Former Super Eagles goalkeeper, Ndubuisi Egbo, became the first Nigerian and African coach to win a league title in Europe after leading KF Tirana to the Albanian top division title. Speaking during an interview on a sports WhatsApp group, NSM Rebranded, and monitored by CHARLES OGUNDIYA, the former Julius Berger goalie said Nigeria doesn’t have the stars to put fear in opponents anymore. Excerpts…
Could you please describe how it all started for Ndubuisi Egbo leading to the success in Albania?
I left Nigeria in 1998 for El Masry in Egypt after playing for Julius Berger. I was in Egypt for three seasons from where I moved to Albania. The president of my club in Egypt was also the president of a club in Albania. He invited me to play for his team, so that was how I moved to Albania in 2001 to play for KF Tirana, the same club that I just led to the title. I played from 2001 to 2004 for the club and we won the league and the Super Cup during the period. From there I moved to South Africa for a year and later returned to Egypt before moving back to Albania to play for another team, KF Bylis.
After ending my career as a goalkeeper in 2011, I ventured into coaching, did my UEFA B and A licenses. During the period I was getting my license, I was assistant goalkeeper coach, goalkeeper coach and also a player until I hung my boots fully in 2012 before moving fully into coaching.
I continued as goalkeeper coach until 2013/14, and after I got my UEFA Pro license, I was named the head coach of my former club, KF Bylis in Albania in the 2013/14 season. In 2014/15, the president of my current team invited me, after seeing my exploits with Bylis, to become an assistant coach/goalkeeper coach for the team and from 2014 till date I have been moving from goalkeeper coach, assistant coach and also the head coach. In December 2019, when the head coach was given the sack due to poor results, I was asked to take over the team.
At that time we were in the eighth position with 10 teams playing in the league. Our position meant we were going to play in the playoffs if things remained the same way, but I won three straight matches allowing the management to give me the opportunity to continue as the head coach. That is the story so far. I have been able to play between 23 and 24 games and I’ve won 19 or 20 of those games. We only lost two while drawing one and that’s the story of how the team won the championship. We won it after 11 years that the team won it last.
How does it feel winning the title?
It’s on record here that I am the first foreign coach to win the league with the club, because all the coaches who won the league before were local coaches, no foreign coach won it for them before. This is the 25th championships the club has won, so it’s obvious the club is a big club in Albania and it’s not an easy task. We won 20 out of 23 matches and we still have two games to go but with seven points ahead of the second-placed team, mathematically we have won the title.
What are your future plans: to work with top clubs in Europe or is the Super Eagles job your paramount target?
I am a strong believer in God and the direction of God. So the way He directs or leads I follow, so hopefully He will lead me to greener pastures. The best is yet to come and I hope He will continue to use me. The reason I took the job was to make people believe there is God in heaven; many people are after material things with the belief in God going down, so I want to allow God to use me, and that’s what He has actually done.
What would you say was the magic of your success in Albania?
The most important thing is to continue to give our maximum and God will do the rest. He has been doing the rest, using someone like me to do the job in Albania and nobody can explain what has changed. They keep asking me what was the magic, and I always say to them that it’s the grace of God. You can be the best coach, be the best in all you do but if you don’t have the grace of God, there is nothing you can do. That has been my belief. I am hoping for a better future starting with my current team, to take them to greater heights and of course Nigeria is my country. If at any time I am invited to come and take up any coaching job, I am willing and eager to help move my country forward.
How has the experience been coaching in Europe as an African and what are the hurdles you have faced?
It’s a very huge experience with so many hurdles on the way. When you talk of racism, sure, not only in Albania but everywhere. If there could be racism in America then it will be in smaller countries like Albania in Europe which has about three to four million people in population, although it is on a smaller scale compared to some other European countries. But because I can speak the Albanian language and I am also like a second citizen of the country, this has helped me a lot, and they have accepted me. I have their passport and this makes it much easier for me. But like I said, it’s a big hurdle being a coloured person, and not a white man, so lots of jealousy, many people trying to bring you down, but when God is with you, there is nothing anyone can do against you. I am a fighter, a survivor and the more people try to bring me down, the more confidence and power I get to work harder to achieve better things I put my mind to achieve. There are always two sides to a coin, and we have the good and the bad people here in Albania, there are racists and those with good heart. The Albanians are good people, they love foreigners so much.
Could you compare the Albanian league with the Nigeria league?
Albanian league cannot be compared to Nigerian league. The league is pure European football, of a very higher standard, similar to that of Italian football because the country is closer to Italy and they play similar type of football, tactically strong and physically strong. Unlike Nigeria football that is a mixture of entertainment, skills and also strength. Albanian football is more of tactics and physical football.
What will be your advice to other African coaches trying to make headway in Europe?
