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Only a miracle will see Eagles to World Cup 2006 — Oladipo

Posted by The Vangaurd on 2005/08/06 | Views: 1056 |

Only a miracle will see Eagles to World Cup 2006 — Oladipo

Dr Rafiu Olalere Oladipo, President-General of the Nigeria Football Supporters Club, was among the eight men who travelled to London last month to interview expatriate coaches for the vacant job of Nigeria’s technical adviser.

Dr Rafiu Olalere Oladipo, President-General of the Nigeria Football Supporters Club, was among the eight men who travelled to London last month to interview expatriate coaches for the vacant job of Nigeria’s technical adviser.

They recommended former Eagles’ coach, Philippe Troussier, but the 50-year-old Frenchman did a volte-face to say he would no longer be coming. Sports and Social Development minister, Saidu Samaila Sambawa has since then closed the counter on the search for a foreign coach.

In this interview by ADEMOLA OLAJIRE, Oladipo puts the record straight concerning the trip to England, and speaks on other issues of national concern at the moment.


The Minister of Sports and Social Development came out last weekend to say no more hiring of a foreign coach for the national team. What’s your own stand on that?

My position remains that of the government. If the minister says no more hiring of a foreign coach or technical adviser, who am I to say no? The government has taken a position and we should leave it at that.

You were one of those who went to London to interview coaches for the job. Many people felt there was no need for that, that it was actually a deliberate waste of funds and that the coaches should have been made to come to Nigeria to be interviewed, considering our pedigree as a nation that has qualified for the last three World Cup finals and won Olympic gold. What do you say to that?

That is erroneous. A lot of people have been saying that we wasted money, government money. That is not true. We did not spend government money. The sponsor fully paid for the trip. It was Globacom’s money, and Globacom said we should go to London to talk to these people, and we did.

Let me tell you: If we had told these coaches to come down to Nigeria and be interviewed, they wouldn’t have come, because of the way we have treated expatriate coaches in the past. Our going to London was to bring a lot of credibility and seriousness into what we were doing.

We spoke to four top-class coaches. Do you think any of these people would have wanted to come to Nigeria just to be interviewed, given our infamous way of treating them? Having seen that a lot of the good coaches would not come to Nigeria to be spoken to, Globacom decided to have some people from the Nigeria Football Association and pick some of its own people, and said we should go to London to talk to the coaches. I don’t see anything wrong in that.

Globacom paid for the return flight tickets, accommodation, local transportation, feeding and allowances of the eight men who travelled, and equally for the coaches who came to be interviewed. It is Globacom’s money and what we have done was at the request of Globacom.

How many coaches were interviewed in all?

Those who were physically present, who came to us at our London hotel were four. But five others sent in their representatives and curriculum vitae, and we rated them according to the criteria we had, and made our recommendation to the Nigeria Football Association.

Apart from Troussier, who were the others?

We spoke to Aad de Moss, who was coach of our former captain, Stephen Keshi, Joseph Yobo and Celestine Babayaro. Moss came to London with his lawyer, who happens to be his daughter. She is also his manager. We spoke to them. We spoke to Dragoslav Stepanovic, who also came with his lawyer and his agent. We spoke to Troussier, who came with his lawyer. And we also spoke to a coach who craved anonymity because he is presently engaged with another African team that is also striving to qualify for the World Cup finals in Germany. He was physically present but begged us not to disclose his identity.

We spoke to all of them and scored each of them, and made our recommendation, which was unanimous, to the NFA.

That coach who came from Africa is not Stephen Keshi?

(Laughs). No. He’s not Stephen Keshi. But he’s a top-class coach and a highly-respected one worldwide, for that matter.

Many people feel we have actually ‘blown’ the World Cup race, with that draw against Angola in Kano. Are you of the same opinion?

Well, our chances are slim, to be sincere. But the trouble did not start with the Kano match. The problem started when the immediate past Sports and Social Development minister started the rumpus in the Football House. You would remember that since that time, our players would not come to play for the country unless they were begged. Yes, we have not been doing well since then. It started as far back as November last year.

