experience: a good team does indeed need experience in key departments of the field. The experience of senior players like Mikel will be key.

    Alternatives: When Victor Moses failed to turn up at the World Cup in Brazil, who would have thought Babatunde would step up to the plate! He provided the assist for Musa’s first goal against Argentina and terrorised Bosnia’s defence. My point? We should not panic (like Garba Lawal said). Sometimes, the alternative may not always seem obvious.

    Do you also remember how Oshaniwo effectively replaced Echiejile?

    Legacy: for all critisms directed at some of the players in the squad (eg Musa, Akpeyi) I remain a firm believer that these players have it in them to raise the levels of their game with the right motivation and awareness of what legacy they like to leave behind.

    For one reason or the other, some Nigerians at home and abroad are approaching this world cup with a degree of trepidation which at times is understandable.

    My message? don’t worry too much. Enjoy the tournament. If the team does well, hallelujah! If not, then it’s back to the drawing board. With young players like Iheanacho, Uzoho and Ndidi, the future looks bright.

  • Fifa 2018 is amazing.

  • I praise Complete Sports for presenting to us the master feelings of previous players like the incomparable Garba Lawal. It generally makes for engrossing perusing by those of us who are simple football fans. License me anyway to challenge a couple of focuses. Above all else Garba Lawal owns questionable and conflicting expressions for somebody in the NFF Technical Committee. Two years back he said it was no utilization welcoming “remote based” players, despite the fact that he himself played for more than 10 years in Holland and Bulgaria. Truly, I concur with him, the class of 1994 was remarkable, and I was fortunate to watch their passing amusements in Lagos in 1993, and the World Cup appropriate in the US. They were awesome footballers, yet our adversaries terribly misjudged Nigeria. Keep in mind that Nigeria qualified on objective distinction in front of Ivory coast. Review that separated from Stephen Keshi from Anderlecht, no other Eagle was had established a spot in a world class group – Chidi Nwanu, Siasia, Oliseh, Eguavoen Amokachi were simply beginning in Belgium; JayJay was playing from the seat at Eintracht Frankfurt where Tony Yeboah was the star; Uche Okechukwu was at Brondby in Denmark, Amuneke at Zamalek, and Peter Rufai originated from Dragons in Benin Republic. Another favorable position was that the group went to the World Cup with Clemens Westerhof and Bonfrere Joe, the pair that took them through the qualies. Be that as it may, in 1998, we had won the Olympic gold in Atlanta, 1996, and went to France exceptionally presumptuous, and with a mentor, Bora Milutinovic, who came to harvest where Phillipe Troussier had sowed. It was strategically wrong to flame a Frenchman in a World Cup in his own nation, however similarly rash to have acquired Peter Rufai from his vacation to join the group. The outcome was calamity!