Nigerians will never forget how Brazil hammered the Flying Eagles in their opening game at the 1987 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Chile. One of the members of the team, Peter Nieketien still feels the pain. In this interview with Ime Bassey, he relays the wrongs of the encounter, the tournament as a whole, his football career and his family life. Excerpts:
Can you recall how and when you started the game?
I started playing football from my secondary school days in Ajegunle. My first team after secondary school was Mandela Lions in the early 80s, then Nigerian Airways and LUTH FC. I left LUTH FC because of the office job and signed for ACB as a professional player in 1983, then Julius Berger and later I joined Iwuayanwu Nationale before I left for the Republic of Gabon to join AS Douanes which is owned by the Customs. I played there for one season.
The second season, I moved over to ASMO FC which is the Armed Forces team. The third year I played for Delta Téléstar Gabon Télécom FC which was their Postal team. It was during this period that the Gabonese national team coach, a German penciled down my name and that of Bunmi Adegun for their national team but was told that we are Nigerians and had played for our country. He linked us to a Malaysian team after a trial in Germany.
In Malaysia, I played for Kedah FC and we won all our matches that season in 1992 which earned us the 2nd division title and were promoted to the Premier League. We won the double in 1992/93 season and we were given State Award which is the PJK Award for excellence in 1993.
In 1994, I left for Terengganu FC, played two seasons and then returned to Nigeria to process my visa for an offer in Portugal before the embargo was placed on sports men and women. Unable to travel for the trials, I stayed back for about a year before I left for the German regional liga (2nd division) in 1996 with SG Bad Soden. This was where I called it quits due to my troubled knee injury.
I returned to the country to help one of my friends with his Academy when Diepreye Tebo told me to come over to the UK to do my coaching course. I did my coaching batches levels 1, 2 and the UEFA licence B course. I also used the opportunity to run sports consultancy and football mentoring with West Ham Football Club.
It’s been 25 years since that shameful defeat suffered in the hands of Brazil by the Flying Eagles in Chile ’87, what would you say went wrong in the team?
Till date I want to believe that the squad is still one of the best crop of young players that Nigeria has ever assembled in age grade competitions. Well, the tournament was a disaster as Nigerians expected us to triumph in the tournament but unfortunately for us, we could not go beyond the first round. I will say we were unlucky.
As a result of the disappointment of the championship, most of my colleagues were unable to come out of the nightmare and further their football career more than that level. To God be the glory, I was able to dust myself off the disaster and forge ahead. I was able to make the Maroc ’88 Nations Cup squad after that.
Prior to the competition, we got information from the NFA then, that Brazilians don’t play their regular stylish free-kick but direct to the goal keeper so they can make a rebound. This information made Willy Opara who happened to be the captain practice night and day on how to stop their free-kicks and he vowed that he would rather kill himself than allow them score him.
When we conceded a free-kick in early minutes of the game which happened to be our first of the championship, Willy was waiting with confidence that the ball would be played direct instead the player coiled the ball to the top corner and we couldn’t recover again. As we tried to take the game to them, we conceded more. This was where we lost it and could not recover even in our next two games.
We were a good team with less information on our opponents. On arrival at the airport, we landed not quite long after the Brazilians had arrived. As we were checking in, they were pointing at us, calling us by our first names, while we on the other side, did not really know them.
As a player, what would you say has been your low and high points in the game?
One of my high points was when we won the African Youth Championship in 1987 while my low point was the Green Eagles’ lost to Cameroon at the Nations Cup Final in Maroc ’88. This was painful for me because I was already waiting to celebrate as one of the few to have won the junior title and that of the senior.
How has it been since you batched you UEFA Coaching license?
It has been encouraging I must tell you. For me to have played in the national team and also outside the shores of the country despite growing up from one of the low towns in the country, I feel I owe the young ones something. That was why I had to leave the community I was running its U-14s and U-16s in the UK to return home and contribute my own quota to football development.
What is football mentoring?
It is just being a consultant to a coach or a player who is going through difficult psychological challenges on and off the pitch with his team. It is majorly detecting defects in a team or player and correcting it. It is done more in Europe than in Africa.
So, how is your family, when did you walk the isles?
I got married when my career was at its peak, precisely 1989 after one season in the Gabonese league. My wife and I dated for about four years before we got married. Ever since we got married, she and the kids have been with me everywhere I played except in Germany.