Former international, Jonathan Akpoborie, in an interview with ADEDEJI ADEYANJU has said he cannot work in Nigeria as a coach due to the politics surrounding the country’s football. Excerpts…

The NFF recently sacked Gernot Rohr as Super Eagles coach; do you think it is the right time especially with the AFCON just weeks away?

When you let someone go at this time, the person you’re bringing in, you should make sure you have somebody who’s on ground and is ready. It’s premature to let someone go just few weeks to the tournament. According to NFF, they rated Gernot Rohr highly, then why are they sacki n g him all of a sudden? People pleaded for them to sack him; in the first instance, people should not have pleaded before they sacked the man, because the type of football the Super Eagles were playing under him was nonsense. So, why the rush to sack him after people had been complaining over the years about the quality of football the Super Eagles were playing? Now you already asked him to go and put Austin Eguavoen in charge as the interim manager, you now bring some former players who supposedly played at the highest level as assistants. You don’t have to do that, everybody has his own idea in coaching; you are bringing another conflict of interest into it because all the players you’re bringing, everybody has his own philosophy of how to play so why are you bringing these people to now contradict the coach you have got? Those are the questions you keep asking, if it is an experienced NFF board or people who know what they’re doing, they will not allow such conflict of interest because it’s unnecessary. The coach should be allowed to be in charge and only he should take decisions. Another thing, you sacked the coach, but allowed all the people that worked with him to stay behind; they worked with Rohr, so why leave them and sack only the coach?

There was news going round that the sacked coach said at times because of so many advice, he always decided not to listen…

He should not say nonsense like that, I can never believe Gernot Rohr will go on his own and say he wants to bring back Odion Ighalo; there is nobody that can tell me that. There were so many decisions that were made for him and they are very obvious, I don’t believe all of those things because I don’t listen to nonsense like that.

Recently you said we stand a chance at the coming AFCON if we can get a good coach that can bring out the strengths of our players, are you still saying this with this setup?

I think they are already weak- ening the power they are giving to Eguavoen; when you’re already bringing in so many names to work with the coach, is it that they don’t have faith in him alone to do the job? If not, why appoint him? If you don’t want him to make decisions on his own then why the appointment? The NFF should be ready to appoint someone and say he is the coach, who directs and gives orders and if you cannot do that then what are we talking about? Football is governed by international rules but we want to make our own Nigerian rules; it does not work that way. The Europeans improve every day, but the reverse is the case with us in Nigeria. We are trying to fit in some things politically, it cannot work, our football will continue to go down the drain every day; that is the way it is.

If they are getting a new coach, will you advise the coach to take the team to AFCON or he should just go to Cameroon to watch the team?

I think he should go and watch Nigeria at the AFCON before they bring him in but I believe any coach coming to Nigeria already knows about the team before applying for the job, but who from the A-list coaches that we want, will like to come and face the nonsense we have here in Nigeria because that was what Rohr made them to believe in Germany. I don’t want to quote him saying it was horrible, but he was practically saying he didn’t have a nice time coaching Nigeria.

You were present at the final day of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria’s Week, what would you say about it?

Well, the funny part of it is that they will kind of understand what footballers go through; but you know the more serious part of it is that I think it’s good to bring everybody that writes about sport in Nigeria together once in a year, spend time together, have fun, put ideas together and at the end of the day they all have fun which is really nice.

Could you tell us your relationship with the media during and after your career?

I think during my career it was just on the part of giving out interviews because I never refused interviews at that time and I had a very good relationship with the media at that time, but after my career, I became part of the media, because I was given an opportunity to work with Super Sports and it was a very interesting experience for me at that time; so it’s always been a very good relationship that I have had with the media.

In Europe, most of the pundits are all ex-internationals, now we are having same practice in Nigeria, what is your take on this?

It’s easier when you talk about football because you see all the mistakes very easily; when you are looking from outside of the pitch and you see everybody moving, you recognise the mistakes immediately. But like we say it’s easier to talk but it’s very difficult when you’re on the pitch. So, it’s easier while watching from outside.

When you say it’s easier to talk about it than when you’re in action, what would you say is the difference between the two: talking about sports and being involved in it?

You see on the pitch you only have seconds to make decisions and within those seconds you have to decide where the ball is going to, how to control the ball and your environment, all of those things you do in one second but if I’m sitting by the pitch and watching the play, it’s like slow-motion and you will be able to see that the player is supposed to play this way or that way.

What is your take on the return of Odion Ighalo and probably Victor Moses to the National team?

I don’t support it; it’s as if we don’t have young players who are doing well at their clubs who have experience. Playing in our national team is a different ball game entirely, Taiwo Awoniyi has played at the U-17, U-20 and the U-23, he’s doing very well in Germany, he’s currently third in the goalscoring chart in the Bundesliga and you drop him and bring an Odion Ighalo who is a veteran? That is wrong. Victor Moses is another different player, we don’t have very good and experienced players in the creativity aspect of our game so you might need a Victor Moses but we have younger strikers who are doing very well at the top level at the highest point of football in the world, then you bring someone from Saudi Arabia? I’m sorry you don’t do that.

What can you say about the Nigerian league and failure of the players making the National team?

There is a big space between our league and our national team; if you go and watch our league games you will see that vacuum, that is why we need a sensible coach who will watch our league and see the best that will make the national team.

But with the return of the league, do you see the players having a chance to play in the World Cup qualifiers?

We just have to look at the continental club tournament and it will tell you everything about our league. Let’s talk about your former teammate, Finidi George, he is the coach of Enyimba FC and so far he has done well. What would you say about him leaving everything to come to Nigeria and coach Enyimba? He is building a career, someone who is building a career can go anywhere but you know he has chosen Nigeria and I support Finidi. He has the right qualification but my reservation about a Nigerian handling our National team is the politics that is around our Super Eagles, it’s so strong that it can make a Nigerian make a lot of mistakes. I hope Finidi will be able to handle the politics because when it comes to football, there are decisions you must make but our politics will not make you make them.

You said politics of the game, how do you think ex-internationals can succeed with the politics in Nigeria?

For me, this is my opinion, I cannot work in Nigerian football of today because of the politics, I can’t. I don’t want to make that decision and say okay I want to go there and change everything, no. Football is either you are with them in politics or you are not. You see the political system, our government is not really at its best now and it’s affecting our football. Why are our political problems today and our economy not affecting the music system? It is because they have tried their best to separate music from politics, so that is what we need to do first; let’s remove our football from politics and see how it will grow.

So, what have you been doing since your retirement as a player apart from being a pundit?

We own a very small football management company in Zurich, Switzerland and we actually deal with very young players who we will develop into professionals; we just started actually so that is what keeps me busy most of the time.




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