Retired Super Eagles goalkeeper, Ike Shorunmu, in an interview with CHARLES OGUNDIYA has heaped encomium on Super Eagles goalkeeper, Maduka Okoye, over his performance in the two friendly games played against Algeria and Tunisia. Excerpts…
What will be your assessment of Maduka Okoye in the two friendly games against Algeria and Tunisia?
It was a fantastic game from the goalkeeper and I am happy he was able to control his defence line very well. Initially he started on a shaky note maybe because the team was coming together for the very first time after a long period, but as the game progressed, he picked up very well.
Despite inviting four goalkeepers, the coach decided to use Okoye in two games, will you say the decision was a good one?
I don’t see anything wrong in the coach using him for the whole duration of the two games, probably the coach wanted to reconfirm his decision to invite the goalkeeper in the first instance and allowed him to be in goal for the two games. That’s not to mean the other goalkeepers invited to the team were not good enough to be in goal, but he really wanted to see Okoye better over two matches. The coach has the final say on players to be invited and those to play at any given time. It is a good thing that he invited four goalkeepers, he has watched them in training and probably not in a competitive match, but he’s sure of what he wants.
Do you see any future with Okoye?
He is a young chap and his commanding presence from the back is very impressive and he is still growing, he will get the experience needed because the experience of a club side is different from that of the national team. I want to see what he will do when the other players return to the team for the qualifiers scheduled for next month.
What’s your assessment of the Super Eagles in those friendlies as they played together for the first time post COVID-19?
I actually didn’t watch the whole duration of the game against Tunisia, but for the first game against Algeria, it was obvious that the team was struggling, maybe because of the pandemic as most of the players were a little match rusty, and what you always see in the national team was not there against Algeria. However, the minutes I watched against Tunisia, there were signs of improvement and that’s encouraging enough.
The coach complained that he missed some players like Wilfred Ndidi and Victor Osimhen; do you see the return of these players making the team better ahead of the qualifiers next month?
For sure, teams always have their important players, so when such people are out of the team, it will surely show. The coach already stated the fact that he missed those players; he actually invited so many players and tried to see who could fit in to his plans, those that could compete very well with those players we are talking about. However, we need to continue with the team despite the absence of some players. For the game, maybe because they were coming together again after a long time and also because they didn’t really have enough time to work together and gel but I think with time, we will achieve that cohesion.
The coach continues to change players, with new players coming in every time; do you think this is good?
In as much as I don’t want to dabble into this discussion, I’d rather say as long as the coach fails to have a standing team back at home, the team will continue to struggle, fine there was pandemic but the coach has been in the country for the past four years or so, and he hasn’t shown any confidence in our league players. I think he needs to design a programme that will help him to have a standard team back at home in Nigeria. The truth is, we are not playing our qualifiers in Europe but on African soil, but now we have all our players coming from Europe with most of them educated over there, the problem is, as long as they are not familiar with Africa terrain, the team will continue to struggle. The players back in the league know the terrain, the intimidation that comes with playing on the continent and the likes. For example, let’s say we are going to play against Congo DR, we all know the antics of the Congolese, especially playing away against them, they will frustrate you from the airport to the hotel, but you hardly find such things in Europe. As long as you play well, you can win anywhere, but in Africa, the reverse is the case. If you don’t have the mind and the strong will against these antics, you will find it difficult to play your game. That’s why I said he needs to get a standing team back at home.
So do you support his decision not to invite any home-based players for the friendly games?
I will back Rohr on that decision not to invite the home-based players for the friendly games. Our players for months now have not done anything, so you can’t just invite them to the camp especially with the qualifiers coming up soon.
What will you say about football especially the league not resuming uptil now in Nigeria?
I don’t know what the LMC and the NFF are doing and the programme they have for our football at the moment. In my own thinking, we have a lot of clubs that are sponsored by governments and they have the power to say they want to start or not. Are you insinuating that the various state governments might not have the funds to start the league, so they are not doing anything for sports to return? Exactly, they are the ones sponsoring the clubs and the league owner and the NFF will have to follow the government because if they insist that football should return, where will they get the money if the governments decide not to invest their money again? It’s a very dicey thing and I don’t really envy the players now because staying at home for months doing nothing, is really tough.
Recently, Bukayo Saka chose to play for England rather than Nigeria, with people claiming he should have played for Nigeria. During your time, do you always battle with these Europe-born players like is the case now?
I don’t want to compare our set with this current generation because in our days, before most of us moved to Europe, we had already played in the Nigerian league for many years, so we knew the African terrain well. Look at some of the players now, those that played in the league did so for maybe one or two seasons before moving abroad, while the rest didn’t even play on Nigerian soil. When I was playing, even if you are coming from Europe, we always camped in Nigeria. The authorities then also didn’t go around begging players to come and play for Nigeria, you had to take that decision yourself. Anyone that came then we, the players, back home always gave them the support, and we shared with our so-called ‘Oyibo’. Let me give an example, when Rueben Agboola joined us in 1993, everyone was like who is this ‘Oyibo’, but immediately he responded to us in pidgin ‘me I no be Oyibo o, I be real Naija boy’, it was so funny and we were so happy to have him around us at that time. He participated in all things we did, even when we took hot spices, he would try it out, although it might hurt him, but he was ready to relate with us and all his teammates, he gradually blended with us. What I noticed now is that, some of these players decided to run back to Nigeria after failing to make the grade with these European countries, we should let the players decide who to play for, either outside or Nigeria.
Since the outbreak of the Pandemic, how have you been coping?
We can’t complain, it is God that has everything in his hands, whatever situation we find ourselves, we need to give glory to the Almighty. The most important thing now is that I am healthy, same as my family, we thank God for everything. We can’t say everything is 100 percent, but the most important thing is life and I am grateful to Almighty Allah for that.