The Nigeria Football Association is organizing friendlies against Benin Republic and Libya. Do you think these matches are of enough quality to prepare our team well enough to go and win in Algeria?

Ah, the truth is that what is bad is not playing at all. At least, we’re going to play! Though, one would have expected to see us facing bigger teams, but most of the bigger teams are also involved in the qualification race and would not like to test their might against Nigeria.

I think we can play any match, as long as it is to prepare the team. But my grouse has to do with our prosecuting these games with entirely home-based players, who we know will not be the ones to play in Algeria. Since we have arranged matches, we should prosecute them with people who are going to play those remaining two World Cup matches against Algeria and Zimbabwe.

What are we doing playing with the home-based boys? These boys would eventually never be considered for places in the main team to play the World Cup qualifiers. So, why waste everybody’s time?

There are those who feel that the present Super Eagles squad is full of players who have become complacent and lethargic, and that the Flying Eagles, who shone in Holland, should be drafted to play the remaining World Cup qualifiers. Do you agree?

I laugh when people say such things. The U-21 team is different from the U-23 team, which in itself is different from the senior team. I agree that some members of the present Super Eagles are tiring, but their experience cannot be bought with money. You cannot draft an entire U-21 team to go and prosecute the remaining two World Cup qualifiers, otherwise we’ll come back with basketful of goals!

Why? Because they lack the experience. They cannot stand the heat and the grit at senior level. We can only take one or two of them to go and have some experience. But drafting the whole lot of them to play the matches would be suicidal.

Still talking about the last two World Cup qualifiers, what is your own club’s plan for those matches?

First, we must win both matches to stand a chance of benefiting from an Angolan slip. And to win those two matches, a lot of things must be put in place. Head-to-head, Angola are ahead, meaning that it is not enough for us to win our two games. However, we’re banking on the miracle of God to win our two matches and probably, Angola drop one or two points, and we’ll be through to the finals.

If the two matches must be won, we have to be ready to set things in motion. You were in Kano, you saw how the Angolans invaded Kano. They came with two chartered aircraft, a Boeing 747 for their supporters and a Boeing 737 for the players and officials. And they lodged in two big hotels in Kano.

Our footballers have come to accept publicly, many times, that they perform better when the supporters are there and they hear the drumming and the dancing and singing. If we must win in Algeria, an aircraft must be provided for the supporters to travel. If this must be done, it should not be left for Dr Oladipo, or to Globacom to do. We need money to do that, because chartering an aircraft that will take about 100 supporters to Algeria, which is an eight-hour journey roundtrip, will cost in excess of N15 million. The NFA and the Sports Ministry must be ready to support.

We are always willing to be there to support Nigerian teams wherever they are playing, but sometimes, money could be our constraint. Globacom is trying, but what they are doing is a far cry from what we need to be at all the places we want to be.

There are many people who feel we don’t have an NFA right now. Do you share that view?

Of course, we have an NFA. There is the chairman, Alhaji Ibrahim Galadima and there are board members, and some people at the secretariat. I think people say that because they feel they are not performing up to expectation. I would also want a situation in which those in the NFA are more alert to their responsibilities.

You are a man with a lot of exposure to how things are done in other lands. How would you assess the three years of the out-going NFA board?

It is with mixed feelings. To some extent, they performed; to some extent, they left so many things undone. Perhaps, they had some constraints. But there were a few ups and a lot of downs.

Over the years, you have been campaigning for a seat on the NFA board for the Supporters Club. A new board will be coming in two months. Are you going ahead with your campaign?

Well, I think everybody who is close to football in this country knows our relevance, our importance to football development in this country. We are not begging anybody to put us in the NFA. When the time comes for those in authority to recognize us, they will. You know that even without being on the NFA board, we expend our time and money to support the teams representing Nigeria internationally.

