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Ikhana weeps for Nigerian football

* Why players are falling
* Says clubs destroying country’s image

Former African coach of the year, Kadiri Ikhana, who once coached Super Eagles captain and goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama at Enyimba, traces the root of indiscipline in Nigerian players. He spoke with JOHN EGBOKHAN.

How has the coaching business been for you for about three decades now?
It has been quite interesting. I played football and coaching is part of the game. It is interesting because it is what I love doing. Football is what I have been doing all my life.

How did it start?
I started coaching in 1985.

Which team was that?
I was the pioneer coach of El Kanemi Warriors. That was where I started my active coaching.

How was the beginning for you?
It was not that easy because that was my first time of coaching and I think it was harder than playing because I also played to the top. Coaching a team is a high-tension job but it is quite interesting.

How have you been able to manage the problems that coaches face because if a team does not fare well, they blame the coach but if the team does well, they credit the players?
(Laughs) It is very normal for coaches to believe that we don’t have a permanent job anywhere. You may be hired today and fired tomorrow, if you lose games. That is why it is a high-tension job. All the same, it is interesting because for everything you are doing, there is always time to terminate it but in football, it comes sudden.

You have had your fair share of ups and downs in coaching. There was a time that you were even attacked in Kwara, yet you have stuck to coaching?
I have been attacked about four times in the Nigerian league. One was in Aba, another in Ibadan, another in Kwara and then in Kaduna. It is part of the game because people love football and can do anything in the course of the game. They easily get carried away when their teams do not win and at the end of the day, they either attack the referee, the coach or the players. It is not something that is strange. It is all over the world but it is not encouraging because you cannot see somebody attacking a doctor or mechanic for failed treatments or failed repairs. It is only in football that it happens. In other sports, coaches are not attacked for the failure of their teams but in football, we bear the brunt of any failure.

So why do you still coach despite the risks to your life and the attendant effects it may cause your loved ones?
It is the interest that I have for the game that keeps me going. Having played the game and now coaching, I have found out that this is the job for me. I have been into active football for close to 46 years now. I am immune to the game and it is not easy to remove the system from now.

Kadiri Ikhana
Kadiri Ikhana

Even if it can cost you your life?
People die from doing their professional jobs and if that should be my lot, I will take it that way. Even the job you feel is safe, people still die on them. I am a Moslem and believe that death can come in any way. It is not only through wars that people die. Some eat and die, some sleep and die, some walk and die, so death comes in various ways. Death is inevitable as far I am concerned. It comes when it is time.

If it comes on the job, you will take it as it is?
When death comes, you don’t have an option. A dead man does not have a choice. He is already gone. Death can come in any way. I have seen people who were in aeroplane and a crash occurred, leaving some dead and others alive. I do not think the number of coaches who died on the job is much. It is rare. It is very low. Except there is a tragedy in the stadium where people are falling on themselves. I think in Nigeria, it has happened only once when one coach was manhandled in Maiduguri and lost his life. I think that is the only time that I think a coach died from fans’ violence in Nigeria.

One of your glowing achievements was the Champions League feat with Enyimba in 2003…
(Cuts in). I think all Nigerian coaches have achieved because achievement has to do with players you have brought up and those you used to win trophies. Some of the players I used to win the Champions League trophy were not discovered by me. I was not the one who brought them up, so why should I take credit for the efforts of other coaches.

So, you are not claiming any credit to yourself?
No, and it is because I know the rudiments of coaching and I know that the player I used are from different clubs and somebody must have brought them up but we were lucky to meet and achieve these successes then. I think one should give glory to God first and the people who made it possible. What I did with Enyimba was on behalf of Nigerian coaches. It was God who mandated me to do that. Some of these players from Julius Berger, Calabar Rovers, Bendel Insurance, Kano Pillars were assembled in Aba and God made it possible. I led the team but God made it possible for us to win the trophy for the first time for Nigeria.

