Despite his huge success in guiding Rangers International of Enugu to win their first league title in 32 years, Coach Imama Amapakabo seems not to be carried away.
The assistant coach of the Super Eagles of Nigeria believes he has not done anything special by winning the league because other coaches had been winning the same league before him.
But one outstanding thing about the humble young coach is his desire to crave for more. In this interview with Correspondent,Jude Opara, Amapakabo reveals his burning desire to break new grounds by being the first African coach to coach either in the English Premiership or the Spanish La Liga.
How do you feel guiding Rangers International to their first league title in about 32 years?
Honestly speaking, I don’t feel special because winning the league is what I set out to achieve right from the first day I took over the team. Secondly, by my nature I always like to look ahead. I will like to be remembered by what I will achieve next and not what I have already achieved. In fact the following day when we were being received by the government and people of Enugu State, as we were there, I was busy thinking about the way forward. Let me say this; if after winning this title, I don’t achieve any other remarkable thing, some people may think it was a fluke. So, I even have a bigger challenge to show that it was not a fluke by replicating it or even breaking a higher ground.
How did the people of Enugu appreciate what you achieved because 32 years in the wilderness was not really an easy one?
Well, I have to say it here that the government and people of Enugu were very awesome; they gave us all the support we needed to achieve what we have achieved. Enugu is a good place and I really love the city. In fact I am seriously thinking of relocating my family to the city whether I am in Rangers or not. Honestly, we felt at home in Enugu because the people were solidly behind us right from the first day.
There is this talk of you saying that you are out of contract, are you really getting offers from other clubs?
To be frank with you, I said that I am out of contract because that is the truth. My contract with Rangers ended with the end of the season. To the other leg of your question, I will also say it is true that some other clubs have started looking my way but that does not mean that I have parted ways with Rangers. If they really want me to stay, they know what to do, they should call me to a meeting and if we agree on terms, I am good to go.
So what is your next move?
At the risk of sounding boastful, I will say that my next move is to move ahead in life, I want to achieve new things, I want to be that African coach to coach in the EPL, I want to be that African coach to coach in the Spanish L’liga or the German Bundesliga. I want to be that coach to lead Super Eagles to win the first World Cup, those are the things I want to achieve.
Let us look at the Nigerian league, yes you have won, but what is your assessment of the league?
I am going to tell you this; ironically, I wanted to call the league managers to ask if I could write a Technical Report on the league. It has been an exciting league, in as much as I want to remain modest; nothing successful comes easy without hard work and I believe that we put in a lot of hard work to win this league. I have studied a lot of the teams about how they play and how they think. Most times, I will go into games at a vantage position. When I spoke most times before a game, some people took it that I was being boastful, but I was talking from a point of knowledge of most of these teams. Without sounding immodest, I knew most teams, may be, better than their coaches knew about them. I took time to actually work and I had a crop of coaches that were behind me that were on hand to deliver on any assignment. All these added up to what we have been able to achieve.
What is your assessment of the level of officiating, many analysts believe that Rangers would have won the league with one or two matches to spare?
This question of referees always makes me laugh because all over the world, every league has one issue or the other. It was there when I was a player, and now that I am a coach the issue of officiating has remained and it will continue to be there. You see, whether these mistakes were by omission or commission, they are mistakes and the mentality is what matters.
If you come to my camp my players will tell you that I always told them not be judgmental because they are not the referee. I scored two goals against Nasarawa United and they were disallowed. In my opinion they were good goals but in the view of the referee, they were not goals and his own opinion is the one accepted by CAF, FIFA and the NFF.
So that day when we got to the dressing room, and my players were grumbling that the referee cancelled their two goals, I said no the referee did not disallow your two goals, he disallowed two goals he considered were not good goals. I told them that score board was reading 1-0 in favour of Nasarawa. I equally told them to go there and score two more goals; you see I am not one of those coaches who always complain about referees. That should be the problem of the organizers of the league and not my own problem.
This season, Rangers were the highest goal scoring team on the road and they were accepted. Yes I knew that there were a lot of goals that were not accepted but I don’t want to use them as an excuse. The truth is that the referees need to get better the way coaches and players also need to get better.
Going into the next season, let’s talk on the premise that you are still the coach of Rangers, what are your plans for the next season?
That is exactly what I have been saying that as soon as one game ends, I look forward to the next game. When the celebration was going on the day after we won the trophy, as we were there I started looking ahead because there are places my team needed some adjustment. Many people thought that the team was perfect, yes I appreciate we played well and did well, but I know there are gaps to be filled and if I remain Rangers coach next season, I know the key areas to look out for and I have also marked out the players that I will be needing to beef up the team. Already my programme for the next season will start with the end of the last one. While people were basking in the euphoria of the trophy, I started planning for the next season because I will not be remembered by this season but the next one.
What is your advice to young Nigerian players on the management of success?
You see, if you get into a house, the children will most likely behave like the father does. I don’t like boasting or showing off. I might be the worst person on earth but my life is guided by some verses of the Bible. The race is never for the fastest or the strongest, so I don’t look at myself as a special one. Today, I am the assistant coach of the Super Eagles and technical adviser of Rangers but if I was not there, somebody would fill that position.
So I don’t look at myself as special, I rather look at myself as being privileged. If you score two goals and see yourself as a super star, it is wrong because another person has scored 20 goals. I wish I were Pep Gaudiola but I am not and even if I were him, I would have wished to have been somebody else. People are coaching bigger teams so why should I pride myself because I am coaching Rangers, one of the big teams in Africa? I think it is not enough, I am always urging for more, I don’t look at the past, I look at the future. That should be the way for players too
You will be playing in the continent next season, how are you going to approach that challenge because you are going to confront teams from all parts of Africa?
You are in my room right now and I have the opportunity of watching European football but I am watching African football. I usually watch it because these are the same people I am going to confront, I am not going to face the Real Madrids and Barcelonas of this world, I am going to face the African teams and it is only when I watch them that I can begin to understand how they play. It is helping me to get as much information about them as I will need. So the same things I have done with the domestic league, I will do with the continental league
Do you have any set target going into the CAF Champions League?
My target is endless, I want to win the trophy and I will be disappointed if I don’t win the trophy. When I talk like this, people think I am boastful, I want to sound objective because that is the type of person I am. I want to surpass every target on my way, I want to win the Champions League, I want to win the World club Championship, I want to coach clubs like Arsenal, Barcelona, Chelsea and the likes of them. They have one head just as we have, if I were to be in Spain, I would have been coaching Real Madrid or Barcelona. I am in Nigeria and coaching Rangers International. Thank God for the internet, we now read the same books that they read.
Let’s talk a little about the World Cup qualifier against Zambia tomorrow, what do we expect from the national team?
We have a team that is ready to play. I want to remove this rebuilding theory from our football because we have been saying that. We have a team that is rediscovering itself and today we have a technical head that preaches unity and togetherness. There is this camaraderie in the entire team, you can see the bonding, we also have a lot of young players who are ready to make their mark and I believe that qualification for the World Cup is very possible
Where do you see Nigerian football in the next five years or so?
I think we are on track. Today you can see that the fans have started returning to the league venues. The sponsors are beginning to identify with the teams, we have five home-based players in the Super Eagles camp, I only hope that it will continue to get better.