I always tell my other African brothers, both the players and the coaches, that anywhere we go, we have to leave our footsteps in the sands of time. I played at my current club from 2001 to 2004 and because of what I did in the team, the legacy I left as a person and my character and other things, that was the reason why the president of the club asked me to join the team as a coach. I know the mentality of the team having played there for a while and those were the things I put into the team when I took over. Making the players to understand the psychology of the team, making them to understand that the club is all about w i n n i n g , they don’t play for draws but to win all games; those are the things I instilled in the players and they were able to catch up with the dream of the club leading to the successes we recorded. God also helped to do all this, the same set of players that played badly at the start of the season were the same that achieved the league success after I took over the team. We were like 15 points away from the team at the top when I took over, but now we won the league with two games to spare. It can only be God and not man.
Do you have Nigerians playing in the Albanian league and do you have any in your team?
There have been a couple of Nigerian players but most of them didn’t play for long in Nigeria before moving over, or let me say they didn’t play for some of the big clubs in the country. When I came to Albania, I was the first Nigerian to have played in the Nigeria league, although we still have some of them like James Osuji, James Adeniyi, who I brought to my former team from Nigeria. He is currently playing in Israel among others like that.
Injuries and other factors hampered your progress in the national team; do you ever regret not making the cut with the Super Eagles?
I don’t regret not making the cut as you put it because I succeeded in playing for the Super Eagles in a couple of games, even though I was supposed to get more during my national team career. But during my time, we had so many good goalkeepers in the team that were playing in good European teams then while I was still playing in the Nigerian league before I moved to Egypt. We all know the African mentality, those playing in Europe are more recognized than those playing back at home and they always have an advantage. We had the likes of Ike Shorunmu, Willy Okpara, Murphy Akanji. I was the second choice to Shorunmu at the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations as well as the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations, which was my last AFCON. I actually lost my position in the national team towards the 2002 World Cup because of playing in Albania and also the change in the leadership of the team after the Mali 2002 AFCON.
Nigeria has been changing from one goalkeeper to another at the moment, what will be your advice to the technical crew of the Super Eagles?
For the goalkeepers in the national team, when you look at the former goalkeepers in the team, the likes of Peter Rufai, Vincent Enyeama, Ike Shorunmu, they were all given opportunities, even when they made mistakes, they were allowed to continue. Goalkeepers are not like onfield players that you can just be changing all the time, you have to give one person the opportunity to continue and will continue to learn and get better. Playing for the national team is a huge load because you are playing for your country, playing for your family, your name and every other thing. We have to give one of them the opportunity to play so many games for the country.
Nigeria won their last title at the Africa Cup of Nations in 2013, what could be the problem?
Since 2013, Nigeria is yet to win the AFCON; it is unfortunate. Because during my time in the national team it was difficult to mention the best player because we had many quality players. We had Nwankwo Kanu, Jay Jay Okocha, Finidi George, Celestine Babayaro, Tijani Babangida, Victor Ikpeba and a host of other top players that scared the opponent. It is very difficult today. You can only count a handful of quality players in the team. Back then, when a team was playing against the Super Eagles they felt like they were already a goal or two goals down because of the big names in the team. Opponents went into the game afraid but football has improved and most of these smaller countries now have players abroad, and it is now more difficult for bigger teams to run over smaller teams.
Peradventure you are called to come and take up a job with the current Super Eagles technical, will you be ready to work with Gernot Rohr as an assistant?
For the moment, Joseph Yobo is there as an assistant to coach Rohr, but anytime I am called upon to come and help my country, why not? It’s a privilege and honour to come around and help your country to improve their football.
If you are to pick the best goalkeeper in the current Super Eagles, who could that be?
The best goalkeeper at the moment I won’t really say. Francis Uzoho is just returning from an injury layoff, and there Ikechukwu Ezenwa and Daniel Akpeyi. The truth is I have not watched the Super Eagles recently because of my job. When you are head coach, you have to focus on the training and you don’t have much time to watch other games. For the two games I have watched, it is the right of the goalkeeper coach in the team to mention the best one. If I was the one training them, I would be able to say, the coaches in the team are in the best position to do that. But like I said, we should give one of them the opportunity to establish himself in the team.
What can you say about the current national team coach, Gernot Rohr?
I cannot say anything about the current coach in the team at the moment, the Nigeria Football Federation should be in the best position to analyse his performance. They have given him the mantle to do the job, I am sure they just need to support him and help him to do his job well. As Africans, we tend to give foreigners more respect and opportunities than giving our own. Other countries respect their local coaches more than the African coaches so why can’t we do the same? Sunday Oliseh was there, for me he is also one of the good coaches. Emmanuel Amunike was there, including Samson Siasia, we just need to always support our own. The biggest problem is that when we have a local coach in the team, we start to disturb him with demands and start making the job difficult for him, but a foreign coach, nobody goes near them. When Oliseh was there, he did a lot of things, but some people didn’t love his approach, strong mentality. The point is, when you employ a coach, you have to support him and allow him to do his job. I just want more support for our coaches, if Amunike was able to achieve what he did with the U-17 team, U-21, why not allow him to continue with the Super Eagles? For now, Rohr is the current coach, we just have to support him because the NFF has chosen him and also given him a new contract, so Nigerians have to support him to achieve results.