…Why I fell out with Bonfrere
…Says I won’t let him go free
….Recalls Nigeria’s sad loss to Italy
Penultimate week, former Nigeria coach, Clemens Westerhof whose reputation in Nigerian football folklore looms large was accused by his former assistant, Johannes Bonfrere of selling the 1994 World Cup group game against Italy for $100,000.
Westerhof has since denied the allegation, and threatened to institute a law suit against his accuser.
In this no-holds-barred interview with Jacob Ajom, Westerhof, Nigeria’s most successful foreign coach bared his mind on his relationship with Jo Bonfrere, his desire to lead the Super Eagles again and explains why he thinks Gernot Rohr has challenges. Read on.
Last week, we heard a very serious allegation by your former assistant, Bonfrere Jo that you sold the World Cup match between Nigeria and Italy for $100,000? How true is this? Tell us your story.
No. That is not true, it is a lie. He wants to bring me, my name in Ningeria in bad light. He knows that the people in Nigeria like me. During the time I celebrated my birthday in Nigeria last year, all of them were there to celebrate with me.
It is a lie. We lost by two goals by Roberto Baggio, the last one was a penalty kick. I will never do that, never, especially not to Nigeria.
Nigeria is my second home country, I have a house there and, maybe, you never know, I can come back and stay there. It is a lie.
Why do you think Bonfrere hates you so much, that he can raise such an allegation against you?
It is a big lie, I will sue him for that. I will sue him. Ya ya ya ya! He can never go free for that. I will sue him. He cannot do this. I have never spoken ill of him here in the Dutch papers. He put it on radio in Nigeria. I will sue him.
He will appear before a judge, then they will ask him questions and he will tell them the truth, which player told him I did that. I never did that. I will sue him.
How did you come about Bonfrere Jo, up to the extent of bringing him to Nigeria?
He worked with me as an assistant at MVB in the south of The Netherlands and he did a good job with the young players. So when I needed a good trainer for the national team, the Eagles, I called him to come join me. I now regret very much that I took him to Nigeria. He is a bad man, a very bad man.
Before he came to Nigeria was he a good man?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
“Listen, he had positive things, but he could not handle the situation around the Nigerian team, particularly, when he got enmeshed with some officials. I warned him to stay away from them. I told him ‘face your job and stay with me so that together, we would take Nigeria football to a good position, to the top. And we took Nigeria to number 5 in the world. That was not bad.
In USA, I sent him to watch matches and he brought good reports.
He was complaining that he wanted to be by the team; he wanted to be sitting on the bench. The problem with Bonfrere was that he wanted to be seen as being part of the team because he wanted a new job. I wanted him to get information on our next possible opponents, so I asked him to go and watch their next match. He was not happy with that.
He wanted to sit on the bench so that prospective suitors from Holland or Belgium would see him as one who has a job and is working and would offer him a job. He was not happy doing that. But World Cup should not be a personal thing. I was thinking about success of our team.
At Tunisia, when we won the AFCON, I put him down as he wanted to mount the stage to collect a medal, I told him to go sit down because he was not part of the team. I just brought him to help me in fitness training. I had Nigerian coaches working with me before he came. Should he replace them in medal presentation? Would that have been fair? I think that the hatred started from there.
What other things happened that made Bonfrere hate you so much and you losing trust in him?
While the team was camping at Papendal, Bonfrere made another mistake. When two Nigerian officials from the FA also came to Papendal, I did not have a room for them. I organised that Bitrus Bewarang could stay in my house in Arnhem and the goalkeeper trainer went home and slept. I had two rooms in my house free.
Bonfrere, in the meantime, went behind my back and told the Nigerian officials that he could arrange a better camp in South of Netherlands for the team. According to him, it was a better place than Papendal, where we had been all along. I told him ‘you bloody bas..rd’, you went behind my back to talk about change of camp, after I had already arranged everything? I did not trust him anymore.
I then knew he was a green snake under green grass. I asked him to leave the camp immediately. I sacked him. I told them I did not want him again in the team. When we go for training, he would sit by the side, watching our training and I told him he could go. I did not want him again as my assistant because it was like him stabbing me in the back. I told him I did not want him anymore.
He reported the case to Akinyele, who liked him very much. (Akinyele was chairman of the National Sports Commission). Akinyele now phoned the Nigerian Ambassador to the Netherlands who came to the camp and addressed us. He told us that he got an order from the Head of State, General Abacha that we should work together as one family. He begged me to reinstate Bonfrere. That was what saved Bonfrere. But I did not trust him anymore because he was a green snake in green grass. He attacked me in the back.
