*Say no mafia in the team
*We’re to blame for goalkeeper’s problem
By Tony Ubani
Former Super Eagles playmaker and captain, Austin Jay Jay Okocha has blamed the disbandment of the Super Eagles after the floppy performance of the team at the Mali 2002 African Cup of Nations as the beginning of the misfortune for the national team.
Okocha who is in Morocco at the ongoing CAF symposium on African football said regrettably that that decision to disband the team caused the ‘death of the team’.
The former mercurial midfielder who is here with other African stars like Abedi Pele, Kalusha Bwalya, Anthony Baffoe and others said that disbandment sniffed off the succession growth in Eagles.
“Everytime I remember that decision to disband the Eagles, my heart bleeds because it set back the hands of the clock in the growth of the team. It shattered the succession plan of the team and that has affected the growth of the team up to now”, Okocha, who is the toast of many Moroccans here, said.
The Super Eagles third place finish at the 2002 African Cup of Nations forced Government to disband the team to assuage the anger of fans after the Semi- final loss to Senegal. A second string team of the Super Eagles managed to beat Mali by a lone goal to grab the bronze medal. Coaches Shaibu Amodu, Stephen Keshi and Joe Erico who handled the team, then, were also sacked.
Okocha feels strongly that the decision to sack the team turned around to destroy the growth of the team. ‘’When you disband a team, you start from zero. It upsets all the progress you have made”, he insisted.
Okocha who dazzled with his amazing skills was to be made captain of the team, taking over from Sunday Oliseh and their relationship waned.
“Those who disbanded the team pegged their relationship on curtailing the excesses of the so-called mafia in the team. They believed that some players were instrumental to fomenting trouble and holding officials to the jugular because of bonuses. That is not true. We were just like any other worker. We wanted our wages to be paid, our bonuses and ticket allowances refunded. We know our officials too well. If you listen to their sweet talk and don’t get your dues, that automatically disappears. What they call mafia was the love and understanding we had in the team. All the players were one and agreed in getting what was owed us from them. They didn’t like that and gave us a bad name. Mafia. It was like giving a dog a bad name. We also knew that they got more allowances than us and still wanted to deprive us our own. It was inhuman. We closed ranks to fight for our rights. Imagine flying on economy class without leg room. And they expect you to do magic on the pitch. Some players ended up getting injuries before the match or not giving their optimal best. We connected flights(commercial flights) and waited almost 10 to 14 hours to connect flights. When we speak out against such inhuman treatments, they are quick to call us mafia. What is mafia? If they don’t pay you in your place of work, will you be happy? Will you put in your best?
Looking ahead to the World Cup qualifier against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon on September 1 in Uyo, Okocha said that the Eagles were in a good stead to take points but refused to be dragged into the controversy of recalling former Keeper Vincent Enyeama to the team.
“I don’t want to speak on that. It is our fault for not having good replacements for Carl Ikeme. The ideal thing is for you to have your number one goalkeeper, the second and third choices. In the case of anything happening, your number two steps in to become number one and so on. How did we get into this confusion only to cry wolf at this late hour?”
Pressed further, Okocha said that questions should also be asked in recalling Enyeama or any other player. Is that player/goalkeeper in form? When last did he keep for his club? I also know that goalkeepers have longevity more than other players
Okocha last played for Nigeria in 2006, appeared for the Super Eagles 75 times with 14 goals in his outstanding outings with the Super Eagles.
Jay Jay Okocha spoke on so many aspects of Nigerian football and his career and the politics, mafia, bonuses etc in the Super Eagles. It is 90 minutes with Jay Jay Okocha. You can only read it on our refreshing sports pages. Stay with us!