And about 12 years after, Nigerian clubs have not won the trophy again?
If you look at the history of things, the truth is that our present players are not serious. I don’t think we have the serious type of players today. After the time of Nwankwo Kanu, which players apart from John Mikel Obi have gone far in competing for the African Player of the Year award? None. The issue is that Nigerian players of today are not serious.

That is a damning verdict coming from you?
I am part of the game and I know how much and how hard we have been talking to the players to be serious with their game. I can cite examples for you. Let us start with three years ago. The highest goalscorer came from Nasarawa United. After that, there was no maintenance culture and two years ago, it shifted to another club and last year because the culture was not maintained, it shifted to another club. When you look at what obtains in other countries, two or three players compete for the highest goalscorer   for about five years. It boils down to the seriousness of the players in these leagues. In Nigeria, our players are not serious.

And what may have caused this situation?
It is the way the management may have managed these players. I am talking about their welfare, salaries and many other things because during the period of Kanu, the welfare of players was fairly good and all allowances were paid as at when due. So what may have caused this problem could be the mismanagement of the players by the clubs because a happy mind produces results. If the players are not happy, there is bound to be a fall in their productivity.

Is it also responsible for the slide and indiscipline in the Super Eagles?
In the Super Eagles, during my time, we used to have majority of the players in the team coming from the local league but it later dropped to about two per cent. But you can see that with the coming of the last administration and the present one, we are beginning to get about 20 per cent of local players in the national team. But we can do better than that because the home front should be the breeding ground for our national development. The players are the most important persons in this game. Without them, there would be no no need for coaches. Even sports journalism will suffer without footballers. I have been involved in this game and I know that without proper remuneration, players’ productivity will drop. If you sign on a player and give him all the entitlements as at and when due, he knows he has to perform.

If he does not perform, he knows he will suffer a pay cut, so he will have to get serious and work for the money. But what is happening in clubs now is unbelievable. When you get to some clubs, some players determine what goes on. Some players even tell the coach that they will get him sacked before the end of the season. There are many things that are happening that baffle me and it has gone so sore to the extent that when you don’t pay a player, you beg him to play a match. Instead of the players fighting to play a match, you beg him to play because you do not take care of his welfare. I think that area of welfare should be looked into. We have expatriates in our teams, players from Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal and other countries and you   owe these players for close to six to seven months   and you expect them not to tell their country people that Nigerian clubs owe them salaries. It is more or less destroying our image outside.

The wind is blowing round. I don’t think we deserve that. We have grown more than that. It is time for the League Management Company (LMC) to insist on standards. If it means having only 12 teams who pay their players promptly in the league, then so be it and I think it will be better for us than this endless embarrassment for our country, in the name of having 20 teams in the league.

That is the problem we are have. Any club that cannot finance its players should be forced to fold up. If we have a 12-team league, it will be better organised and we will see football at its best. It is not compulsory to have 20 teams in the league when eight do not fulfil their financial obligations to the players. When the defaulting clubs are ready to pay, you can increase the number to 14, to 16 to 18 and to 20. But we just want to imitate other countries and we are not imitating them in the right way. Just imagine, how can you owe a player for six months, eight months, one year and some clubs owe some players two years in salary. It is laughable. It lowers the morale of the players and now we cannot produce the African player of the year winner, coach of the year, manager of the year. We cannot produce anything and we are the giant of Africa.

I was African club coach of the year about 12 years ago, Okey Emordi about 11 years and in a decade now, we cannot produce another African club coach of the year.

It is unbelievable. I have been involved with Nigerian football for long to know its problems. I am not blaming only the players but I am telling you what is happening and what caused it.

Things are not being done properly. The LMC should look into teams’ welfare. It should cut across all teams. The LMC must put its feet down and dictate what must happen. It will be more interesting if we have 12 teams because all of them will take adequate care of their players, there will be enough space and equipment and shorter time.


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