A former Super Eagles player and former Nigeria U-17 team coach, Emmanuel Amuneke, spoke to ADEKUNLE SALAMI about the current realities due to COVID-19 and the future of the game in Nigeria. Excerpts:
How is life in Egypt and how are you enjoying your new role with Misr Lel Makassa?
Life in Egypt has been so great, thank God for my employers who gave me the opportunity. It’s a terrain where I played and coming back, there were a lot of illusions from people seeing me. I am grateful for the opportunity and hope to continue to do what we know how to do best. It’s a great privilege for me coming back to Egypt especially as a coach.
Are your family members in Egypt with you now and were you with them during the lockdown?
Tell us your experience. My family could not join me before the outbreak of the COVID-19. I am in Egypt alone at the moment; my two boys are with their mother in Spain but I am okay. I have been communicating with them at every given opportunity and we thank God that we are all safe, alive and healthy.
How has COVID-19 affected your job and what are the lessons learnt?
Unfortunately the pandemic happened this year; no one predicted such situation and no one was expecting such event would take place and even be prolonged to this stage while affecting lives, businesses and movements. However, the most important thing is that we are all healthy. Sometimes, things happen that will make us angry and start questioning God or ourselves, but the most important thing is that we have to accept things as they are, whatever happens, happens for a reason and it is left for us to adapt to the situation while looking at how we can overcome the scenario, forge ahead and come back to normal life.
What efforts are being made for football to restart in Egypt?
In Egypt, most clubs have already resumed their preparations towards the commencement of the league. The government has helped to conduct tests; the players and officials have all been tested. They are looking at August 8, but nothing is official yet especially in terms of the fixtures to know who plays who. However, stakeholders are ready because most teams are back to training and the moment the government gives the go ahead, the teams are ready to compete.
Are you satisfied with the decision of football authorities in Nigeria to stop the league and adopt a points-per-game method to determine the final table?
The decision the Nigeria Football Federation and the League Management Company took is based on the situation on the ground and the recommendation of the government and the authorities (National Centre for Disease Control and the Presidential Task Force) that are in charge of the situation in the country. It is not the fault of the LMC or any club that things have to go this way, just that things happened naturally and we just have to adapt to the situation and move forward while also learning from the positive and negative aspects of COVID-19 pandemic. We should also see how we can develop our football and grow our league in the country while making it more attractive and interesting.
What’s your view on Victor Oshimen’s move to Napoli?
My view on Osimhen, from the first day I saw him at Golden Eaglets screening, to his first day in camp, remains the same. He is a player that is always available, ready to play and always wants to win. All that’s happening to him now is not a new thing to me and I never have doubt on his abilities. I am happy for him because he is not just playing, he has learnt to grow with discipline, maturity and these are the parts of the processes we took them through; not just for them to become good players, but there are some other aspects of life that make you a better player that you have to look at. There are some other factors too that are beyond you and you will need other people to direct you. We are all happy with his progress. I am happy for Osimhen and I pray his deal with Napoli will be a big success and also encourage other players to strive hard for bigger deals. His move I hope will also encourage other big clubs to sign Nigerian players.
Tell us your view on the current Super Eagles team…
I will be happy to see our players start getting bigger contracts, seeing our players playing for bigger clubs, we can start seeing ourselves getting to a position to compete with the rest of the world. If we want to win the Africa Cup of Nations, we cannot just have two or three players and then start thinking of winning. Every player, including those on the bench, must have the same ability, same level of fitness from the technical ability and tactical aspect of the game; they must be on the same page to be able to put in their contributions when called upon. We are very much happy about Osimhen’s move and hope his colleagues will also have the privilege to be signed by big clubs. We cannot win the World Cup by talking, we must have the products and we must guide them towards becoming champions. It is not just about your talent, skills or how good you are, it is about a lot of factors because when you try to bring all these factors together while separating the negatives from the positives, this is when you start to build the team from tactical to technical to mental, individual and collective aspects of the game; then you will be ready to compete with the best.
Compare the Super Eagles of today with your generation. What are the differences? And which is better?
