By Onochie Anibeze and Richard Animam
Daniel Amokachi represented Nigeria as a player in two World Cups (USA â€˜94 and France â€˜98), played in the gold winning Atlanta â€˜96 Olympic team and was part of the technical crew that failed in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. He opened up to us on the ills of Nigerian football. Excerpts:
The story all over town has been our failure at the World Cup, what do you think went wrong?
For me to answer this question, I have to go way back because I can not just pinpoint one point and say this is why the team failed. I think the coach who was in-charge of the team before, did a wonderful job.
In two years he did not lose a game and qualified the country to the World Cup and he went to the Nations Cup and got to the semi-finals. He had the team that could have had a good run at the World Cup but it seems everybody wanted his head.Â They had their opinion on why they wanted him out. Eventually they brought a foreign technical adviser and everybody saw the end result.
At the same time for you to bring a coach to Africa, he must have a good knowledge of African football. And this is no disrespect to the Scandinavians, but when you have a country like Nigeria where we have talents who play with a lot of skill and flair, I think a successful coach should have come from Holland, Spain, Portugal or Brazil who play similar pattern with Nigeria.
That was the first mistake- bringing a Swede to coach the team, someone who did not know African football and had no experience on African football. I think that was our first mistake.
How would react to the fact that some of the decisions were not taken by those who run the game apart from the fact they too had their limitations?
The only wayÂ Â the government can stop interfering in football is when football becomesÂ business in Nigeria. Up till today, football is not business in Nigeria. Government still sponsors football in Nigeria and as far asÂ Â Â Â Â that is happening government will continue to interfere.
You can not have your money in a business and you do not have a say on how the money is spent. We must change that trend, football is business all over the world except in Nigeria and the African continent.
If football is privatised and everybody knows that football is business, the problems we have from government interference will stop.Â Football is the only thing that brings peace to Nigeria and it should not be toyed with.
You worked with Lars Lagerback, what do you think we could have done differently?
First, when Nigeria appointed Lagerback, he told Nigeria that he would bringÂ one coach but at the end of the day he brought four coaches. If you are bringing a foreigner into a country you have to plan that he works with some home coaches. The mistake that Lagerback made was that he did not carry any of the local coaches along.
First, they made the 30-man list of players who were going to be camped in London and we did not have any say on it. Then they made the 23-man list in London and we were not consulted. They did not seek our opinion on what we thought on the players invited. Anytime, Nigeria was playing a game, we only knew who would play at the pre match meeting just like the players. Yes, this was disrespectful and this was what went on all through the competition.
I didnâ€™t have any contribution in the team. I just stood by the corner and watched the players train till the end. Augustine Eguavoen was busy scouting around South Africa, never in the camp, so what were his contributions? The most important thing was that when it happened I voiced out.
You know me, I am not a coward. I voiced out to the vice president and I reminded him what the man said about using home coaches and bringing only one foreigner. I told him that we were not contributing anything to the team.
It was only when things went wrong during matches that he would turn to us to ask a few questions. I donâ€™t blame them because when you bring a coach and you are paying him $300,000 about (N45m) a month and you pay the assistants (local coaches) $7000.00 (N 1m ) a monthÂ that shows how you value your local coaches. That coach will not respect the local coaches. When we talked about it they said there was no money but whenever they are bringing a foreigner there is always money to pay him. Berti Vogts came and he got about 80,000 Euros in a month. Three years later we are still making the same mistake,Â brought a coach four to five months before the World Cup, and gave him $300,000.
If you add our salaries for two years: that is the Head Amodu Shaibu, myself, coach Alloy Agu, Amoo and everybody in the team it is nothing compared to what Lagerback picked up in five months. When you put all that togetherÂ it means you do not appreciate what you have.
How would Lagerback respect us if he knew that our own people did not value us? We are the only country in West Africa that is blessed with so many ex-internationals who are intoÂ coaching. Why canâ€™t we explore that.
The way we played in South Africa was strange. We played two matches and after the first match the whole country said we played well. Why did they think so?Â Because they were expecting Argentina to beat us by 6-0. It ended 1-0 and they said we played well,Â forgetting that it could have been 6-0 or 7-0 if goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama was not in good shape. Then we played Greece and it was same thing. In two defeats, in two matches the goalkeeper was the man of the match and we still said the team did well.
