Super Eagles coach Sunday Oliseh goes down memory lane and also projects into the future in this interview with Completespprtsnigeria.com’s DAVID MESHIOYE and ADEBOYE AMOSU in Kigali…
GROWING UP AS A YOUNG MAN
Yes, growing up was so much fun simply because we knew we were growing up and what we knew how to do best was play football. I grew up in Ojota and we later moved to FESTAC and I started playing real football on the street of FESTAC. I was not fortunate to be among that Saint Finbars College generation that produced great stars for Nigeria. I attended Ajao Estate High school in Lagos where football became my daily norm. I moved on as young man but football was my last option until I joined Julius Berger FC of Lagos and then headed to Europe.
BORN WITH SILVER SPOON
I really envy little children of nowadays because of what we had then as kids when growing up. We never had it easy growing up on the streets of Ojota. Things were very tough and tight, I mean you had to get up as early as five and got to school by eight and once you got there late to school you were sure you would be dealt with. It was tough but filled with fun. We were okay and my father wanted us all to be educated.
DREAMS AND ASPIRATIONS
I wanted to play football as well as trying to focus on education. I wanted to be an economist because my father was an accountant. I skipped classes a lot at that time. I was good at my studies at that time that it was not difficult getting my O’levels after which I did JAMB exams.
JOINING JULIUS BERGER FC OF LAGOS
I think the Berger thing just came to me unexpected too. I was just training at the FESTAC playing ground and one of my close friends said: ‘’I heard Berger will be recruiting, why don’t you go and try your luck there”. I said OK. I went there and I realised Joe Erico was the chief coach while Eyo Martins was our team manager at that time. I also met the late Daniel Idama who was our chairman at that time.They were sharing bibs and we trained afterwards. At the end of the training they just said there would be training tomorrow and we should turn up. I never knew they were referring to me. I took up the challenge the next day and the rest is history. We had a friendly and I did so well. I also played the Oba Cup with Berger and I scored too.
THE SUPER EAGLES DEBUT
I was one the guys playing well for Standard Liege at that time in Belgium and honestly I was doing well as a defensive midfielder. By the special grace of God I was not one of those helped into European football before coming to play for the national team. At that time Alloy Agu came to Liege and we were three in that club; I, Alloy and Victor Ikpeba. Eventually, what happened at that time I think Super Eagles were struggling with the defensive midfielder role and also a libero. It was Jo Bonferee and Clemens Westerhof who said I should come over and give it a trial. I as invited for the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Ethiopia in Lagos.
THE SUPER EAGLES MAFIA
Super Eagles at that time was already a brand. I realised there was nothing special I was coming to bring in because the team was in winning form with the likes of Daniel Amokachi, Stephen Keshi, Rashidi Yekini and other top stars. What I did at that time was to stay all alone; I got myself what I called a game to play with and I remained in my rooms and only joined the team during training. The senior players were so impressed with my game that it got to a point everybody wanted me to be on their side during training. After the Ethiopia game, I felt welcomed by the senior players and coach Westerhof. I was so fortunate to be in the team that won the Nations Cup in Tunisia in 1994 as well as qualified for the World Cup for the first time.
NIGERIA VERSUS ITALY USA ’94
I think that reminds me; I put the tape on and asked my son who also plays football why we lost that. He said because Italy were better to have won with just two minutes to go. I smiled and told him that ‘do you know some Nigerians still feel your dad cost Nigeria that match?’. He looked at me surprised and said; ‘But you did all that you needed to do by clearing the ball with just two minutes to go.’ I think we lost because we were not just good enough. We played 11 against 10 and we didn’t score against them. I don’t have any regret after that loss because all I needed to do was clear the ball with just eight minutes to go.
USA 94 WORLD CUP MEMORIES
It was a great experience for me. Italy beat us and stopped us from going to the quarter-finals but we learnt from it and went to the Olympics in Atlanta 96 and beat everybody to win it. Yes it was painful we lost at USA 94 but we learnt a lot from it and two years later beat Brazil, Argentina to win the Olympic football gold. That is what defeat teaches.
YOU, WESTERHOF AND BONFERE
Yes, I have heard a lot about me on how Bonfere became Super Eagles manager. We won the Nations Cup and went to the World Cup too but Westerhof was the coach but Bonfere was the main trainer that makes things happened. I think with him we were able to qualify for France 98 World Cup. But my feeling is that Nigeria football started to take a nosedive from 2002 World Cup
THE WINNING GOAL AGAINST SPAIN
If you ask Tijani Babangida he will tell you it was never a surprise because we played together at Ajax. It was very similar to the one I scored at Ajax a few times. I have watched that tape over and over. I have seen it being played on television. I think my goal against Spain had a divine hand because after I hit it Andoni Zubizaretta touched it and it could have bounced back but went straight to the net. God’s hand was in that goal. My winning goal against Spain had a divine touch.
THE FRACAS IN MALI AND MISSING 20O2 KOREA/JAPAN WORLD CUP
I have forgiven because if I had not I would not have taken the Super Eagles job. It takes a lot of guts to sponsor national team with your personal money as a footballer but even nobody has come out to apologise to me for all that happened too. What happened in Mali always happened; I think we were owed a backlog of allowances and bonuses and as the captain I made my opinion felt and that was it. It is nothing other than fighting for players’ allowances as team captain. I had no regret missing the 2002 World Cup.
CHAN LESSONS AND WAY FORWAD
I am happy with my team here at CHAN because for now we have been able to discover seven good players that we are looking at. We just lost our first competitive game against Guinea after 14 games, otherwise our first loss was the friendly against Congo DR. We are getting there. I promise to leave a very good team behind for Nigeria when I’m gone as Eagles coach and whatever they do with it is up to them. Winning CHAN is good but it does not come with special incentive for Nigeria. We have succeeded in discovering young and quality players. I want us to go the Nations Cup and World Cup and God willing Nigeria will be there. This is the first step toward achieving that, discovering players and building a solid national team from home.