Dutch coach,Theo de Jong has made a big impact managing Nigeria Professional Football League side, Ikorodu United, improving their gait and overall team performance after belatedly taking over the reins at the relegation-boud club.
In this interview with Completesportsnigeria.com's ADEBOYE AMOSU, the 69- year-old who was a member of the Netherlands' squad to the 1974 World Cup, speaks about his love for Nigerian football and other issues.
Completesportsnigeria.com: You have spent close to six months managing Ikorodu United. What has the experience been like for you?
De Jong: It has been a nice experience for me. It is the first time I will be working with a club in Nigeria. Previously, I worked as assistant coach with the Cameroon national team and I have travelled to many other African countries, scouting for clubs in the Dutch league.
Ikorodu United is a good team, though we still have to improve in a lot of areas like the organization and getting the players tactically attuned to modern way of playing football.
Though they have adapted so well since I came around, but they can still do better than what we have seen so far.
How did you first come in contact with the club?
Actually, it was a Finnish friend of mine who has known me for 20 years that connected me with the club. He has the contact information of the Chairman of Ikorodu United and they talked to each other often.
Eventually, the idea to hire a coach from Holland was discussed and that was how my name was mentioned.
He then contacted me and asked if I would be interested in working with the club and I accepted the offer.
I said no problem as I usually come to Nigeria two or three times in a year previously for scouting, so I agreed to do it for half a year.
What is your assessment of the Nigeria Professional Football League?
It is a physically tough league. You see a lot of duels in the game. There are also a lot of quality players in the league.
I have heard a lot about teams like Enyimba, Kano Pillars and Rangers before coming down to Nigeria to work, but I have been able to see more for myself during my time with Ikorodu United.
Though the players still have to improve in a lot of areas like organization and tactical awareness, there is no doubt about their individual qualities.
The league is also competitive too. There are a lot of good teams, Rangers, Wikki Tourists, Rivers United and Ikorodu United (long laughter).
A team has to really work to win the title as it is very competitive.
How would you compare the Nigerian league with those of other countries you have visited in Africa?
It\'s almost the same, very physical as well. You see a lot of bad pitches around. That is a tough challenge as it doesn't allow for free flowing football.
You get the ball bouncing all around the turf with the players not being able to express themselves very well.
It is something football officials in Africa need to address. You will surely get more from the players when you have quality playing pitches .
As a coach, it is difficult for you to also assess your players properly when they play on bad surfaces. In Europe, they play on good pitches. I always want my team to play free flowing football. One touch, you do it easily. I would like the players to move the ball around swiftly.
When you do one touch on some of the pitches in Nigeria, the ball has already moved away from you before you know it.
You spoke about the pitches which you are not comfortable with. What other challenges have you faced since you started working with Ikorodu United?
I have not really had many challenges here. I love the weather here even though it is different from what I am used to in Holland and in Europe.
The weather is warm and I like it that way. I\'m really enjoying it.
You know this is not my first time in Africa and even though there are lots of differences in the way things are done here and in Europe, I'm still finding the experience a memorable one.
Earlier you talked about agreeing to stay with Ikorodu United for six months and now that they are relegated, are you going to extend your contract with the club?
It depends on what the club want. If they want me to stay I will gladly stay, but we will have to sit down and talk.
Three other Dutchmen; Clemens Westerhof, Jo Bonfrere and Thijs Libregts have handled the Super Eagles in the past. Will you be open to coaching Nigeria?
I believe I am good enough to handle the Super Eagles. Everything will depend on the circumstances, the length of the contract, how many games are involved, the organisation and what the Federation wants.
In principle, it is not a job I should turn down. I will gladly sit down with the Federation and talk. It is a job most coaches will love to have and it will be an honour to manage a good side like the Nigerian national side.
What fascinates you most about Nigerian players?
Nigeria is one of the best footballing nations with lots of good players in Europe. Not only that, there are also many quality players here in the league.
It will be great to work with players like Kelechi Iheanacho, Alex Iwobi, John Obi Mikel and the other stars.
I know Westerhof and Bonfrere are well respected here in Nigeria because of their records with the Super Eagles, and it will be great to follow in their footsteps.
How much do you enjoy the local delicacies in Nigeria?
I like the local foods and I have eaten a lot of them in the past. Mostly I do the cooking myself.
I buy most things I need, vegetables, meat and other condiments in t Victoria Island and cook myself.
Though I am not a good cook yet but I\'m learning very fast (long laughter).
What about Nigerian women here, do you find them attractive?
I have been married for 46 years now and I love my wife dearly. The ladies here are beautiful but I\'m too old to engage in any extra marital affair.
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