Former Nigeria coach, Clemens Westerhof, has voiced his support for the Nigeria Football Federation’s decision to pardon Sunday Oliseh despite the current coach’s criticism of his employers. In this exclusive interview with SAB OSUJI from his base in the Netherlands, Westerhof insists the Super Eagles must not fail to qualify for the 2017 AFCON in Gabon. He reckons that the Pharaohs of Egypt should not pose a real threat to Super Eagles aspiration for a 2017 AFCON ticket. He believes the Eagles have what it takes to subdue the seven-time African champions, adding that NFF’s choice of Kaduna as venue of the match is in order since every part of the country has the right to host and see the national team play…
How are you out there in Holland?
Yeah, I’m very well. What can I do for you?
You have always been passionate about Nigeria, its football and footballers…
Yes, yes. That is correct. Nigeria has good players; they are playing very well in Europe.
The Super Eagles have an AFCON qualifying match against Egypt in Kaduna on March 25…
Oh! It will be played in Kaduna, okay. The Super Eagles must win, okay? Of course. They have to win and go to the Nations Cup.
Why are you sounding so optimistic that Nigeria must win?
The Super Eagles must win, they must play in the Nations Cup. The players are good, there are many of them in Europe and Egypt have not been fantastic lately. (Egypt have failed to qualify for the last three editions of AFCON).
But you have been very critical of coach Sunday Oliseh and he’s still in charge of the Super Eagles. Has anything changed?
No, it’s not whether there is change or not. Nigeria’s Super Eagles are strong. It’s the players that determine if your team is good. Egypt have not been doing well in the Nations Cup. They have not qualified for the Nations Cup for many years and Super Eagles were champions in 2013 with (Stephen) Keshi. Yes, the Super Eagles will be at the Nations Cup.
But Oliseh recently lambasted Nigeria Football Federation and some others for criticizing him. Even though he has apologized, don’t you think this can affect the team?
I watched Oliseh on television criticize the federation (NFF) after the (CHAN) tournament in Rwanda. That was too bad, to be harsh on your employer. You don’t go to the press and criticize your boss. You are coach, do the job and expect to be criticized; not you doing the criticizing. The coach of the team is criticized when results don’t come but when the criticized is now criticizing, then something is not okay. So you must work harder, you must not talk on TV, so I didn’t like it.
But if he has apologized, well, we move on.
If you were President of NFF, what would you do to Oliseh for his criticisms on the federation and people of Nigeria despite the failure at CHAN in Rwanda?
You must not go to the television to accost anybody. You must do your part of the job, the contract you signed, do it well. Any issues have to be discussed between you and the federation, not to the newspapers, not the radio or TV! He got it wrong. But again, he has no experience to work at top level.
So what do you think Nigeria should have done, sacked him?
They should not sack him. They should call him and say, listen my friend, don’t talk in the press, don’t talk on TV, how can you sit on TV and defend yourself when you lost a game. You lost (a crucial game) and all you needed to say was ‘sorry we lost, we need go back to drawing board, to the pitch and work harder for the next game’. The people are right to be angry, to criticize you because you lost.
So the NFF are right to have forgiven him…
Listen, anybody can make a mistake, let them wait till after the match maybe he can change, it’s okay. If he loses again, then the war is open again.
But he has said ‘please forgive me…’
He must tell the people ‘we did our best; we’ll work harder’ but not to criticize. In football, there are always people who will criticize you especially when results don’t match their expectations. That makes you as a coach and the team to sit up. That also happened in my time when I was criticized. It’s normal, such criticisms make you work harder, it makes you sharper but it is not up to you to criticize the ‘criticizer’.
So you were as well confronted by Nigerians during your time as Super Eagles coach?
Oh yes, sometimes. They criticized over players, why did you not invite this player or why did you invite that player.
Victor Moses has not been invited to Super Eagles camp in recent times especially since Oliseh took charge of the senior national team, what are your thoughts on this?
I’m surprised because he’s been doing well for his club, West Ham, since his injury. There are also a lot of Nigerian players in Europe doing well who I’ve not seen or heard of being invited to the Super Eagles. There are about seven players I think should be playing for the Super Eagles but where are they in the Nigerian team? There are many others. Oliseh should meet those in the computer department (of NFF) and get the names of Nigerian players in Europe. He can go to England and visit those in Swansea City, Tottenham Hotspur, all the clubs and see what they are doing and whether they are playing well. Some can even play in your youth teams. There are players who do well for their clubs in Europe but when they come to the national team, they do nothing. You can bring these players and watch them closely and see where they can fit in.
But is Kaduna ideal for the Super Eagles AFCON qualifier against Egypt? Oliseh initially objected to the choice of Kaduna by NFF for the game.
I wish the Super Eagles good luck. But if the pitch is good and the crowd level is okay, why not? If the stadium can be filled up and the crowd stand behind you, supporting your team; why not? All Nigerians have the right to see their national team play. In Abuja, the stadium is never full when the Super Eagles play. During my time (as Super Eagles coach) we played our matches in Lagos at the National Stadium (Surulere) hey, men, it was always filled up to full capacity. Nigerians are crazy about football, especially if the team play good football and win. So when you play well and win, you have the spectators behind you, that’s player number 12.
How do you expect the Super Eagles to approach the match against Egypt in Kaduna in the AFCON qualifier?
Attack is the best form of defence. You don’t wait and wait or sit back; no, attack. If they score one goal, you score two; if they score two, then you score three goals. Attacking is the best defence. I want to express my heartfelt condolence to Stephen Keshi. I heard that he lost his wife. I wish to pray for him and his children that God give them the peace of mind to bear the loss of his dear wife.