–Former Nigeria defender charges Eagles Boss to mend fences with players and NFF
Former Super Eagles and Atlanta ‘96 Olympics Gold medalist, Mobi Oparaku insists the ‘Big Boss’ Stephen Keshi should shed his bloated ego if he hopes to succeed once again with the Super Eagles. The then overlapping full-back disclosed this while airing his views on other issues as well, in this interview with DAVID MESHIOYE
You must have been watching with keen interest the downward spiral of Nigerian football lately. Are you worried that the FA seems to be heading for the rocks at a time some African nations are rebuilding their technical departments?
Football development begins from the FA, once the country’s FA is in tune with the modern trends of the game; surely it will have a positive impact on the country’s football. It is from the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) that structures are expected to be fashioned for our football. That is where the U-17, U-21 and the U-23 squads will be given the much needed facelift to compete with the best cadets in the world. I think the most important thing right now is to put our house in order, then we can begin to fashion the way forward for our football. I strongly believe our football will continue to deteriorate as long as our house is not in order.
Talking about the NFF, the country’s soccer governing body has been faulted for not taking a final decision on Stephen Keshi’s future. What is your take on this?
Keshi remains one of the best players to come out of Nigeria and he has turned out to be a successful coach as well after he won the AFCON. But coaching is a different thing entirely and he needs to come to terms with the simple fact that he cannot remain bossy over his players and employers because it is a different terrain entirely. You cannot expect the current players to be that submissive like in Keshi’s era. Keshi must take it slow on his players and employers. When Keshi spoke as a player then, everybody listened but he must slow down on his managerial style if he wants to succeed.
Players’ commitment to national team has been questioned by soccer pundits. Indeed opinions have been divided as many castigate players for Nigeria’s slump in African football while others blame the FA. Where do you stand on this issue?
I think it has to do with the mentality of our players. Right from cadet to Flying Eagles, our players tend to obey rules and regulation as they rise in their careers but the story changes once they move to Europe to pen new deals. There is so much money in football that players hardly obey their coaches simply because they play under top managers in Europe. Our players feel they have arrived and therefore care less about the national team. It was a thing of joy whenever I was called to play for Nigeria. I think Nigeria lack quality players like the Eagles of old. We don’t have type of quality players that Super Eagles were known for in the past, that is why the players feel swollen headed as though they are the best, when they are called upon to play for Nigeria. The mindsets of players have changed from what it used to be.
It was argued that the re-introduction of code of conduct will help stem the rising tide of players’ indiscipline in Super Eagles. Do you subscribe to this?
The introduction of code of conduct may not really guarantee success in the Super Eagles. I think everything has to do with players’ attitude which I insist may have been influence by the riches that come with playing football at the highest level today. Nigerians know how to establish rules but do not know how to implement them. The code of conduct was followed to the letter during our playing days but I doubt if that can be achieved with our current players.
You were known for your mobility as a right full back in your playing days, what department of current Super Eagles would you say needs proper surgery?
I think looking at Super Eagles defence, I would say Ambrose Efe has been under utilized by Coach Stephen Keshi. Efe is not a bad player but in most times he is played out of position each time he plays in the national colours of Nigeria. At Celtics, Efe plays as central defender but he is used as right full back in Super Eagles. Little wonder why the young man is not playing up to his potentials. Keshi needs to use him more as central defender if really he wants to operate a water tight defence.
What are your football career highs and lows?
That is a tough one. Each time I look back on my career, I feel sad that injury never allowed me enough time to play football. I wanted to play the game to the highest level but injury did not allow me to achieve that goal. I am happy I played at the World Cup and won gold at the Atlanta Olympics but my regret has to do with my short height and injuries that scuttled my chance of playing football to the level I wanted. Lots of contracts came my way but my height denied me a lot as a footballer. The best time to make that move is when you are hot, I had the opportunity but my height denied me those juicy offers. I would not say it is regret really but those are my career highs and lows.
Between Bora Milutinovic and Bonfrere Jo, who really affected your career positively?
Bora should not even come into the picture here because he never added anything to Nigerian football when he led Super Eagles to France 98 World Cup. Bora did not enjoy coaching Nigeria even though he was appointed at the eve of the World Cup. But Bonfere remains one of the best managers I have worked with; he showed what to do with the ball and he will always be remembered for his input in Nigerian football.
Going down memory lane, what really went wrong in France ‘98 World Cup?
A lot of things happened in France 1998 World Cup which are not known to people. Nigeria as a country did not prepare for the tournament in the first place. Secondly, majority of USA ‘94 squad did not allow the Atlanta ’96 gold winning squad to have a say in that team. To our greatest surprise, most of the USA Eagles felt see the World Cup was the right place to make money having enjoyed lots of largesse in USA ‘94. Majority of them were injured and they even called their friends to camp. Bora lost control of the team and the team was being controlled by the USA ‘94 squad who told us to steer clear because it was their time to make money. I was not surprised with the way Nigeria lost out to Denmark; most of the players decided who plays and Bora lost control of the team. It was a show of shame that Nigeria must learn from.