There is nothing to compare between the old generation of players of the ’90s and the present crop of players in the Super Eagles. For me every generation is totally different and when you look at football now, it has evolved in different ways, but what matters most is how ready we are to grow as a country. We need to see how we can educate our players and see how they can be able to compete at the top level. I think these are the things we need to be thinking about and not which generation is better. Every generation comes with different challenges as well as different issues. Our generation was able to pave the way going to the World Cup, but does it mean the people that played before us were not good? They were also good, just that every generation is different and after this generation, those coming will be totally different. The key point is not about generations being better or not, how can we adapt to changes the game is bringing, how can we evolve, develop our youths, how can we develop our football and players from the youth level because that’s the key point to the Super Eagles success. If we do not pay attention to that category, there will always be a gap between players graduating from the youth level to the Super Eagles. There is a whole lot to work on. Unfortunately, not everyone was able to go to Europe after the World Cup, like the South Americans, most of them were able to go back to their clubs, continue to develop their game, this is where we have to do a lot of work to see how we can encourage our clubs to sign these young players, to give them the opportunity and when we start doing this, we can start having positive results. The truth is we will create a level playing ground for all of them; our players will develop in confidence. However, when we fail to encourage our young players to play in the league, we will continue to have this same problem.
How can the Eagles get better in the next five years to dominate the continent and be a strong force in the World?
The Eagles are on the right path. Most of the players from the 2013 and 2015 Eaglets, with other players that went on their own, are now maturing with age. The reality also remains that we have to create avenues for those playing at home and encourage them. We have to find a common ground for them to develop their game. We have young teams like we have been saying, but other countries also have young players competing at the highest level. All we need to do is to find a way we can develop our players especially the younger generation, the young ones, from the tactical point of view of the game to decision making. When a player can recognise when to take the right decision on his own, it becomes much easier and this will be an advantage to the team. These are the aspects we need to emphasise on if we really want to build a winning team. We cannot base our judgement on the fact that we have good players; we must make sure that the players invited to the Super Eagles are the ones that have the desire to succeed, players that understand the reason why they are in the national team. Getting invited to the Super Eagles is a process that you will need to qualify for the AFCON, World Cup and perform excellently well at these championships. We need players that are ready to excel, that want to achieve and know why they are in the national team. Playing in the national team is a blessing because for you to be invited among several youths in the country, you have to be ready to give your all for the team. We should also look at the players individually from several points of view, character, attitude, technical, desire point of view and realize if the players can actually function and fit into the national team.
You won the U-17 World Cup as a coach for Nigeria, are you not worried that there is no proper transition of these players into the senior team?
I am happy that some of them from 2013 that we came from the U-13, we now have about four or five of them in the Super Eagles, Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho, Francis Uzoho. Now we have those from 2015, Osimhen, Samuel Chukwueze, Chigozie Awaziem, we have good players and that shows that our players are progressing. Unlike before, if you check these players’ age, you will know that they are young, this is very good for our national teams and that’s the only way we can develop players. We should not forget that adaptation is very different from one player to the other. We have players that adapt very easily while some will take time to adapt to a new system. We have some of these players that have played in the Olympic Games, but unfortunately they are yet to make it to the Super Eagles. We have the likes of Kelechi Nwakali, luckily his team just qualified to play in LaLiga, we hope they all continue to work hard and develop. Hopefully, these players will be at their best to help the national team in the nearest future. The objective of the youth team is to develop talents that will help the senior team, not just about winning, although it is good to win because you have to create a winning mentality in the players.
How do you relax especially outside Nigeria if you are not involved with football?
My life has been around football even right from when I was a kid. Till now, I still go out to play with friends because that’s what makes me happy, football is my life. If I have the opportunity of playing, I do to make myself happy. Football is my relaxation as well. When I am not playing or coaching, I also try to upgrade myself, looking at the new trend in the game and seeing how I can improve and move from one step to another. I am obsessed about developing myself, improving and getting to the next level. I always try to key in to football and that’s what makes me happy.