Chairman of the Delta State Sports Commission, Pinnich Amaju tells JOHN EGBOKHAN in this interview that Nigeria would have had a better outing at the World Cup in Brazil if Coach Stephen Keshi had worked with a team of technical experts working in the backroom.
The 2014 World Cup has entered the quarterfinal stage , with no African team featuring amongst the eight surviving teams in the tournament. African champions, the Super Eagles crashed out in the second round, leaving in its wake tales of woes for many Nigerians, who were expecting the team to do better.
What s your professional assessment of our perfoamcne at the World Cup?
I feel that we as a people should properly situate what we want to achieve in our life. I feel sad when I hear people say that we did well at the World Cup. I also feel sad to see that Nigerians are contented with just being amongst the participants in major tournaments like the World Cup.
I strongly believe that if we do the right things that we should be winning the World Cup. In 1994, after the USA World Cup, we were ranked the fifth best team in the world. We were highly regarded then but now the story has changed for the worse. And the reason for our decline is complacency. Nigerians are so complacent. We are where we are because we are not doing the right things. And doing the right things is very simple. We should also be ambitious enough to play in the semifinals of the World Cup. And our ambition should be backed with action.
Was the team to the World Cup in Brazil not ambitous enough?
Many factors came into play to determine the degree of ambition of the team. And to arrive at the right answer, I am looking at the facilitating factors and predisposing factors. The Nigeria Football Federation gave the team all that they required to have a succesful World Cup. Six top friendly matches were organsied, camping was top-notch, all the monies due the players were promptly and fully paid to ensure that the team focussed on the task of excelling in Brazil. The only money that was not paid was the FIFA appearance fee, which normally comes out from FIFA some four months after the end of the tournament.
So I was shocked when reports of players agitating for their share of the FIFA appearance fee came out. Conventional wisdom would dictate that when there is agitation in a team, one should also look at the top in determining who is behind what. It is also common knowledge that some persons on the technical crew knew that they would be out of job after the World Cup and aware of the bureaucracy in government, fear that their share of the appearance fee was not going to get to them when they would be out of service.
So if there is agitation in the team, the first person to point at is the coaches because when any money is paid, they also get a bigger chunk of it. I would not go further than that.
The predisposing factors are the NFF, who gave the team all the supprrt to succeed. They also provided a 200-seater aeroplane to take Nigerian officials around in Brazil to watch the Super Eagles matches. The facilitating factors are the coaches and what they bring to the team. I do not have anything against Keshi. He has done so well for Nigeria. He remains the first Nigerian to win the Nations Cup as a player and a coach. The records are there, But I feel that he should also come down from his high horse and show respect to the NFF, who are his employeer and who have done a lot to make him succeed.
We failed to go further in Brazil because our coaches did not adopt the scientific approach to winning matches. Football has gone beyond having a coaching crew on the bench. The trend now is to have the technical backroom staff, peopled by expert coaches, who win matches from the bench.
I give you an example. Berti Vogts was the head of the backroom of the USA team at the World Cup. The story was said in Brazil that during the match against Ghana, that when the Ghanaians equalised, that Klinsmann, who is the coach of the USA team, quickly sent a message to Vogts to analyse the last five minutes of the match. Vogts responded that one of the Ghanaian defenders was limping and that they should exploit his side, which the USA team did and scored the winner. Klinsmann did this because he recognises that he does not see the things that other technical experts could see from afar. And that is largely because a coach is only thinking of winning and what his players are doing. He hardly sees the defects and strong-points of his opponents. That is why nearly all the teams at the World Cup have the technical backroom staff. But Nigeria did not have that and that was because Keshi did not want it. He thought that they were going to take his job away and we all saw in Brazil that it could have been very different if we had such technical experts in the backroom, advising Keshi during match days or even before.
Another example is the injury of Ogenyi Onazi. That was not accidental. It was a deliberate plan by the French backroom staff, who saw Onazi as the only threat to their ambition to reach the next round. Ahmed Musa shone like a star in the first half but was taken out in the second half by the French players, who crowded him and made him ineffective. That is the work of the backroom staff . Football has gone scientific but we went to Brazil with analogue system.
