Ex-international Jide Oguntuase, in this interview with AJIBADE OLUSESAN, charged the Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr to reconsider his stance on the home-based players, saying they have to be given more chance in the national team.
Many Nigerians were shocked when the Super Eagles lost 1-0 to the Central Republic of Africa in a World Cup qualifier in Lagos, I am sure you wouldn’t have been expecting such a result too ….
In football, any team can lose to any side but for the Super Eagles to succumb to a defeat in Lagos was what shocked all of us. But the good thing is that the team was able to reverse this situation by winning the second leg to return to the top of their qualifying group and I know they will not try to mess up again.
What do you think the coach or the team can do to avoid recurrence of such embarrassing result?
I have always questioned the coaching style of the Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr because all his predecessors usually had a mixture of home-based and foreign-based professionals but he doesn’t want to have anything like that. Bringing in all foreign-based players for a match like that is a waste of money; you can bring in your foreign guys but let us try and improve Nigerian football by giving our local players the exposure they need. He doesn’t believe in Nigerian football and he is here coaching our national team.
The coach has advanced several reasons for his decision to shut out local players which include instability of the Nigerian league and lack of infrastructure for the proper development of players, are those arguments not good enough?
All his excuses are not genuine; he knew all of these problems before he agreed to manage the national team. Some of his predecessors also met these problems but they still tried to help improve our league by exposing our players. We have good players here; most of the foreign-based players that he is relying on today once played in the Nigerian league before they went abroad. Let him come here and work; he has to visit league venues, scout for players and assemble them and train them here and we can then start to say he is working.
But the agreement he signed with his employers, the Nigeria Football Federation, stipulates that he can work from his base in France…
They shouldn’t have signed such a contract with him; Rohr is not working, he will come in a few days to a match and will behave as if he is working with the players. What do you want to teach those who are professionals already? This guy is not doing anything and it is unfortunate that the NFF has allowed him to be collecting our money for free. The NFF should revisit that contract and mandate him to stay in the country and do his job. The current arrangement cannot work; the guy is only enjoying himself, he isn’t doing any work for us and he knows that; let him come here and assembly a home-based Eagles and let us see his capacity in terms of coaching because it is hard to assess his technical ability from what he is doing at the moment.
Some pundits have even said his team has no style of play, do you share that view?
It is hard to say this is the pattern of play the Eagles have now; during the time of Clemens Westerhof and Bonfere Jo and we were playing a 4-4-2 formation but football keeps evolving and I know that our foreign-based players are exposed to different kinds of styles. However, as an African team, we should have something like a technical identity but we don’t have that at the moment.
African Cup of Nations is just few months away, what do you think the chances of the Eagles are?
We have very good individual players; we have players who can hold their own against any team from Africa but we don’t have a good coach. And that could be the difference at the tournament. Usually, the Eagles grow into competitions, they don’t usually start well but game after game they keep improving but if you have a coach that is not sound they may have a lot of problems and that could mean the team will fail again. The good thing is that for a competition like this, FIFA will mandate clubs across the world to allow the players to go and represent their various countries, and our coach can have more time to work with them and make his technical and tactical identity to show. Whatever happens during this time may also reflect in the way we progress in the competition.
But we can’t say the team is perfect…
I think it is only in the midfield that we seem to have a shortfall. We don’t have enough creative players in the middle of the pack and I think the coach needs to pay more attention to this aspect of the team.
What’s your assessment of the goalkeeping department?
There aren’t many problems there because what the goalkeepers actually need is confidence. I think coach Rohr has somebody, a goalkeeper trainer who has seen it all in football working with these goalkeepers. I think it is not a bad idea to bring in another person like Vincent Enyeama, who distinguished himself first in the local league, before becoming one of the best goalkeepers abroad to also be part of the Eagles setup. Our goalkeepers have different kinds of shortcomings, one of them can’t handle aerial balls very well while another one has issues with oneone or even direct shots but I know that if these trainers work on these goalies we are likely going to have these problems solved before the competition.
