By KATE OBODO
Stephen Keshi’s aim of producing quality home-based players to execute his plans of qualifying the nation for the 2013 Nations Cup and 2014 World Cup may look unachievable but the coach believes that they are the future of the Eagles.
In this interview, Keshi says the team will qualify for AFCON 2013, where he predicts a glorious outing. He also sheds light on why he is yet to recall Obi Mikel, Osaze Odemwingie and Yakubu Aiyegbeni to his Eagles squad. Excerpts:
Preparations of the players for the final AFCON qualifier against Liberia
I think they are very conscious about the Nation Cup qualifying match against Liberia and they are looking forward to being there come September. Some of them have been talking to me about it and some are preparing so hard for the match. All we are praying is for them not to get injuries. I pray they would equally be in good health throughout the two games.
What Nigerians should expect
So far, we have been working hard and trying to perfect our plans for the match. Nigerians should just expect the best because anybody who has worked so hard need t nothing but the best. That is not to say we are underrating our opponent but am sure we would succeed at the end of the day.
Challenges of managing Eagles
Players are just like you and me. Every human being loves to be appreciated, respected and to be listened to. Once you see someone as an important figure and once you have respect form him, he would definitely respect you. And if I give you all these there is no way you can insult me except you are arrogant or ignorant.
The most important thing is your approach towards the players. Just as it is written in the Bible, do unto people what you want them to do unto you. You want them to respect you and you don’t want to respect them, it would lead to a big problem and that is why you see some players behave the way they do.
Me and my players
I see them as my younger brothers, I need them and they need me and all I need to do is to respect them for who they are. It is not that I don’t yell at players, I do but not in a negative way but positive. I don’t yell at my player in front of other players or in public, neither do I belittle them. So I see my players as me, so why would I disrespect them. I don’t disrespect people but if you want me to do that, I can do but it is not in my character, instead I would walk away.
Managing football players
Football Managers have always used the beautiful game to astonishing heights, but nowadays the sport is more than kicking a ball around a pitch. If you do not carefully manage the often unconscious needs of these players,, they will burn out in a way that is damaging to themselves and unproductive for you.
You have to know your players as a person especially for you to be able to interact with them. I have some players who are ready to learn after yelling at them while for some, you take a different approach. Managers need good communication with players so that they would give the needed result.
Absence of Yakubu Ayengbeni, Osaze Odewingie, Mikel Obi and co
They are still part of the team, just that I am giving other players opportunity to prove their worth, especially the home-based players. Talking about Osaze and the other foreign stars, in the next couple of years they could leave the national team and when we don’t have replacement for them, we would start crying for their inclusion when their time is up.
I am doing my best to ensure we have a follow- up system, after the older players must have gone. Really, they are all in my plans but I cannot narrow my mind just on certain players to the detriment of others who are growing.
Why I am using home-based as my target for AFCON and World cup qualifiers
Although people would think I am learning from the failure of my predecessor but It is not true. Because it has always been in my character right from when I started my coaching career. Home-based players are like the future of tomorrow, and while In Togo, Mali and other countries, I used the local players to achieve my aim and it was successful.
So, using the home-based players as my target to pursue my goal for both the Nations Cup and World Cup is not new to me as it has worked for me. And long as I have a good training programme and work without distractions,the players will grow in confidence. In other countries, they have more of the local players than the foreign ones. You can see that the approach has been in existence and I am only trying to imbibe it into our system which is necessary especially for future purposes.
Importance of using home-based players
It helps to develop the league and also give other players the opportunity to exhibit their talents and to work hard. That was how my coaches used me when I was a player and that made them to succeed. That also brought so many players into limelight like me and other players. It is a project worth doing well for my country.
Our problem is that we are afraid of the unknown and if at the end it comes out successful, many people would want to share the glory but when it goes the contrary, they will apportion blame. Everything in life is about risk, so anything I’m doing for the team, is not out of sentiments, irrespective of where the players come from. What matters to me is talent. If you can play football and you can do well for Nigeria, come and play.
If today I fail but succeeded in giving the youths, especially our local players, the opportunities to showcase their talents, I don’t mind. In fact it would be my joy other wise coaching without impact and value to move forward the player is no coaching to me.
Most of my home-based players in Mali, Togo are all professional players now because I gave them the opportunity. So if we work together, it would benefit everybody. Starting from the Nigeria Football, their parents, relatives and the fans.