●Says current F’Eagles may struggle in Poland
Coach Tunde Disu (OFR) is the hero of one of the most memorable moments in Nigerian football when he inspired his national U-20 side to come from a 4-0 down to win on penalties in the quarterfinal of the World Youth Championship held in Saudi Arabia in 1989. That historic event is today known as ‘Damman Miracle’. In this interview with AJIBADE OLUSESAN, the former Technical Director of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), said the current Flying Eagles team did not have enough time to blend before heading for the World Cup that will start next week in Poland.
Super Eagles Manager Gernot Rohr announced a provisional list of 25 players for the 2019 African Cup Nations which has attracted mixed reactions with some pundits saying the coach should not have included a player like Kelechi Iheanacho.Do you think the Leicester City forward does not merit a place in the team for AFCON?
I think the team needs him because he’s a natural left-footer; he is a young player who has racked up experience, he’s scored many goals for the team. I like what the coach has done with him, he’s just like Obafemi Martins, Emmanuel Amuneke who are natural left footers. For this young man, he uses both legs, he’s good in set pieces too, he’s going to be a good addition to the team.
It is believed that Iheanacho is suffering from confidence crisis. Do you think we need players who are mentality ready for the Nations Cup?
There is no player in the English Premier League that cannot fit in for his national team even though he is not playing regularly. I heard John Fashanu speak about this and he shares my views because the league is of high level. Even when you are not starting games, they will still bring you in some games for strategic reason, the standard of that league is high and you can survive in your national team with that. We are talking about somebody who has played in Manchester City from where he was called to the national team and now in Leicester City.He may be struggling now but he’s also developing. I think the coach has a vision, a lot of coaches don’t have that, when I discovered Mutiu Adepoju, he wasn’t a ‘Headmaster’ people call him now, we knew what he could do and gave him the platform to grow. We know how to spot these talents, support them like I did with Amuneke, Samson Siasia and the rest. You need players who are intelligent, and I think Iheanacho is one; he is a little bit more experienced than those youngsters that we have. If we are talking about the attack in the Eagles, then you mention Odion Ighalo but Iheanacho provides something different because he is a natural left-footer and unlike many players he doesn’t have injuries. The only difference between Iheanacho and Martins is pace but Kelechi is very skilful and young, he is a player that can play top nine or go either of the flanks.
There is still the question about the recall of captain Mikel Obi; here is a player who hasn’t featured for the team in 11 months and did not even play in the qualifiers….
He’s the captain and Ahmed Musa was deputising for him; Mikel is a player who has that pedigree and it is good to have him back, he is doing well now even though not in the Premier League, the level of the Championship is also high, he is the kind of player you need all the time unless he has an injury. They asked one of these Super Eagles players about Mikel and he said he was like Lionel Messi to them, he’s very intelligent, despite all he has achieved, he still want to play. These younger ones may want to play too but you have to have a good mix of experience and youthfulness to be able to achieve something. The coach has to work more with Mikel, Ighalo, Musa and those older players, they will guide the younger ones with their experience, and it is going to help the team in this competition a lot.
Rohr seem to have a fairly balanced team but the goalkeeping department still remains shaky. First choice Francis Uzoho is not seeing games in Cyprus while many Nigerians have little confidence in Daniel Akpeyi and even Ikechukwu Ezenwa. Don’t you think we need to be worried?
We need to be worried but we have these three goalkeepers now and there is nothing we can do to find other ones before the tournament. Like you said, almost all of them have one issue or the other but the big job is to determine who is going to be the number one among them, it is important. We have a good goalkeeper’s trainer; he is going to work with the Technical Adviser to determine who is going to be the number one. However, this is a lesson for us; we have to start going round to look for players, not only in Europe, we have to look inwards. Goalkeepers are important, you should have the qualities, the height, distribution of balls, presence, awareness, counter-attack and the rest. You look at Peter Rufai, he had that.
The last time the Eagles played in AFCON, they won despite the fact that no one expected them to triumph in South Africa in 2013, how far do you think they can go this time around?
If you look at the rankings, teams like Egypt and Senegal are rated above Nigeria but in a competition like this, Nigeria is always the team to beat. If you look at the other teams, they have quality players, like two or three who can make the difference; we may not have that but notwithstanding, Nigeria can get to the final.
You burst into limelight with your exploit in the national U-20 team in Saudi 1989 World Youth championship when you led Nigeria to the final of the competition, the country will begin another campaign in the tournament next week what is your impression of this team?
The Flying Eagles of today have not seen good coaching; I mean they have not had the opportunity to play together for a long period of time. I think we have some foreign-based players in the team now, they have a mixture of former U-17 players, I think they have to get out of the group first, they can get to the quarterfinal. When you get to that stage, you need players who are a little bit experienced, who are physically and technically strong, it is going to show when you start playing countries like Argentina, Brazil but I don’t think these guys are matured enough. You have to show me what you do when you have the ball and when you don’t have it, the stakes are high at this level, Messi, Neymar all played in the competition. Look at what Nwankwo Kanu was doing at that level, we have not had a player like that for a long time now, you see Wilson Oruma, they were good; I think the current guys are not bad but I don’t think they have had enough time to be together.
