Ex-international Edema Fuludi believes the Super Eagles have what it takes to beat Liberia as the two sides clash in Tangier, Morocco, in a World Cup qualifying match on Saturday (today). In an interview with AJIBADE OLUSESAN, the former Julius Berger FC player warned the Gernot Rohr’s team not to underrate their opponents, charging them to take lessons from the 1-0 defeat they suffered in the hands of the Central African Republic last month. Excerpts…

One of the key issues leading to this weekend’s World Cup qualifying game between Nigeria and Liberia is the recall of Odion Ighalo to the Super Eagles; do you think Coach Gernot Rohr made the right decision to have the striker back in the team?

I think this is a huge distraction to our team; we have young players who are doing well, who are strong and of high quality so bringing Ighalo who has retired back into the team is not a sound decision. He was a good player for Nigeria and he is still a good player but at the moment he is playing in one of the lowly-rated leagues and we shouldn’t be looking in that direction. I think only the coach knows why he is bringing him back but I maintain it is not only a distraction to the team but also to the players because it is going to affect their psychology as they could be having feelings that it is like they are not doing enough or they are not being appreciated. I hope this augur well for the team.

Rohr and even the president of the Nigeria Football Federation Amaju Pinnick believe the Eagles are lacking in experience especially in the attack which informed their decision to invite Ighalo…

The experience they are talking about is it against Liberia and Cape Verde? We are saying they should build a team that all of us can be proud of. The Super Eagles must have a playing pattern, they must be solid and that is what we are asking for. For stakeholders like us, we are saying bringing Ighalo back is a distraction; we hope this turns out well for the team.

We are playing against Liberia on Sunday, do you think it a panic measure?

This is an advantage for Nigeria because the two teams are playing on a neutral ground which is in Algeria; if the venue of the match was in Monrovia, we could have said Liberia has a little chance but with the two sides playing away from home the Super Eagles have no reason not to win that match.

But Eagles lost 1-0 to the Central African Republic in Lagos…

That is the beauty of football; when you underrate your opponents, there is a way you get punished. The Super Eagles felt because they were playing in Lagos, they would just run over the Central African Republic but you saw how things worked out, we were strolling across the pitch as if football would play itself and those ones had just one scoring chance they converted which came toward the end of the match leaving the Eagles with no chance to equalise. When they played the second leg, you saw what happened in Cameroon; the Eagles got serious and they beat the opponents 2-0. What happened in Lagos was because the Eagles underrated the CAR. So, they shouldn’t have a problem beating Liberia in Morocco if they are serious; that will put them in good stead for qualification into the final phase of the World Cup qualifiers.

Gernot Rohr came under intense criticism after his side suffered that shocking 1-0 loss in front of their Lagos fans, what is your fair assessment of the coach?

I have said that Rohr is just doing a job of inviting players and assembling them for matches, he doesn’t impart anything on the team. I will say Rohr is a lucky coach to have these kinds of players at his disposal. People may not complain because they are getting the result but if you take a cursory look at the team, technically you will see that he hasn’t improved the squad in the real sense of it. What we have seen in terms of results recorded by the team is that players are the ones striving not to disappoint their country. It is because of the diligence of these players we have seen the team qualifying for major tournaments; it has nothing to do with the technical nous of the coach. I can’t understand why that kind of a squad would struggle against Liberia, Cape Verde and even got beaten by the CAR. I think another coach would have improved on what Rohr has done but like I said he has met the mandate given to him by the NFF which was for him to just qualify for major tournaments. He does that through trial and error and no good coach will operate based on that.

But don’t you think it is difficult for the NFF or anyone to blame him because many times he is owed a backlog of salaries…

It is a bad situation and I think a coach can only respect you if you do the needful. Although we are complaining about the job that he does, since he is there, you have to pay him. You can’t tell him not to complain, if you don’t want him to talk then pay him as and when due. Now, it is difficult for them to sack him because they have not given him the support to succeed.

One of the things he has been criticised for is his inability to give more chances to the home-based players; do you think the coach is right that those playing in the domestic league are not good enough?

Despite the situation of the league, I strongly believe that talents still abound in the country. It was from the same league that Clemens Westerhof was able to form a formidable team from where most of us travelled abroad to play professionally. He has to stay in the country and monitor these players and pick those ones that will be good enough to compete with their foreign-based counterparts. I agree with the fact that our league is not perfect because any country is as good as its football league but if the coach stays here and monitor the players, it will certainly help improve the quality of performance of these players and clubs can also do their best to ensure they have squads with players who could compete for places in the Eagles.

What is your assessment of striker Victor Osimhen, do you think he has done well since he replaced Ighalo as the Eagles’ main man?

Osimhen reminds all of us of the late Rashidi Yekini; he is fast, strong and fit. I think he will carry the scoring burden in the team for a long time to come. I think he is improving more in the Super Eagles because there is a competition which has made him function very well. We now have other strikers who are good and they pose some kind of rivalry for him in that position. If in today’s Eagles we have about three players competing for slots in each position it means there will be more seriousness and desire to play well all the time. That was what happened to us in 1994; everyone needed to work hard all the time, we had to be fit and that was why we succeeded.

You spoke of 1994 Eagles and Nigerians still regard that generation as arguably the best in the history of the country’s football; in concrete terms, what made the squad tick?

What we saw in 1994 was a culmination of determination and a long process; we had a coach, Westerhof, who was in charge for five solid years. Between 1989 when he came and 1994 when he left, he used more than 100 players; he kept on working on the team till he got the right squad and the result was what we saw in 1994 when Nigeria won the Nations Cup and reached the World Cup for the first time. Every player in that squad got his place on merit; no one could influence the coach to bring in a player. I think Westerhof’s direct access to the then Vice President Augustus Aikhomu also helped a lot because the Vice President was giving him all support that he needed, nobody could mess him up and the fact that he is also a disciplinarian also helped, no player could hold him to ransom. He once threatened to drop Austin Okocha if he didn’t sit up; he was ready to deal with every issue in the right way. The fact that he brought Bonfere Jo as a technical assistant made him concentrate more on the administrative aspect of the team.




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