–Big boss reads riot act; insists players not commanding regular shirts at club have no space in new Super Eagles
Barely a few hours after signing a contract renewal to retain his job in the Super Eagles, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi has asserted a new order in his desire to engender positive developments in his second coming as the helmsman. Keshi in this Interview with Complete Sports Saturday’s DAVID MESHIOYE, reveals the dos and don’ts in the new Eagles set to be assembled for the Gabon 2017 qualifiers.
Congratulations on your new contract after a long wait
You must be on cloud nine now, given that a new deal is in the bag.
Well, it feels great to serve my fatherland once again after my last contract expired. It has always been my joy to give back to this great country and to all Nigerians who rallied behind the team when we won the AFCON. Nigeria is my country and I am ready to anything to make her great. But this not the time to celebrate rather it calls for serious work now that the AFCON draws have been made. We are a bit far behind now but we have to really double our efforts to meet up with the challenges ahead.
Did you ever think you were being tossed around by the FA after several signing postponement?
Not at all. I knew a lot of things have to be put in place before the new contract will be concluded. We had lots of issues to sort out before a new contract can be agreed on. Besides, you know we have a new board in place and the elections were another factor. But I think it was worth the wait. It is a new dawn in Nigerian football and there is a lot of work to be done.
The issue of your would be assistants has been generating lots of interest. Pundits think bringing a new assistant now might take the coaching crew time to blend.
I have said that the issues of hiring and firing have nothing to do with me. The bucks stop at NFF’s table. I had a great time with everyone who worked with me and I will continue to thank them. Winning the 2013 AFCON was a collective responsibility. Whosoever the FA brings in will give his best and we can work together to build a strong Super Eagles again. The team belongs to all Nigerians and everyone must be ready to support the team again. I am ready to make it up.
Salihu Abubakar has been tipped as an ideal replacement for Daniel Amokachi. Would you say that the former El-Kanemi coach tops the list in the pecking order of coaches you recommended to NFF?
I can’t divulge such information. This is between me and my employers. I am ready to work with anybody provided we share same vision of taking Nigerian football to greater heights. All that matters to me now is how to raise a formidable team that Nigerians can be proud of again. It will take a lot of hard work and dedication from the players. I have been given another opportunity to serve this great nation and I am ready to give it my best shot by putting a strong structure in place for Nigerian football.
There were rumours that you bluntly refused working conditions like having to work with a technical department headed by Amodu Shuaibu.
Amodu is my brother and there is no rift between us. All that happened is in the past and all hands are on the deck now, we must move Nigerian football forward.
The image of Super Eagles has continued to experience a downward spiral for months now. The last straw was losing to Uganda at home. What exactly do you think will be your major challenge now that you are back at the helm of affairs again?
To restore that confidence that won us AFCON in South Africa. I really need to make the players realize that a new dawn is upon the team and most importantly there will be room for stiff competitions for shirts in the team. There is no time for experimentation and you just have to work hard at club level to earn a call up. You must be regular at club level if you must play for Super Eagles. Bench warmers at clubs will find it hard making it into the team because the challenges ahead are very huge. I just want to restore the confidence of my players because that is what I need to get the best out of them.
Fusion of local and foreign based players was the bedrock of your success at the 2013 AFCON, but you abandoned the system by going to the World Cup with largely foreign based players. Are you willing to return to the system?
That has been my philosophy wherever I have been to as coach. It was introduced here because I believe you cannot raise a formidable squad if you depend largely on foreign based players . The foreign based players arrive four days to a crucial game and you don’t get all the time to prepare. But it is a different ball game with the home based; you have them at your disposal and they are easily monitored week in, week out. That was the system I introduced before they told me to stop and bring in foreign based players. If you look at several African nations like South Africa, Mali, Burkina Faso, these countries depend on the youth from their league. Why would anybody say there are no good players in our league? It is an insult on Nigerian football. I believe lots of talents abound in the league and we are going to go for the best in the land.
Nigeria is grouped alongside Egypt, Tanzania and Chad, how do you contend with the intrigues of playing away from home?
It is a tough group; we have to be honest with ourselves. All I can say is that I know the challenges ahead with Egypt missing out on three occasions, it will be tough against us. I know playing in Cairo is a tough one but we will take every game seriously because every points count. Tanzania is a good side and are no pushovers too while Chad is looking forward to playing in AFCON. There are no pushovers in African football anymore and we just have to be at our best to get another ticket. We will do everything to get back to AFCON again.
Top Super Eagles players now warm the bench at their respective clubs. Are you worried that the era when Nigerians see their players in the UEFA Champions league and Europa Cup is gone. How do you intend to checkmate this poor trend?
Well, it is a tough job but my plan is to keep in constant touch with my players. I really want to get close to them and help them get into the thick of things at their respective clubs. I know the competition is tough in Europe but we will do our best for our players since the national team would be the one to benefit from it in the long run. Our players will be closely monitored and only the best will feature for Super Eagles.
Who among the past Green Eagles players inspired you most?
That’s a tough one; a lot of players did inspire me when I was coming into the national team; Segundaferosystem (Segun Odegbami) did a lot to help my game. But the late Mudashiru Lawal was an icon I will never forget too easily. Shiru of blessed memory remains one of the best midfielders this country has ever produced, he gave me lots of confidence when I came into the Green Eagles and often called me Omo Olubodun Tiko Teri (Son of Olubodun who is never put to shame). He gave me that name and that was all I needed to reach for the sky. That name has remained with me till today.
Thank you for your time
Always a pleasure!.