….Current Super Eagles inconsistent
….Says Ex-footballers deserve a better deal from Nigeria
…..It’s challenging training young ones, but fun
By Jacob Ajom
Precious Monye is among that generation of Nigerian footballers that dazzled the world at the Scotland ’89 FIFA U17 World Cup. They were so good that they made Pele of Brazil utter his now time wearied prediction, that if there was any African country worthy of winning the World Cup, that country ought to be Nigeria.
In this chat with Sports Vanguard, Monye recalls his humble beginnings in Aba, his invitation to the U17 camp and how he played for three national teams simultaneously.
What are you doing in Malta?
I am working as a coach at a football school. I was once an assistant coach in a Premier League side in Malta but after one year, I decided to go back to the football school which is the largest here. It is called Luxol Football School.
What is the experience like, coaching in a football school?
I find it challenging to coach young ones. It is not easy, but it is fun.
You played as a youth player now you are coaching a youth team. What difference does it make to you now that you are coaching youth players?
When I was playing for the youth team, we all came from school, and from school to the streets. We had talents then, so it was easier for us to improve and get to the next level. But here, it is like coaching people who don’t even know how to juggle the ball or pass the ball to the next person. So, it’s like starting from the basics.
Are you saying the African kid is naturally more talented than the Europeans’?
Not in that sense. What I am saying is that over there, we learnt it through the hard way; like when we wanted to go out and play, we sneaked through the back of the house to go and play before our parents could come back home. But here the parents are supportive. They take their wards to the training ground every day, they watch you train and take you back home.
Let’s recall how you started football. How was it like in your early years?
Then even while you were at school, you were aware you got talent and wanted to take it to a higher level. That was why immediately after school, I had to travel to Aba where I felt I had to improve my game. At Aba, we were all playing with friends in the evenings, particularly on Sundays. Some coaches would come and watch us play and if you were good, they would write your name and invite you over to train with their team. That was how I moved to a team called NEPA of Aba. From NEPA I moved to Enyimba and it was at Enyimba that I was spotted by coach Sebastian Brodericks who invited me to the national team.
When was this?
That was in 1988, a few months to the Scotland ’89 FIFA U17 World Cup.
Did you take part in the qualifiers for the word Cup?
I think I played one match against Ethiopia.
What was it like at the Scotland ’89 U17 World Cup?
I can’t remember everything but all I know is that we played beautiful football and the world saw us. There was so much talent and even the great Pele, after watching us, predicted that Nigeria was going to win the World Cup. He saw the talent and the team we had then and we lost in the quarter-final through penalties against the eventual winners who were Saudi Arabia.
The Eaglets were so good that everyone thought Nigeria were the favourites. Was it overconfidence that caused your quarterfinal exit from the competition?
I think we were a youthful, inexperienced side and unlucky. There are some days that you put in everything and you still lose. That is why football is called the beautiful game.
Can you recall some of your teammates?
Let me start with the goalkeeper, Andrew Aikhomogbe, Chinedu Anazo, Bobolaifa Edum, John Agu, Fetuga, Soni Umoru, Victor Ikpeba, Kayode Keshinro, Jide Oguntuase, John Zaki, Benedict Akwuegbu, among others.
After the U-17 World Cup, what happened to your football?
After the World Cup, I moved to Belgium with Lokeren. But my president Oscar Udoji didn’t want me to stay in Belgium and wanted me to play for him instead. So I returned to Nigeria the same year and after a few months, I was called into the national team, the Super Eagles. I was playing for the U20, U23 and the Super Eagles simultaneously.
I remember Westerhof saying that you were a great player and among those to take over from the Tunisia and USA ’94 squad. Was it because he left that some of you didn’t realise that dream?
I featured in most of the games prior to the qualification for the Nations Cup and the World Cup. I was one of the few home-based players that were featured in the national team then, with the likes of Thompson Oliha, Friday Ekpo, Mutiu Adepoju and Moses Kpakor. I was making the team. That I didn’t go to the World Cup, I don’t know how to put it. I don’t want to say much about it.
Let’s talk about Nigerian football. When you were playing, there were crowds at stadiums during matches.
What do you think is wrong with our football now?
I have not visited my home for about ten years now. But I am monitoring the situation in Nigeria from here. From what I can see, the Nigerian league is not the same again. And there are a lot of factors that led to the situation. If then was now, you would have seen a lot of individuals coming up to buy a team.
To invest and start sponsoring them because the crowd alone is a lot of money. But here now, how can you sponsor a team, whereby your life insurance is taking 10% of what you invested? For that to take place we have to work with the press to bring people back to the stadiums to watch our games, then we take it from there.
What if the press was able to bring back the crowds and when they come they see the officiating very bad? Corruption was one of the factors that affected our football. What do you think?
I wanted to mention that, but it is good that you mentioned it.
The good thing about football is unpredictability. Once that is compromised and the surprise element is out of it then it becomes boring and uninteresting.
Should you be offered a coaching job in Nigeria, for instance, Enyimba saying come and coach their club, will you come?
Of course, Nigeria is my country. I will love to but the situation now is not encouraging. For me to coach, I still need to come down to Nigeria, stay one year and study the way things are done there. Right now, I don’t know how it works.
How was it working before?
Then, if you wanted to watch a match by 4 pm, by 7 am people were already in the stadium and by 10 am the stands were full. But now if you have a match by 4, by 3.30 pm you can’t even find up to 1,500 spectators in the stadium. So what does that tell you?
The football federation to has to be sincere and honest and know what is wrong and tackle it; not only by talking but by acting it.
What do you say of the national team now?
They started playing well lately but they still have a long way to go because they are still inconsistent and unpredictable. In our own time, when the Eagles wanted to play, everybody knew it would be victory and we would beat our opponents clean, with very good goals. But this time, the team performs well today, and tomorrow they give you heartbreak by losing to the lowest team. It is not encouraging.
We are among those who feel that some of you should be given a chance to handle the national teams. After Westerhof and Bonfrere, most of these coaches that have come to the country of late have done nothing to help our football. Can you imagine Finidi George being denied the U17 job?
It is a big shame. If he has the qualification and the experience, they should encourage him and give him the job to do his best. I know he can do it because he was part of the Ajax setup so he knows how to tackle such situations. But I don’t know why. As I told you, a lot of things are wrong in that country.
Look at the way Yisa Sofoluwe died the other day, Ajibade Babalade also died and these were people that served the country in their youth. There is no plan B for us. We have the resources to do it. I am suggesting that any person that played for the senior national team, after his retirement, has to be paid a certain amount every month. Even if it is N50,000 every month, it would help. That is why a lot of these foreign-based players don’t want to play for Nigeria. Like in England, they have a lot of money given to them on retirement after playing for the national team.
Is it part of the savings they do during their playing years like civil servants do while in active service? Or what we call retirement benefits? Or an entitlement for ex-footballers?
Those people plan their lives very well. The federations are prepared for everything.
Are the players paid a lump sum after retirement or paid monthly as pension?
They are paid after retirement.
We don’t have any such welfare package for ex-footballers.
But the federation has such money. They can fix it, for instance, if you once played for the national team and you are 50 years old you should be put on a monthly stipend of N50. It is peanut but it will go a long way.
There are some people who are asking why only footballers are agitating for such incentives. Was it only footballers that represented Nigeria? They said, there were other professionals who served Nigeria and got nothing.
We are talking football here. Every sport has its federation so they have to tackle their own and footballers too tackle their own.
Thank you too for the chat.