Former Nigeria international, Mutiu Adepoju has warned the Super Eagles not to take things lightly with any of their group opponents at the World Cup. He backs Coach Gernot Rohr on welcoming players’ wives and girlfriends to camp during the tournament and more. He spoke with Jacob Ajom. Excerpts…
What is your take on Super Eagles pre-World Cup friendlies?
I look forward to the friendlies because Poland and Serbia are very good sides that will give the Eagles very good challenges and provide good test for them to prepare before the World Cup.
Do you think this team(Eagles) need some new faces or the group that qualified for the World Cup should be maintained for Russia 2018?
I believe the coach knows that it is only the best legs that should go to the World Cup. That is why he has invited some other players for the friendly matches so that he would have the opportunity to see them play and fight for shirts in the main team that will be going to Russia. So I commend the coaches for doing their best to ensure only the best go to represent Nigeria at the World Cup.
Coach Rohr has indicated that Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Daniel Akpeyi and Francis Uzoho could be on the trip to Russia. Between the three goalkeepers, who do you think is most deserving to wear Nigeria’s number one shirt?
It is only coach Rohr that can answer that question. He has been the one working with the goalkeepers and trains with them. I cannot say who should be number one. However, Ezenwa has been keeping all along and has been doing very well, but I cannot say he should be number one, or tell the coach who should be. It all depends on the form he gets before the World Cup.
But do you agree there is a goalkeeper crisis in the Eagles?
People are talking about goalkeeper problem in the team; didn’t we qualify with a goalkeeper between our posts? Whichever way, football must go on. It is the coach that will find solution to any problem the team has. If the coach does not think we have a problem, why are we creating the problem? I believe the coach is going to get us the best legs for the World Cup.
The Eagles have Iceland, Croatia and Argentina, do you see the Eagles advancing from that group?
It is possible. Why not? Any team in the group have a second round chance. It will depend on how they play their matches and the results they get. We have equal opportunity like Argentina, so let us forget what is on paper. I believe the players going also know that they need to go far in the World Cup.
Do you believe in the term underdog? If you do, which team in Nigeria’s Group would you term as underdog?
I don’t believe in underdog. A team you call underdog can cause the biggest problem in a tournament. If you feel Iceland are underdogs, you look at what they have been doing in the past three or four years; what they achieved in European championship last year and all. If you think because they are qualifying for the first time you call them underdogs then you may be surprised at what they could turn out to be.
My advice is that we must take every team and every match as it comes. No two matches are the same. So are teams too. All they can do is to try as much as possible to do their best.
As one who has played to the highest level before, can you look into your crystal ball and predict how far the Super Eagles can get to in Russia?
I have always said that we should leave predictions and wait until we get to the World Cup. How they play their first match is important if they want to aspire to go far. Did anybody think that Italy was going to be knocked out of the last World Cup in the first round?
Football is not Mathematics. It all depends on the level of preparations and it depends on how well the players are. It also depends on the game because every game is different. The basic thing to do is good preparations, the players must be in good form. It is step by step, not by talking. We shouldn’t be talking about where they will reach at this stage.
Coach Rohr has said he would allow players to welcome their wives and girlfriends in camp once in a while, won’t this be a distraction?
If it is planned and regulated, that shouldn’t be a distraction. The World Cup is a long tournament. Having their loved ones near them, to encourage them and give them the much needed confidence and make them feel okay, could just be the tonic the players need for uptimum performance. I don’t see anything wrong with that since they are not going to be staying in the same hotel.
Super Eagles Captain, Mikel Obi has a Russian woman. Do you see Nigeria getting a lot of Russian fans because of this Mikel factor?
The Super Eagles win a lot of fans, wherever they go. It will not be because of the Mikel factor. Definitely the people near his wife, may be the wife’s family and close friends may support the Eagles but that won’t be enough. If the Russians support us because Mikel’s wife is a Russian, what if the Eagles meet their national team in the course of the tournament?
In those days, we had the likes of Christian Chukwu, Stephen Keshi among others who were leaders of the players, on and off the pitch. Would you say the current Eagles have a leader in their mould?
I always laugh when people talk about leaders. Yes there are leaders, that is why you have the captain and the senior players who have the experience and will always be there leading the younger ones. Some others are more vocal and influential. In that sense, yes every team has leaders.
You played for Nigeria at different levels. Which has been your most memorable match for Nigeria?
There are so many matches that are memorable to me. If I start talking about them it will cover the U-20, Senegal 92, USA ’94 and so on. My most memorable match remains the match I played against my adopted country Spain. The country I played all my professional football and still stay there till date. My family lives there. The match was in France ’98. I scored in that match and we won. It was a very memorable match to me and the team.