Now, from time to time, he keeps talking bad about me. But I will sue him for this last one in Nigeria.
When you left Nigeria and he took over as Nigeria coach, how did you feel?
I told him when I go, you take over. He said “ah, I could not do what you did, this is not a job for me, considering all the troubles you went through.” When I left, he became Nigeria’s coach and became Olympic champion.
At USA, before your match against Italy, what really happened that you wanted a change of hotel?
I had a meeting with the boys upstairs. From my room, when I went downstairs, I saw Nigerian players in front of Italian television talking about our team. They were giving out too much information about our team. Then I told the NFA chairman, who agreed with me and I also spoke with the captain of the Nigerian team, Stephen Keshi that we should go to another hotel, because if we remained there I could not guarantee that we could beat Italy.
There were distractions. I said let me find out where. So I found another hotel, it was spacious and beautiful. So I ordered everybody to pack his luggage so that when we return from training, we could move in the bus to the new hotel. Half the players agreed to go, half said no, why should we move to another hotel?’ So I was very angry and I left the team to the new hotel. I told them if they wanted me they could come for me.
They came and asked me to go and train with them. I said okay, I have no problem, but I insisted we must move to the new hotel.
So the next day I went for training with them and we trained well. After training I asked them, do we go to the other hotel, and they said no, so I left them to the other hotel alone. It was Chukwu and one other person, I cannot quickly remember who came to me and begged that the boys wanted me to address them before I came to talk to them. I spoke with them. Half wanted to go and half said no. I said then nobody goes.
You didn’t train before the Italy match?
We trained only once. After the training, Amokachi asked me, ‘Coach, are you afraid of Italy? We are not afraid of Italy because we can beat them.’ I told him no, I am not afraid of Italy. But my fear is that we are giving too much information to them because each time I come to the lobby, I see Nigerian players in front of Italian television.
What really happened in that match against Italy? Was it because of inexperience or what?
We played well. It was one nil for us. I could not field Keshi because he had a bad knee. I used the other libero [Chidi Nwanwu], who used to play in Belgium. He played behind the defence. Italy equalised. Then I told him if we have the ball then come in front, go to the midfield.
Simone, the Italian left attacker bagged a red card and he went out. So we played against ten men. . With the expulsion of one Italian attacker, our defence had only two attackers to contend with. One of our defenders should have gone in front of the defence, in the midfield, so that Jay Jay Okocha could go and play in front, beside Amokachi. We played well.
Sunday Oliseh played the ball through Roberto Baggio’s legs and made jokes with spectators, but Baggio got the ball back and made a cross to Mossi, Mossi went with the ball to the sideline and who was there, he found Baggio and he crossed the ball to him. He scored to bring the scoreline to 1-1. It was two minutes before the end of the game. It was terrible. You must concentrate to the last minute. It was a loss of concentration on the part of a player but I don’t like singling out a player when we lose. Football is a team game. We lost concentration in the last minute and paid for it.
I remember the second goal was a penalty?
I couldn’t see what really happened from where I was sitting, but the referee said it was a penalty. Then I gave Rufai a sign that Roberto Baggio would shoot it on his right side, down in the corner. He did that but Rufai went the other way and definitely, we lost 2-1.
After the 1994 USA World Cup, you left Nigeria. Why?
I left Nigeria because my contract had ended and it was not renewed. We played Italy on the 5th of July. Fourth of. July was my wife’s birthday. I invited the journalists for a drink. There I told them that from the first of July, my contract had ended. You go to Lagos and I return to Holland. I was a free man from the first, because my contract was finished. I worked for 5 days for free.
If you are asked to come coach Nigeria today, would you want to do it again?
Yeah. I will bring a young Dutch coach, I will do it together with him and Nigerian assistants, with Alloy Agu as goalkeepers trainer. Together we will do it and I want to win the World Cup. We will train and I will tell them what my plans are; how I want to do it. We will train three times a day. Six in the morning fitness, seven in the morning breakfast, ten in the morning first training and four in the evening second training. Everyday and at the end of 14 days, nobody can beat us.
Things have changed from what obtained in your days with the team. Most Nigerian players now are based in Europe. How are you going to bring them together for that long like you did in 1994?
We will see. I will talk with the President of the NFF and I will explain my plans on how I want to do it. If that does not go down well with them, I have a plan B on how I want to do it. I have the experience and I know I can do it. I know exactly what to do to get to the last four and then win that match and get to the final. I have seen and studied Brazil, I have seen and studied Germany, exactly how they do it. The Germans base all their tactics on discipline.
