Former Super Eagles forward and 1997 African Footballer of the Year, Victor Ikpeba, in this interview with Complete Sports’ SULAIMAN ALAO, talks up the impressive transition the Nigeria team is presently going through and believes that a great generation is in the horizon.
Complete Sport: The Super Eagles are set to play Algeria and Tunisia in few days time. Do you feel excited with the prospect?
Ikpeba: Yeah, I’m excited because it’s been a while we last saw the Super Eagles play because of the coronavirus pandemic which seems to have turned football and all other sporting activities upside down. So, with that, I’m as excited as all Nigerians who love the Super Eagles and want to see them return to action.
What do you think about the opponents. Algeria beat the Super Eagles at the last AFCON towards winning the title while Nigeria also beat Tunisia to win the bronze. Does it look like a repeat of those
Firstly, I think the NFF did well to ensure that the Super Eagles will be fully engaged and maximize the FIFA international window. Algeria and Tunisia are very good opposition that will bring the best out of the Eagles.
North African teams have always been quality oppositions that can bring the best out of the Eagles because they have quality players both in Europe and also in their domestic league. Also, because the Eagles will be resuming the AFCON 2021 qualifiers very soon, playing against Algeria and Tunisia will serve us well.
I don’t think the friendlies will be a replay of our last encounters at the AFCON because these are tune-up games and the settings are quite different. The coach will be looking to try out new players and formations especially with lots of new boys coming into the team.
Some key players will be missing for the Eagles. How do you think that will affect the Eagles?
Yes, we are going to miss players like Victor Osimhen who is just getting into his rhythm for the Eagles as our top striker. Ndidi, Etebo and Aribo will all be missed, but the good thing is that these are just friendly games.
It gives the coach a good opportunity to try out new formations. The new players and others who have been on the fringes will also get the chance to show what they can do. This situation will help the coach to know the options available to him and how to get the best from his squad.
I’m looking forward to good matches and to see how the Eagles will fare in the absence of those regular players who are out injured – and I do wish all of them speedy recovery too.
Talking about new guys coming into the team. Are you happy with the development especially with players born abroad and who have featured for other countries at youth levels now changing international allegiances to play for Nigeria?
For me, it is a welcome development because in life, the only constant thing is change, you know. I think we are starting to see a new era evolving in the national team. Many years back, almost all our national team players were born and bred in Nigeria and were playing in the local league which was very strong then.
Then it got to the stage where we have few Nigerian players going abroad to play professional football and we begin to have a few of them, like 30% coming to play for the national team because competition from the home-based players was very tough. It later progressed to the time when we have the foreign-based players dominating the national team with presence of local league players coming down to like 20%. That was when our local league was not as strong again, you know, and I think I belong to the last two categories.
Now, we are moving to a new era where players born abroad are switching nationality to play for their ‘fatherland’ if I can use the word (laughter).
It is really exciting because it will bring lots of competition into the squad which is good. But we will need to manage the situation well to get the best out of it.
Can you shed more light into what you mean by managing the situation well?
Proper management is very important. For instance, some of these foreigm-born players- I think that’s how we can refer to them now. have gotten used to the European system where things work seamlessly. They are playing professional football all across Europe and are well exposed to high technicalities of the game. Some of them have hardly lived in Nigeria too and are not used to the Nigerian and African terrain and the way we do things.
Now these set of players have a slightly different mentality from the “foreign-based’ players who were born here in Nigeria then traveled abroad to play professional football. There could be a clash of mentality, you know, because the two groups are different which means we must be able to manage them well to get the best out of them.
And do you think the people in charge can manage the situation well?
I think we can because we have a good coach in Gernot Rohr. As a foreigner who has played the game at the highest level in Europe, I think he is well equipped to manage the mentality issue.
The players respect him and they also see him as a father-figure which is a positive thing for the team.
What I’m worried about is what happens in the future when Rohr leaves because he will not be with us forever. To be frank, it will be difficult for our local handiers to handle the Eagles with the influx of these set of players, you know. But for now, I think the Eagles are in good hands with Rohr.
Don’t you think this development will affect players on the local league aspiring to play for the national team?
Of course, it will affect their chances. But in truth, our local league is not at its best now and we have not even got the league running yet. I’ve always been an advocate of us developing our local league to higher standards, but if we can’t do that, then people should not be crying that local league players are not given the chance to play in the national team.
What is important is to get the best players available to play for the national team and that’s what is being done now.
Young Arsenal star, Bukayo Saka has eventually committed his international future to England. Are you disappointed?
Yeah, I am very sad that we lost (Bukayo) Saka to England you know. He is such a quality player who is playing for a big club at such a young age. But I do respect his choice and wish him well.
And that’s why we must appreciate the likes of Iwobi and others who are coming to play for Nigeria. I am of the opinion that the best players available should play for the Super Eagles irrespective of where they were born.
Finally, is it important that the Super Eagles must win these games?
You want to put me on the spot (laughter). These are friendlies you know. I will be content to see good performances from the Super Eagles as a team and also to see what the new players can offer.Copyright © 2020 Completesports.com All rights reserved. The information contained in Completesports.com may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the prior written authority of Completesports.com. How I make $10,000 monthly in Online SALES? apply the *Social Media Marketing Strategy* and watch your account balance swell. Buy eBook NOW!!!