I also observed during the short stay in Brazil that we were the only team, whose players warmed up before the start of matches without the coaches around to watch and take notes. I may be wrong on this but I saw the French team warm up with their coaches watching and guiding them.
Another issue that cannot be brushed aside is the perceived friction between Keshi and NFF. Keshi should realise that the NFF are his employers. Aminu Maigari is accessible. Green is also accessible, so I wonder where the friction is coming from. Keshi should respect the NFF and the NFF should also respect the Sports Minister. Respect is reciprocal.
Keshi has succeeded based on the support he got from the NFF. Look at the game against Ethiopia, we were 10 minutes from losing when we scored two goals. That is the case of the hand of God.
To succeed at the global stage, Keshi must come down from his high horse by building his own capacity and there are many windows to do it. There are several FIFA coaching courses and internship courses with top European clubs.
But aside that, we need to have a technical backroom crew. Dr. John Oganwon, who was the first graduate to play for the Eagles, watched the Eagles match against Argentina with me, Fanny Amun and Shuaibu Amodu. Amun wrote a script of how Argentina would play and score their goals and it turned out that what he wrote down came to pass. I was now wondering why these guys were not helping Keshi as backroom staff but was told that Keshi said he did not want any help from any backroom staff.
People had mindset before going to the World Cup. What was Keshi’s plan at the World Cup? Was it to win the trophy? If his plans were to win the World Cup or develop our team for the future, we would have said said yes, we tried. If he wanted to win the World Cup, he would have gone with Obafemi Martins, Ikechukwu Uche and Ogbuke Obasi because they are all match winners. I watched Obasi in action for his Schalke during my trip to Germany and saw how he laid the assist that led to the first goal and scored a beautiful goal, which made me call Keshi to ask if he was watching the game and taking note of Obasi’s contributions and he said yes. But I was shocked when these guys were not included in the team to Brazil for the World Cup. Obasi was hot this season.
If Keshi wanted to develop and build for the future, he would have stuck with the team that won the Nations Cup. Players like Sunday Mba should have been taken to Brazil. How can one reconcile the fact that a player who was dropped by a club in Scotland, was taken to the World Cup. That was Reuben Gabriel. There are many things that are inexplicable. We should go beyond this notion that we have tried our best because we are blessed with talents ard should be doing better than what we did in Brazil. Keshi knows better and we demand improved results from him.
But he has come out to say that he would never coach the Super Eagles again
That is an unfortunate statement to make but it might just be good news for Nigeria. But Keshi must remember that this country has been good to him and he got so much from this country, from the corporate sponsors and business moguls and the generality of Nigerians. So for him to make such statement is just unfortunate. Even Delta State, where Keshi hails from has appreciated his contributions to our sports development. The stadium in Asaba was named after him. Capacity building is key to success in sports. In Delta State, we regularly organise capacity training courses. About three weeks ago, we brought in a former assistant coach of Arsenal to Delta State to help train our coaches, referees and athletes.
And the person making these things to happen is Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, who in 2007, sent a bill to the State House of Assembly for the establishment of the Delta State Sports Commission, peopled by sports technocrats. Our orientation is just sports and that is why we are where we are in sports in the country. If we are not winning, we are dominating or amongst the top contenders. That is the legacy of the Uduaghan administration and we got this far based on capacity buildibng. Which is what we are recommending to the NFF leadership.
In going forward, what practical steps should the NFF take?
We should start planning on how we would reach the final of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, not the 1918 version in Russia. And the players that won the FIFA U-17 World Cup in UAE in 2013 should form the bulk of the team. NFF should through their coaches monitor them well and we should go for a new coach, preferably a foreign coach because he does not have any afinity with anyone here. And the coach must not be in the mould of the Luis van Gaal of the world. All we need is a determined, hardworking and career-driven coach, who will deliver on the results that we earnestly dream of.