*Says Rohr should be allowed to see out his contract
*Warns,” there are no longer minnows in world football”
Former Nigeria international and ex-Rangers coach, Sylvanus Okpala in this conversation with Jacob Ajom takes a look at the Nigerian Professional Football League and warned that unless the clubs, players and organisers of the league operate in strict adherence to the rules and regulations governing the competition, the league will not achieve the desired goals.
The Nigerian Professional Football League just started again after a long while. What do you expect of the new season?
I don’t expect much considering the fact that it was restarted in a hurry. Under a proper setting, before a new league season begins, teams have to train for at least one month or more, engaging in pre-season warm-up matches and tournaments. This would prepare the teams and put them in a competitive mood before the start.
But most clubs were engaged in some local pre-season tournaments and friendly matches.
I know that some were playing but stopped for sometime because they never knew when the league would restart. The uncertainty that surrounded the resumption date, made clubs to relax in their preparations. Some even asked their players to go on Christmas break.
Well the season has begun and some matches have been played already. Plateau United lost their opening match at home and management put the players on half salary
No No, No. That is not the rule of the game. In professional football, if a team lose a match, they won’t get any bonus. Salary remains intact. If you don’t win matches you don’t earn match bonuses. Nobody tampers with anybody’s salary because they are on contract.
Do you really believe Nigerian players are on contracts?
They are on contract.
Even the way they are treated?
They are on contract.
Playing without salaries for several months?
They are on contract. What you are saying is a different thing. Every player is on contract.
Could they have inserted a clause in the contracts that stipulates half salary as punishment for losing home matches?
FIFA does not approve of such obnoxious contracts. No it can never be.
That step is primitive. Doesn’t it?
Well, I don’t agree with you that it is primitive. The only thing I can say is that it shows their level of understanding. Perhaps they thought they could apply that to whip the boys back on track. But it is not advisable, in the first place.
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The only thing is for them to tell the boys is if you win matches you get winning bonuses and no bonus for losses. But you don’t tamper with salary. Sometimes managements here would place a player on transfer and they would stop paying him salary. It is not acceptable, it is not done that way.
But were they not in a hurry to take such a drastic step, just after one match?
In everything we do in Nigeria, we are always in a hurry. Go to the road and watch people drive. Everybody seems to be in a hurry. That has eaten deep into every fabric of our society. Even those who are supporting Premier League clubs are always in a hurry to pass judgments.
When a coach wins a match they praise him to high heavens, but when he loses one match, they would say sack him. But if you go to England where these clubs are based, nobody talks about sacking a coach. The English fans are not always in a hurry to recommend sack of a coach. That is the difference between them and our fans.
Above all, for us to improve our league, we have to observe the rules and regulations of the game as stipulated by FIFA. We must adhere strictly to FIFA Statutes, in whatever we are doing.
Is this a message to the LMC?
It is a message to the clubs, not only LMC. It is a message to whoever has anything to do with the Nigerian league; it is a message to every stakeholder and to the players themselves because there are rules that also guide the players in the whole scheme of things. One has to be a professional to the core.
As a player, you don’t have to go late for training. If you are late, you will be sanctioned. Under such circumstances, a club can sanction a player by way of forfeiture of certain incentives or even pay cut.
A club can tell their players that they don’t want to see anyone outside by 10. As a disciplined professional, by 10, one must be in one’s apartment even if one is not sleeping. That is professionalism. One cannot play football without discipline.
A club can call a player’s attention to certain areas he goes to; areas that are either not good enough for the image of the club or not good for his career growth and would ask the player to stop going there.
They do that, even in Europe to prepare the player to give them his best. They want him to get ready and offer them his best, anytime he is called upon. If you don’t want to do that you go elsewhere.
We have the talent and it is also good for us to involve external variables in our league.
There was a time coaches from Spain came here to interact with our own coaches as part of the NPFL-LaLiga exchange programme. In England today, we have a lot of coaches from different parts of the world.
But when one sees the England national team playing, without looking at anybody’s face one would know that is England and the other team is Germany, the other one is Spain. That is because each national team have their peculiar characteristics.
For the coaches coming to Nigeria, how much of our football culture do they know? Our mentality?
What do they know about Nigerian football? The characteristics of a typical Nigerian footballer?
What do we have as characteristics? We are robust in nature, we have speed, skill, agility and shooting ability. But we are not patient. We don’t have the patience to hold the ball and look for a break. Even in our life style, when we are driving or when we go to the bank you see our conduct, we are always in a hurry.
From time immemorial, we have a typically Nigerian style of play. Our game is one, two, three and we are there.
Now when you bring these people, do they know about this? They have to work within this frame to map out a kind of tradition the Nigerian way. Not in Spanish way. If you want to teach the Spanish way, it will not work.
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And let me tell you. There is a saying that if you want it done well, then do it yourself. So we need to start doing it by ourselves.
I spoke with Dr Tijani Yusuf the other day, and he said there were Nigerian coaches who could make the Super Eagles deliver better than where the team is today. Is it that Coach Gernot Rohr does not understand the characteristics of a typical Nigerian footballer? This is because the Super Eagles seem to have stagnated?
If you ask me, they gave him a contract. Maybe they should not have renewed his contract. But now he is under contract. But no one can come and tell me that Rohr is not a good coach from the way he has handled the affairs of the national team.
The only thing I can fault him is on some of his utterances. For instance, when the Eagles were going to the World Cup, he said he was going with a young team to gain experience. A coach should not say that. Every team going to the World Cup is there to compete. The ambition is to win. If he talks about experience, how is he sure that those he took to Russia will still be there if they qualify to go to Qatar next year?
For the records, Rohr qualified us for the World Cup, qualified us for the Nations Cup. We cannot say he should be sacked because of the results against Sierra Leone. We played 4-4 yes, but we are still topping the group.
I don’t support sacking him for now, in as much as I, Sylvanus Okpala would like to coach the Super Eagles. Let him continue at the end of his contract if he doesn’t do well then we can ask him to go.
That we played 4-4 with Sierra Leone is not enough for us to sack him.
The issue here is people tend to underrate Sierra Leone. Some would say, ‘is it not Sierra Leone? Is it not Benin?’ We must have this right. There are no longer minnows in world football. If not, how can Nigeria be competing with Brazil? Or Germany?
When we play Germany now, we say we want to beat Germany. Are we equals, in terms of pedigree? It is the same thing with the other teams you once saw as weak teams, Sierra Leone, Benin and so forth. It is 11-a-side and every country now boasts a good number of players in top European leagues.
Football has improved all over the world. It is not like those days they felt Africa was going to the World Cup to complete the number. Africa now is taken seriously because they go there to compete with the best. Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana have reached the quarter-finals and Nigeria got to the second round. We achieved that in only our first appearance and we were one of the best teams in the world in 1994, in fact the 5th in FIFA rankings in ’94.
In ’94, the World Cup belonged to Nigeria but we never realised that. We were only satisfied with a second-round effort. We had the best team at the tournament. At that moment, nobody wanted to play Nigeria because we had fireworks, speed and quality.