Who are we fooling?Â We knew that we were comfortable before Kaita got the red card against Greece but was that the first time a teamÂ played 10 men against 11?Â Even Germany the next day played with 10 and drew their game. I have played in games that we were 10 against 11 and we won.
So this is football. When we went 1-0 down, the Greek coach removed a defender and put a striker because they needed goal. But what did we do when we needed to defend?Â We brought a striker and when we needed to attack we brought a defender? You want to tell me that was good coaching?
In the last game, he put Afolabi in the left full back. We told him that Afolabi could not play left full back.Â Afolabi himself told Lagerback that he wouldnâ€™t be able to play left full back but he still went on to field him in the wrong position.
Quote me on that, call Afolabi, call Alloy Agu, call Eguavoen, call Amoo and they will tell you the same thing.
If you bring somebody who is not a Nigerian, who is not patriotic to handle your team at the end of it, he will go back to his country and await FIFA to order you to pay him.Â They go straight to their countries after events. But we are Nigerians. We must enterÂ plane and come back to our country. Which coach did Nigeria bring from Europe who came back to Nigeria after a tournament? They only come when they win.
It is a shame because after each failure we keep appointing a committee to find out why we failed. We make the same mistake every year and we keep setting up committees. All of us know where the problem is. If we are sincere about solving this problem, we will solve the problem.
Kindly be honest in answering this question, we believe that there is a reduction in the talent that we have in this country compared to your time, What do you now suggest that we do?
Football has changed. Football is multi million, multi billion dollar business. These players are making nothing less than $150,000 a month and you bring these same players to play a match for you and pay them five thousand dollars a day. Nigeria is the only country that went to the World Cup and were paid $5,000.
Any player who was at the World Cup got about $250,000 for appearance fees and bonuses but it is only Nigerians who got $5,000.00. Football is business, I can not come to the World Cup to play for my country without insurance and I kill myself. Football has changed and we must change. We must put everything in place. We must make these players comfortable when they come to play for Nigeria.
They come back and thereâ€™s no insurance. These players are no fools. They have seen Mutiu Adepoju, Samson Siasia and Daniel Amokachi who got injured playing for their country and what did Nigeria do for them? So they can not risk their career for Nigeria.
You look at all these and we are saying there is no talent. Back in the days, any Government School had like over 50 acres of land where they had two football fields,Â two basketball courts, two lawn tennis courts, cricket pitch, hockey field and track and field. Now all the government schoolsÂ have sold the land and built houses.
The private schools operate from a place as small as one living room.Â How would we grow young players that way?. The country has neglected the youth. How many times in the past five years have they moved youth department into different ministries? If I am lying tell me. We all know this things but we wait until something happens before we react. If we are really serious about discovering talents we should go back to how things were done in the past.
I was discovered in a YSFON competition, Emmanuel Adebajo Cup, our generation played in these competitions. These days players donâ€™t event go to schools again. The only thing we are thinking about is how to go out and make money.
The football league is bad and there are no structures. Everything has to be restructured, turn football into business, then you have a league where players will come and show their God given talent.
If you go to Egypt, nobody wants to go to Europe, Same thing with Tunisia and South Africa, their players donâ€™t like going to Europe because their league is well structured.Â In this world Nigeria can be compared to Brazil when it comes to talent but Brazil have good structure, good league, that is why when a player is tired he returns to Brazil.
Imagine Deco moving to Brazil. Other great players like Andreano, Romario, Ortega all went back to Brasil to end their career, they can do this because they have a good league. If Nigerian league is properly structured our players will come back after they are through in Europe.Â The state of the Nigerian league now is laughable. Now European countries see Nigerian players as mediocre.
How many times have you seen a Nigerian player move from Nigeria and headed direct to a top team in Europe? It does not happen anymore. Back in our days, direct from Nigeria, we went to the big teams. Direct I went to Club Brugge, Direct Nwankwo Kanu went to Ajax, same thing as George Finidi.
Now European clubs see Nigerian league like a joke, so nobody wants to come to Nigeria to look for players, and that is why we do not have players playing in the big clubs in the world.
What do you think we should do in-terms of appointment of coaches in Nigeria, I feel the likes of Amokachi, Keshi, Samson Siasia can do the job, what do you think?
Well if we donâ€™t feel that way it means we are in trouble in Nigeria. God knows that I am not into coaching because I am starving, because most people think that since we came back we do not have anything to do and that we are hungry and that is the belief of the black man.Â I know that I have a lot to contribute to the nationâ€™s football and that is why I am here. Steven Keshi qualified Togo for their first World Cup ever.