I have seen and played Italy, Roberto Baggio is no more there, they have a new team, young new team which is not so good. Everybody will be with me one week before every match. Two weeks intensive training with the last days more of tactics could be enough. If we have three weeks you can sing Alleluia.
The contract of the Nigerian coach is almost running out and talks are ongoing on whether to retain him or not. Some of the conditions given him are that he must stay in Nigeria, he will be paid his salary in Naira, he has to get local players more involved in the Super Eagles. Do you see these conditions as possible?
I don’t know how the man thinks about it. But the first thing is, you must live in Nigeria, you must stay with the Nigerian people, that is important. You must explain what you are doing then everybody will rally round you. You must make contact with the professionals and identify who you want for which position.
You must also visit local match venues to identify good players. That was how I found Amokachi from Kaduna, Finidi George from Port Harcourt. I told the man who was with me, that right attacker, I want to invite him to play outside right for me. I took a bus with Onochie or somebody I can’t remember now to Port Harcourt and met with Finidi.
I told him ‘I am the national team coach and I want you to come and train with the national team Are you willing to come Monday?’. He said, I will be there. I found a lot of them, Thompson Oliha, Ben Iroha, Friday Elaho, Hebert Anijekwu, including Eguavoen, Jay Jay Okocha, Oliseh, etc. Some of them were already known but I also found many players. I had a lot of them, good players. So how do I make a team out of them, they must live together, they eat together and do everything together and I was always there, day and night.
It was good, we played good matches in America even against Spain, Argentina, against Bulgaria and even against Italy, we lost 2-1 through a penalty goal. It was not a shame.
There is a campaign now that Nigeria should look inwards. Most of your players then have grown and become coaches. Do you believe a Nigerian coach can take the team to the height you are dreaming of?
I have a coach for Nigeria. A good one. He played for Feyenord. I was a coach there. I made a suggestion to NFF President, that I will bring him and together, we will bring the World Cup. I will be the technical adviser, with Nigerian assistants. I have done it before, when I discovered the likes of Amokachi, Finidi, Iroha and lots of others that people are still talking about today. I can do it again.
Who is that coach you said you have for Nigeria?
I once worked with him in South Africa. He will do the job and I will be the technical adviser.
Who, among your former players in 1994, do you think can handle the national team?
He makes a long groan. I think Daniel Amokachi should be a good assistant, not as head coach for now but later. You cannot be a senior coach at once. He should work under a person like Christian Chukwu if he is still there or other ones.
I think Amokachi can do it. He would be a good assistant. Austin Eguavoen too.
Chukwu is just recuperating from a long ailment.
But Amokachi is still there?
Yes. Amokachi is fine. Siasia was once Nigeria coach.
Yes, Siasia, Ehh Eguavoen, Ben Iroha. If you look at Brazil and most other national teams, you have up to five people sitting on the bench to assist the chief coach, notwithstanding the national team. They will be there and I will be the technical adviser. I have a young coach who has agreed to come with me if I am given the nod to come. Alloy will be goalkeepers’ trainer. Then Amokachi can be there. There’s Finidi, terrific, there’s Amuneke. Five people on the bench.
How do you see Nigerian football at the moment?
It is too much up and down. It fluctuates too much. They must win matches more regularly.
Every time I hear they are not serious, they are not disciplined. The coach I hear only comes to Nigeria during matches and after the match, he returns to Germany. If you are a coach of Nigeria you must live there.
Do you blame the fluctuation on the coaching crew or the quality of players available?
First of all you must go and find a good team. You must find players, out of those players you get a good team.
Are you happy with the record of the coach we have right now?
I don’t know him. I learnt after he plays one match, he goes back to Germany. He said there are no good players in the local competition. How would he know whether there are good players if he does not go to watch matches of the local league?
His record is not good enough. My record and Keshi’s are better than his.
So he must stay in Nigeria?
If I take over, I will live in Nigeria. My assistant, who will also come from Holland would live in Nigeria.
Are you going to apply for the Eagles job?
I have phoned the President of the NFF. I have told him I want to win the World Cup. I don’t want to come for nothing. I have always succeeded. Anywhere I coached, I have made champions. I have done it with Nigeria, we emerged African champions, we qualified for the World Cup and we played well in the USA. We made a few mistakes and when you make a mistake against Brazil or Italy, they punish you.
Thank you coach and may God continue to keep you fit.
I’m as fit as a horse. (Laughter)