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Croatia won’t come cheap —Taiwo

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Engr. McTony Taiwo was Team Manager of Julius Berger Football Club otherwise known as “Adewale Bridge Boys” between 1992 and 2000. He guided the team to three continental appearances in an era the team produced some of the best players for the national team.

Taiwo in this interview with DESMOND EKWUEME speaks on why Croatia will be a tough nut to crack. He also talks about why Nigerian clubs crashed out early in the continental assignments this year among other issues….Excerpts

Let’s start by taking you back to your journey with Julius Berger FC. How did it begin and when did it end?

I was appointed as Secretary of the club sometime in November 1992 to takeover from Emmanuel Ominu who was Team Manager.  His contract with club was not renewed after it elapsed. I was in the office of our parent company, Julius Berger Nigeria Limited then. So I proceeded to join the team and acted as Secretary and later elevated to the position of Team Manager. By March 2000, I was recalled to the head office of our parent company in Abuja.

Between November 1992 and March 2000 what was the highpoint of your sojourn with “Adewale Bridge Boys”?

I think the highpoint will be shared or separated into three parts which represented our three appearances in the continent when we represented the country in the Mandela Cup now known as CAF Confederations Cup and in the Champions Cup now known as CAF Champions League.

In 1992, we played in the Champions Cup and lost to a Moroccan side. By 1995, we played in the finals of the Mandela Cup and lost to J’S Kabylie of Algeria and in 1997, we lost in the second round to Al Monsour of Egypt  in the Champions Cup.

Most of the players you had made it to the national team and some had glorious careers overseas but, the same cannot be said of today’s players, what is responsible for this trend?

It hurts to note that we are preparing for the World Cup in Russia and our local clubs about 20 NPFL teams and all the NNL clubs including grassroots teams cannot produce up to five key players in the 23-man squad that will play in the mundial. I remember most times then, we had to write the then NFA requesting that our league games be postpone on account of our players who were on national team assignments.  At some points, we had five players in the senior national team and another five in the Flying Eagles.

Super Eagles are in Russia, what is your expectation?

Let’s just support our team after all we don’t have another. We must stop being negatively critical of the team and players. We should be encouraging them. I think with this team and if well motivated can do Africa proud.

Are you satisfied with the 23-man squad?

I am satisfied because Gernot Rohr decided to stick to his boys which is normal anyway. It is also good that he has accommodated a couple of new faces in the team like Simeon Nwankwo.

What is your take on the friendlies so far played?

Should we really be talking about friendlies now with the game against Croatia at hand?

We must appreciate that friendlies are meant to keep the team fit, create bond and work on patterns, formations and strategies. I should think Rohr has achieved these with the games played so far.

What are your expectations in the game against Croatia?

The die is cast.  The rhetorics are over. There is no more room for excuses. Eagles just got to roll up their sleeves and get down to work. The three points in this game is very crucial.

The game naturally would be tough because Croatia won’t come cheap.  Remember they came third in France ’98 and they have got a solid football culture and tradition. They have an experienced squad in this tournament especially when you consider the duo that plays in Real Madrid, talking about Luca Modric and Kovacic. There is also this chap that plays for FC Barcelona, Rakitic. There is the striker at Juventus, Mandzukic. So they have a loaded team. But stars don’t win games and that is the advantage Eagles should cash on.

Eagles according to FIFA have the youngest squad in this tournament. This should turn out into result. I strongly believe that Eagles can rise to the occasion and pick the three valuable points to put them on the driving seat of the group.



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