When you were preparing for Saudi 1989 competition, you relied more on local players, don’t you think we have problem with our scouting system now?
I think the first problem is lack of continuity; when I took over, the first thing I did was to invite all the 18 players that played in the previous U-17 World Cup, that was where I got Angus Ikeji, Bawa Abdullahi and the likes, and then I started going round the country to play friendly matches so as to get more players. I went to all the states to pick them, my assistants that time was the late Kelechi Emeteole, a very good coach, we concentrated on all aspects of the game, and we showed them how the game should be played. Look at Manchester City, they have a philosophy, everyone plays within that philosophy, it is important and then you also need left-footers, they are special players…..
One left-footer who could have joined the team was Samuel Chuwkwueze but he opted to play for the Super Eagles in AFCON despite being eligible for U-20 World Cup, do you think the Villarreal forward should have helped the Flying Eagles?
If he’s still eligible to play he should have gone there. For instance, in the U-23 team, Victor Osimhen who is a product of our Junior League, was a reserve player for the Super Eagles and when they had problem in the Olympics team, the U-23 coach called for help and he went there with some other players and they won. I understand that as a player who has played for the main team, you can see it as a demotion to go to a junior team but it depend on how the coach is able to get that player’s understanding.
For this team, I think they also need a psychologist, it is very important, during my time, I had professor Omotayo; I remember there was a match, we were trailing 2-0 and I needed Emeka Amadi to replace Ikeji who conceded goals I considered too cheap but Amadi was like scared and then I called Omotayo to speak with him and Amadi got there and won the game for us. They need a psychologist, a good physical trainer too; the technical man can’t do everything.
You masterminded one of the most memorable moments in Nigerian football when you inspired your side from 4-0 down against the USSR to win in the quarterfinal of Saudi Arabia 1989 tournament. Sincerely speaking, did you think your side could have come back in the game?
At 4-0, I realized that there was a poor link between my right full back and the number 6; I had to change the centre defence. Then I had Chinedu Odiari who had done well before but for the match he was complaining about headache and I told the doctor to look at him. But when it was 4-0 I look at him on the bench but this time he was eager to play and I went to him that he had to go in there I block the goals, we can’t afford to allow more goals to get in, that if we don’t concede again we would go back to Nigeria and apologize. He got in and we blocked those goals, and the USSR also made a mistake, they removed their top scorer Oleg Salenko, I looked at their coach and said ‘but the game has not ended, you removed this guy? I also noticed that they were just passing the ball around; they didn’t want to score again.
We scored the first goal through Chris Ohenhen, a fantastic free kick and then again we won another free kick in a good area, Ohenhen hit another shot for the second goal. At 4-2, I told everyone to attack, I gave them the instruction to throw long balls and that was why Sam Elijah who was neither a midfielder nor striker got that third goal, and then Ugbade scored the fourth goal, then we won during the penalty shootout, it was miraculous
Having done that magic, Nigerians were expecting that we will go all the way but Portugal defeated us 2-0 in the final and it was a huge disappointment what happened?
That 2-0 defeat was noble for us because most of the players were playing with injury in the final it was so bad to the extent that only one player was on the reserve to play. The most affected player was Ugbade because he had a bad ankle after scoring that goal against Russia.
Portugal have played us before in the group stage; they know our team just like we know them but they are lucky going by the situation we found ourselves regarding injury.
We are happy in the end because we have made our mark. We are the first African team to reach the final
I remember late MKO Abiola, he was sent to us, he came to pick us. He came with late Gen. Sani Abacha and they came with empty plane hoping that we are going to carry the cup.
I remember Abiola promising me a brand new car if we win the cup. So when we were on the plane and we were gisting, he said he would still buy me a car but it would be Tokunbo (fairly used). I was confused because I didn’t know what was called Tokunbo then.
The man said something that I could never believe; he said he had over 250 businesses and anywhere he went to, his money was ready. He had bakery, he had bookshop, he had so many small businesses but they were fetching him huge money he said he was doing it so that himself and his family would not suffer in the future. His many businesses are still helping his family today.
News16 hours ago
NASS leadership: APC tips Adamu, Kalu, Aliero, Boroffice for principal offices
News17 hours ago
Abiodun reverts MAPOLY’s status
News11 hours ago
Wike, Okowa’s candidates battle for Reps’ minority leader
Metro and Crime17 hours ago
Gang leader poses as IRT operative to rob
National news1 hour ago
Fulani group urges Buhari to listen to Obasanjo
Metro and Crime17 hours ago
Police rescue three kidnapped victims from herdsmen
Metro and Crime17 hours ago
Driver kills two sisters, injures mother in Ogun
Metro and Crime16 hours ago
Teenage robber swallows lady’s wedding ring