Only a few years ago, FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, said in Trinidad and Tobago that on no account would he want to see a major championship organized by FIFA and from which the Nigerian supporters would be missing out!

That goes to show our importance to the game not only in Nigeria, but globally. We are the only group that adds that vibrancy and glamour to what is going on, on the field.

On three occasions, we have been adjudged the most entertaining and best-behaved supporters group in the world. We don’t lose our heads when things are not going our way, and we’re role models for other supporters groups all over the world.

When the time comes for those in authority in this country to include the supporters’ club in the NFA, we will take our seat on the board.

You have seen it all, having led your club members to every part of the world in the past 15 years and being involved in the game for more than 30 years now. Are you not interested in contesting for chairmanship of the Nigeria Football Association?

I take things as they come. I know what is required for someone to contest for the chairmanship of the NFA. I know the criteria. Be that as it may, Nigerians know whom they want, and what they want that person to have. But whoever will be the next chairman of the NFA must be someone whose interest in the game cannot be doubted.

He must be someone who must be ready to commit, and who has in fact been committing, his time, money and energy into the game, even at the risk of his life. If one day, the opportunity knocks for me, why not?

Let’s talk about Enyimba FC. One point from three matches in the group phase is not exactly the tally of champions. Do you think they still have a chance in this year’s competition?

It’s very sad. One point from a possible nine doesn’t present them in great light. But we should not write them off; they should buckle up and face the challenge, because they are champions and have the stuff of champions in them. They should rise to the occasion that presents itself and prove they are truly champions.

In the game of football, anything can happen. If they buckle up and win their next three matches, they would be in the semi-finals. But it requires total commitment and seriousness, and all hands must be on deck.

On our part, we expect them to go ahead and win the trophy for keeps.

Nigeria are missing from the FIFA U-17 World Cup finals holding in Peru this month. This is a championship we have won twice before and were runners-up on two other occasions. What kind of developmental programmes would you advocate for the NFA?

It is another sad story that we are missing from the championship in Peru. I was at the African Championship in Gambia and from the first kick of the ball, I told my club members that those boys would not take us anywhere. And truly, they failed. The reason why this is happening is that we have failed to get involved in grassroots development.

I have said it on several occasions that it is not enough to wake up one morning, two weeks to a tournament, to start looking for players to represent us at age-grade competitions. This thing takes planning.

There should be a process whereby players graduate from the ages of 8 to 10, from 10 to13, from 13 to 15, from 15 to 17, 17 to 20, 20 to 23, and then to the ultimate, Super Eagles. Until we are able to do that, we will continue to miss out of championships that we should otherwise be dominating.

Are you satisfied with the way the domestic game is being run?

Not really. Very recently, there was a crisis between the Nigeria Football Association and the Football League board, NFL. Our league has been characterized by a lot of crises, which should not be so. The NFA is the founding father of the NFL and the NFL should derive its authority from the NFA, which is the supervisory body for football in this country and it is the affiliate of FIFA.

The protracted tussle over who should appoint match officials was unnecessary. And I am happy that the new Sports and Social Development minister quickly moved in to resolve the crisis. It was a very good beginning for the minister, and I hope the two bodies keep the peace.

Both the NFA and the NFL should work in harmony for the overall interest of the Nigerian game. They should not see themselves as rivals. The NFL chairman is now officially the first vice-chairman of the Nigeria Football Association, which clearly demonstrates that the NFL is sub-ordinate to the NFA, and should derive its authority from the association.

Both bodies have a responsibility to work together in the interest of our football.

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Comments (3)

Okfold(Sobe, Edo, Nigeria)says...

I want the meaning of female owan name Ekeke (Edo state)

Toluwalase Samuel Olufemi(Ijebu, Ogun, Nigeria)says...

Authority belongs to God, once He decrees it is final and binding

Ikponmwosa Osamede(Edo, Nigeria)says...

Your meaning of Osamede is wrong. Osamede means God has given me a crown