Says: Matches not won on football pitches alone
–Exclusive Interview By David Meshioye
Nigerian football seems to be on it’s knees once again with Super Eagles missing out of AFCON 2015. Did that come to you as a rude shock?
Honestly, I was not surprised about the outcome of the qualifiers; I saw it coming long ago. I knew it all along that Nigeria may not qualify for the next AFCON after all the imbroglio that surrounded Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) when the qualifiers got underway against Congo in Calabar. There were several factors that came into play; firstly we had the Giwa group who wanted Aminu Maigari out of office at all cost and this did not allow the team and coaching crew settle down well. I believe football is not played on the pitch as people think, a lot must have been put right behind the scenes before coming out victorious on the field of play. Alas! That never happened on the side of Nigeria and to me I have always warned that our football would suffer for it.
You mean the in-house fighting at the Glass House should be solely blamed for the recent setbacks in Nigerian football? Are you saying the country was sitting on a keg of gun powder, whose explosion was just a matter of time?
Yes! I warned them to put their house in order at that time, but you all saw what happened; we lost 3-2 at home to Congo and that was where we lost our AFCON ticket.
But some school of thought argued that the players never showed enough commitment towards the cause? What is your take on this?
I disagree on this. The players were committed to a large extent but people need to realize that football is not only won on the pitch, it is how well you perfect your plan behind the scenes that determines if you are going to win or not. We did not do enough behind the scenes simply because of several distractions emanating from the rift in the Glass House. Besides, this weakens players’ hunger since there was no pressure to win from the FA. The Giwa ,Maigari problems easily swallowed the players and before we started getting it right, it was too late.
Tongues have been wagging over Keshi’s future, with ex-coaches asking the former Togo boss to walk away from the job. Do you think Nigeria should get a foreign manager?
Amaju Pinnick and his board already did away with Stephen Keshi until that Presidential order asking them to re-instate him. Who are you to disobey the President of the country when such order comes? I think NFF cannot do anything with Keshi at the moment until the Presidency tells them to do so.
Soccer pundits feel missing AFCON 2015 might turn out to be a blessing in disguise just like it was three years ago when Nigeria missed out of 2012 AFCON. Do agree with this?
Of course I agree. We now have our chance of settling down to serious business if really we want to develop and reshape our football. Those two years should be used to prepare for the next one and more importantly restructure our football. Samson Siasia is doing well with the Olympic team and I have seen them play. Besides, there should be a forum where club coaches and managers can rub minds and help Super Eagles coaches with players scouting. We have one of the best players in the Nigerian league but today, I am surprised he is not in the Olympic team. As regards the Super Eagles, we cannot do away with everybody in the team but it is time to give other young players a chance to prove their mettle. Super Eagles need some young fresh legs. We must not sit back and cry over spilt milk, rather it is an opportunity to plan and come out with a stronger team.
Talking about fresh legs in Super Eagles, which department of the team needs surgical operation?
I think Super Eagles lack a playmaker. That is one area the team is lacking and that has really affected how our strikers play so far. Emmanuel Emenike is not having that same bite, he was known for last year, Ahmed Musa is doing his bit but you can see he is not a full-fledged striker yet, he is just coming up. Our coaches need to comb all nooks and crannies for a playmaker. A playmaker opens up the defense and that will in-turn help the strikers.
Why is it taking Nigeria more than a decade to discover another Tijani Babangida , Austin Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu of this world?
I think the tide has changed. In our time, you could confidently call twelve Nigerian players from top European clubs like Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Ajax etc but today we longer have that. That was a generation of top players. Today, aside from Mikel who plays for Chelsea; I don’t think we have players in top European clubs anymore. It tells you how the standard has dropped drastically. We just have to check that trend and develop top players again.
The big problem that people are afraid to talk about is the issue of Super Eagles technical crew. A lot of people are so afraid to discuss this matter. Unitil Nigeria Football Federation sit down and address this issue I don’t think Nigeria football will be moving forward. Do they want to keep Keshi? Then they should give him a new contract and that will give him the leverage to settle down and draw out his plans for the team. Do they want him fired? Let the NFF make up their minds and get someone better than him to continue where he stops. It is high time they decide on Keshi’s future. Thank you.