People say you are not looking 80, what is the secret ?
Sometimes, when people say, I am 80 years of age, I then ask myself, am I really 80years or 40years… This is as a result of active engagement in sporting activities.
When my children gathered themselves and asked me how I wanted my 80th birthday celebrated, I told them that I don’t want any elaborate ceremony.
In fact, some people came to me, to seek my consent to meet some governors, among other prominent personalities so as to mark my birthday in a colourful manner, but, I told them not to use me as an avenue to beg or extort money from people.
In 2002, you became the first Nigerian coach to lead a team to the World Cup, what was your experience?
It was a beautiful experience because little did I expect it. A group of coaches led a team to qualify and suddenly, something happened in Mali and as a result I was asked to take over.
A lot of Nigerians didn’t understand what led to my taking over. Early that year, there was an advertisement for the position of a head of technical department for which I applied with the then NFA. I went through a rigorous interview and I eventually emerged tops. A letter of appointment was sent to me but there was a condition in that letter: a final decision would be taken after a discussion. I reported in Abuja and while we were still on that discussion, Mali came up. And during the discussion, I noticed they did not understand the implications of having a strong technical department. I enlightened them by giving them an example of the duty of a technical team.
Later, I was on holiday in Europe when they called me and asked that I came back immediately to take over the team.
Unfortunately, this resulted to some bad blood because the coaches who led the team to that level, late Keshi and late Amodu felt I was the one responsible for their sack because I wanted the Job. What job?
“I have served at continental and world levels for about 25 years and I can not go beyond FIFA for whatever I am looking for in football today and I have served there for over 20 years. But later, we became friends, particularly, with later Amodu
When is it best to begin preparations for the World Cup?
For the World Cup, you have four years to prepare. But, then, I had less than three months to prepare for the World Cup final in Korea and Japan. It was not an easy task, it was like starting on a clean slate, just like recruiting my players.
I went to the Minister, and while I was there somebody came in to give him a security paper, he read and gave it to me and the content was that, ‘if anyone of the players who played in Mali was not invited, none of the invited ones will come. In other words, they wanted all of them to be invited into the national team. In about ten minutes they came with another paper and the content of that one was that, if any of the players should come he would be regarded as a saboteur.
So I was left with no choice other than to start recruiting another set of players and that was what brought people like Vincent Enyeama and some other players. I brought Femi Opabunmi into the team, although he lacked senior football experience, he had played in the U-17 level and I even brought Yobo Joseph from central defence to right full back.
That was not the first time I will be using home based players in 1983-1985 I did not have a single foreign-based player in my national team then and I took them to Cote d’ Ivoire and we came back with a silver. I hate giving excuses but even our final, it was sabotaged by some prominent Nigerians. otherwise I would have come back with the gold medals. In fact, before we went for the finals, we played seven friendly matches and we won five. Yes, what is needed in a football game is a team not a group of people.
What do you expect from the team going to the World Cup?
I hope you know that I have not changed my nationality, am still a patriotic Nigerian and am instructing them to bring the cup to Nigeria.
How feasible is that?
It depends on the technical handlers of the team, I don’t know what their programme is, I don’t know what system they want the team to play, what pattern, style. That depends entirely on them, I can only wish them best of luck. I’m not close to the team.
How will you rate the present national team and the national team you led?
Rating the two will depend on who and who are with the team now because every coach has his own style, let me give you an example. Arsene Wenger is having some problems , but, I still accept him as a true coach, a true developer. Because, he will collect star players and build them into a team. So we have to pray for Nigeria, although am not close to the team but it depends on what is given to them because in football you get what you deserve.
Please give some insight on the qualities a good player should possess?
Before now, some people believed that it is only the unserious or dull children that specialised in playing football, among other sporting activities. In fact, a governor recently toed the same line.
But not too long ago, I wrote a letter to the Presidency and I wrote there that the deteriorating state of education and sports is caused by only one thing which is,’the scrapping of teachers’ colleges’. And since that time we ceased from having professional teachers. It is a different thing for you to know something and it is also a different ball game to know how to teach others.
In 1983, when I emerged as the Chief coach of the Green Eagles, some footballers said I am not entitled to being a coach because I have never played for the national team. Meanwhile I played my last competition in 1966.
But, what I want to point out is that, among the best coaches in the world now is Jose Mourinho, even Arsene Wenger but, they never played active football but they are good in what they do.
If how much football you can play is a determinant to your success as a coach, King Pele would have been the best coach in the world but he was never a good coach among others. God has given us different gifts.
I always say to people whenever they come to me and say,’ baba you don’t look 80 at all’. I tell them that it is the state of the mind that does that. Because anyone who does evil will definitely look old quickly because the mind won’t be at rest.
Give us an insight into good coaching techniques?
A coach should not be running around, he should be seated to detect the flaws of the players so as to make them correct their mistakes. Any coach who always shouts on the players while playing shows that he has not done his job as expected and that is why such coach will be doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. But, whenever I am sitting on the bench to watch my players play on the pitch, I always convert myself to a spectator in a different way because I will specialize on the technical part of the match.
Your message to your people?
The Yorubas must be united to achieve success. I could remember that all the troubles that I have gone through in my football coaching career was caused by a Yoruba person and it is the truth. We must come together as a nation.