FIFA and CAF instructor and former Super Eagles coach to Korea/Japan 2002 World Cup, Adeboye Onigbinde in this chat with DESMOND EKWUEME in Port Harcourt gives an insight to the likely outcome of Nigeria’s participation in the football fiesta….Excerpts…
Are you satisfied with the provisional list of 30 players released by Gernot Rohr?
From the qualifiers down to the international friendlies so far played, everyone could see that Rohr stuck to his team. He had no choice but to maintain and effectively utilise the crop of players he has known and used since he took up the job. I sincerely think, it is a fair list going by the variables and factors around him.
What is your opinion about the age bracket of the players Rohr listed considering that you have always been an advocate of catch-them-young?
I think the players are relatively young. Again, we must give it to Rohr for attempting to look at and consider youthfulness in drawing his list. I am particularly excited by the fact that we know the age of some of the players he listed given that they grew up in Europe.
How do you react to the invitation of a player like Simeon Nwankwo of Crotone in Italy who was not part of the qualifiers?
It is not always about being part of the qualifiers. You have to look around and infuse a couple of talents who can add value to the squad. In 2002, young Bartholomew Ogbeche was not part of the qualifiers but his performance then couple with his age made us include him, more so, he was a striker. We must remember that Rohr was shopping for players especially in the forward line and that was how the player you are talking about propped up. I see nothing bad in his inclusion given that he is young, he is scoring goals for his club and he is an attacker. Rohr has been looking for attackers.
Just three players from the domestic League were called up and two of them are goalkeepers. Are you impressed with this decision?
Perhaps that could be a reflection of the standard of our domestic league. But in a situation whereby players are taken to overseas by agents and scouts for the so called greener pastures, what do you expect? However, I think the league here has not been fully explored and it’s potential exploited. But that is an issue for another day because we can’t change it overnight. The World Cup is weeks away so let’s focus on that. If I had my way, we would include more than the number of local players enlisted to give our domestic league a facelift because whether we like it or not, it remains the source and pool from where our national team gets players.
One of the three players invited is the leading scorer, talking about Junior Lokosa, would he have made the final cut if you were in charge?
It is only natural that you include such a player in your provisional list. I commend Rohr for that. But beyond that, it is up to the player to now justify his inclusion and prove that he is hungry to make the final list and trip to the World Cup. I personally want to see how far that boy can go. I wish he does well because at present he seems to be the ambassador of the domestic League.
He is carrying the burden of the league here. Everyone is looking up to him now. This is a lifetime opportunity which could change his story and that of the domestic League. Should he make the final squad and goes ahead to excel at the World Cup then, he would have generated more interests for the players in the league here by foreign clubs.
From what you know, which is the strongest and weakest department of the Super Eagles heading for the World Cup?
I think at this point, each player and each department on the field should double up his and it’s efforts to complement others. We know, Eagles have not been scoring many goals and naturally everyone will say, it is the problem of the attackers. But we have seen in tournaments where defenders help out their teams to score crucial goals thus taking the burden and pressure off the forwards. That is what I mean by complementing each other.
The midfield has been tight and many give credit to team captain, John Mikel Obi. I also think, the defenders need to up their game to enjoy the cover from the midfielders. However, in all of these, the formation and pattern the coach chooses to adopt for a game and of course the individual contributions of the players determine how things pan out.
What’s your take on the goalkeeping department?
Let’s just wish the team well in Russia. Whatever we say now won’t change anything. It is always good to give young goalkeepers the chance to prove themselves but certainly under an experienced one who has probably featured at the World Cup.
What are your expectations for the Super Eagles in Russia?
Like every football loving Nigerian, I expect the team to represent us well. With the support from the Federal government through the ministry of sports, the NFF who have met with the team and sorted out the traditional monetary issues and the excitement shown by Nigerians, I sincerely think, only the team can stop itself. They have everything going for them, so, there is no known obstacle at the moment. The players should just go into the tournament and make the continent, the nation and themselves proud.
Any prediction concerning where the team will reach in the tournament?
We all want the World Cup here. We all pray for the World Cup to land in Nigeria. But that is if we do the necessary things. Attention must be paid to details, no matter how small it may be. The players must be absolutely motivated. They must play like a team. Mentally and physically they must be up and doing. We must pray against injuries. The players must avoid bookable offences so that we don’t lose a crucial player in a critical and dicey situation. Fairness to all must be key during trainings and team selections. Only players who are hungrier at all times must be considered for selection first. We must keep agents out of the team.