You have spoken about the fact that there are good players in the league who could compete with their counterparts from abroad but you will you agree with me that the league is not as good as when Westerhof and Bonfere Jo were here…
I agree that the league was not this bad in the past; the major problem bedeviling the league now is finance, lack of welfare for the players. During my time, we had no reason to be worried about money because you would get your pay as and when due but that is no longer there. I am a coach in the Nigerian National League and I can tell you that my team has financial problems and that is affecting the players. But as a coach, I try to use my experience to make them play for me so that I can get the result that I want. I usually make them understand that if you keep working despite the difficult situation, you may get offers from elsewhere and your fortune will change. I thank God that they are listening to me and some of them have moved to bigger clubs in the league and even abroad. So, I think the league’s organisers should look at this issue and see how we can be able to work on making the welfare of the players the priority. I can tell you that we have talents in this country; I work here and I know that with the right kind of motivation our players can challenge any teams across the world. Look at Bayelsa United, they are in the NNL and they are playing continental football. They have not been doing badly despite being a second-tier side and all of the teams they have played against in the Confederation Cup are playing in the Premier League of their various countries. So, that tells you that we indeed have the materials. I am worried that we don’t have the infrastructure and I think the officiating too should improve.
You played for the national U-17 team, the Golden Eaglets, but the country which is the most successful nation in that category has seen its fortune plummet and hasn’t made any meaningful impact since it last won the 2015 edition of the tournament; what do you think went wrong?
What happened at the U-17 level is not the true reflection of Nigerian football but I think we should have done well to sustain our pedigree at that level of football. It is not as if the coaches that handled those teams that failed were not good or the players were bad but different circumstances made them fail. We should go back to the drawing board and approach this aspect of our football properly.
You played a big part in the Golden Eaglets squad to Scotland 1989, what was the feeling like representing the country on the world stage?
You can’t quantify the feelings because we were not representing our family or community alone but the whole of the country. We were very committed and football for us was the only way we could serve our fatherland. It was like a do-or-die affair for us; for instance, when we went to Zambia for our last qualifying match for the World Cup and the Zambians were trying to mess us up, our coach Sebastian Brodericks just told us that we had to silence these people by beating them there. I told Kayode Keshinro and Andrew Aikhomogbe that our predecessors had been qualifying for the World Cup and it wouldn’t stop in our time and we were determined to go to the pitch and die for our country and we were able to beat them 3-0. That was the determination and what playing for the country meant to us. At the tournament, we started well, we topped our group with five points. We beat Canada and China and were hoping to reach the final but we crashed out in the quarterfinal.
What happened in that quarterfinal game against Saudi Arabia because many Nigerians were hopeful you had the talents to emulate the 1995 team that won the tournament?
I have to admit that we lost to the tactical superiority of the Saudi Arabians. Our quarterfinal opponents knew we had a squad that could beat them silly; with Keshinro, Victor Ikpeba, Patrick Mancha, Oguntuase and Godwin Okpara in the team, we were good enough to beat anybody especially with what we did in the group stage but the Saudi Arabians chose to approach the game differently. They watched the video of our matches and studied how every one of us played and came up with plans to stop us. In that match, they marked me and Ikpeba out, we couldn’t do anything and we were frustrated. We had gone into the match with overconfidence; we thought we would stroll over them but when we didn’t score at halftime we became jittery and lost composure which led to our eventual loss.
As one of the stars of that tournament, Nigerians expected you to be as successful as your colleagues who went ahead to play for the senior national team and big clubs in Europe, what happened to you?
It is so unfortunate because I had a broken jaw when I was about to sign for a Belgian side and the deal failed because of that injury. I nursed the injury for about nine years after which I went to Bangladesh to play for close to two years. I came back home to join Plateau United but I still couldn’t do much because age was not on my side and I spent so much time nursing another injury.