That shows that he knows the job. So if we have coaches like him why neglect them. They neglect people like that because they do not want people who will stand up for their rights.
If you bring a foreigner and give him N45m a month, why donâ€™t you employ your own person and give him N10m a month and support him the way you will support the Whiteman?Â Support him and donâ€™t get involved in his affairs and if he fails then you can sack him but you can not give somebodyÂ a job and because he is a Nigeria you donâ€™t pay him well and you keep influencing who he invites to camp, where he should camp and all that.
How would he succeed? If you are giving him the job, give him and let him know what you want from him. For instance, you can tell him that I am giving you this job and in two years I want to see Nigeria move up FIFA ranking from 100 to 50. Then he knows he has a target and he goes about the best way to achieve his target. We should not bring sentiment or tribalism in selecting coaches. If the best coaches are from Niger Delta let them have the job. If they are from the north let them be etc.
On the pitch in South Africa with the Eagles you failed with Lagerback, outside the pitch and in the studios ofÂ Supersports, you were superb with your analyses, brilliant, I must say.Â How do you reconcile this?
That shows you that I know what football is all about. This is no boasting. It shows that Daniel Amokachi knows football. I coached Nasarawa United from nowhere and I took them to the top of Nigerian football. I took them from the second division to the first where they finished second in the league, took them to represent Nigeria in the CAF Champions League and we finished in the fourth round.
That shows you that I know what I am doing. I was given a home based team and I won the WAFU Cup. They gave me a team and in less than a week I built a strong team because I knew what I wanted. I know football.
My life is football, I speak football, eat it, drink it and sleep football. I went to Holland to do my UEFA coaching course and the first two weeks I was made an instructor because they saw that I knew football. Without disrespect to other Nigerian coaches, I believe I am the best coach in the country, it does not matter if they like it or not, but that is the truth and that is my belief.
I know football theoretically and practically.Â Another important thing that made us fail in South Africa was that the team was divided. They did not play as one. During my days, people used to say we had mafia in the team but in South Africa I saw the real mafia in our team. The team was divided into three or four different groups.Â They did not play for each other and that was another big problem that happened in the camp.
What led to the division in camp?
I do not know. I believe the person who can answer that question is Lagerback. I was in the camp but I didnâ€™t contribute anything in that camp, that is the truth. It is a shame.
We more interested now on how to get it right
Like I said during this interview, we all know what is wrong with our football. We canâ€™t sit back, fold our arms and keep quite. All of us in the media (I class myself that way because I have joined you guys in the media now), all of us know the right thing.
When Amodu was sacked and Lagerback got the job … when he released his list a journalist jumped up and shouted that this was Amoduâ€™s team… But when Amodu said those guys were the best players in the country at the time nobody believed him. The hope that the new man would bring a changeÂ was responsible for bringing in the foreign coach.
The white-man came and brought the same players. We fool ourselves all the time. This should stop. We should no longer fold our hands while things go wrong.Â When I talk they say I talk too much but I talk because it is painful to see things go the way they are going now. They were saying I said Lagerback was over paid.
I did not say all that, I am not a coward. I donâ€™t care if you bring someone and pay him billions, as far as you treat Nigerians with respect and pay them something deserving, as far as you are giving me what I think is reasonable no problem. You should appreciate what you have. We the Nigerian coaches should be respected. If Nigeria has $300,000 to pay a Whiteman they should be able to pay Nigerian coaches $150,000 and give him a target.
FA elections are coming up. If we have people who know the game in the FA things will begin to change…
If you ask me what should be done in the FA and the football league to change the league, I will tell you that we should take the Nigeria Football Federation and give it to the British Football Federation and tell them run our football for eight years with a contract, take notable Nigerians like Christian Chukwu, the Keshiâ€™s Jay Jay Okocha etc and let them see what you are doing and after eight years, they will take over from you and see how they run the FA. If it does not work, following some mistakes, the British people may come back again tight the loose ends.
If we really want to change our football believe me we must do this. South Africa did this and look atÂ where South Africa is today. South Africa brought BFL and gave them the football federation with their people behind and when BFL left they brought their people to continue. When it was not working well, they brought back BFL and they did more work again and since then everything has been stable. Why canâ€™t we take that risk and do that?