–Former Eagles Star, Emeka Ezeugo Insists Big Boss Is Not The Sole Culprit For AFCON Failure
Former Super Eagles Star, Emeka Ezeugo holds a different view to the general call for the sack of Stephen Okechukwu Keshi from the Eagles plum job.
In this interview with Complete Sports Saturday’s SULAIMAN ALAO, Ezeugo states his claim in his usual blunt fashion…
COMPLETE SPORTS: In your own assessment, how would you rate Nigerian football in the outgone year 2014?
EMEKA EZEUGO: Our football suffered a major setback in 2014 due to the Super Eagles failure to qualify for the African Cup of Nations to be held in Equatorial Guinea this year. It was all the more glaring considering the fact that we won the last edition in 2013 and we were supposed to be the defending champion at the 2015 edition. And if you also add the fact that we qualified and played at the World Cup also last year, it was therefore a case of grace to grass story for the Eagles. Now, I’m not saying the sum total of evaluating Nigerian football is tied solely to the performance of the Super Eagles, but there is no denying the fact that internationally, the assessment of a country’s football success is largely tied to that of the senior national team. And on that rating, the Eagles definitely crashed from the highest position to the lowest point.
What about the football administration. Do you think Nigeria fared any better?
We didn’t fare any better in our football administration last year because there were crises which are yet to be resolved as we begin a new year. In other words, we now have a carry-over of crisis in Nigerian football both on and off the pitch and this does not in any way portend a healthy situation for the growth of our football. The football house was riddled with crises before, during and after the election of a new board of the NFF and we were almost banned by the world football governing body, FIFA in the process. Even with the way the new board is presently constituted, there is no clear break-away from the old setting because most of the personnel are recycled people who are bereft of new ideas on how to develop our football.
There seems to be a dilemma over the fate of Super Eagles coach, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi who has been at the centre of the storm so to say. News in the media of recent suggest that he is about to be given a new contract despite calls from many quarters that he should be sacked. What is your take on that?
I think Keshi is being made to bear the brunt of the crisis rocking our football. Even though he is part of the issue, he definitely not the sole culprit of the current state of our football. Almost everyone has been calling for Keshi’s sack but I hold a different view. Keshi’s only minus as we all know was not being able to qualify the team for the Nations Cup. Aside that, his achievements with the Eagles within the three years he has been in charge, speak volumes and not even a foreign coach can beat his record. If Keshi must resign, he should have done that when the ovation was loudest but since he is asking for another chance to handle the team especially after the nation’s number one citizen – President Goodluck Jonathan recalled him, I think we should let him be because sincerely, Keshi deserves another chance. We can take a cue from the Spanish team led by Vincent Del Bosque that won the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 only to be humiliated in Brazil last year when they failed to qualify from the group stages and yet Spain did not sack the coach and he is still in charge of the team. For me, Keshi is to be applauded and not crucified!
Are you saying you don’t agree with those who are calling for a total overhaul of the Eagles?
I don’t think that is necessary and overhauling the team would not solve the problem. Don’t forget that Keshi started the rebuilding of the current team in 2011 and he has brought in a sizeable number of young players into the team. So if we really want continuity, we must not disband the team and we should retain Keshi’s services.
With Nigeria out of the Nations Cup in Equatorial Guinea. Do you think the Super Eagles would be missed at the AFCON scheduled to kick off two weeks from now?
Of course, the Eagles would be sorely missed at the Nations Cup. Nigeria is arguably the biggest football-playing nation in Africa and we have a way of lighting up any competition not only in the continent but in the world too. Can you imagine a World Cup competition without Brazil? That’s the same way it is when Nigeria don’t get to play at an African Cup of Nations finals. Perhaps the only people that won’t miss the Eagles are our major rivals who would of course have an easier task of winning the trophy in our absence. Aside being a loss for Africa, our non-participation will also affect our football back at home. Journalists here at home like you would most likely not have the opportunity of going to cover the tournament while the vast populace of Nigerian football fans will also miss their darling Eagles when the competition gets underway. Our missing the AFCON is definitely not beneficial in any sense because it has taken us two steps backward.
Would you say we have learnt any lesson from our previous experiences of not qualifying for a major competition?
No, not at all. We have definitely not learn any lesson from previous failures to qualify for major competitions because we keep doing things the same way. We don’t want to change the status quo. We can’t keep doing things the same way over the years and expect different results. We need to put certain structures in place through which we can strictly and sincerely monitor the development of the game taking into cognizance our school sports, local league and age-grade teams. It calls for great commitment, vision, selfless service and professionalism. But like I’ve said earlier, in this part of the world people don’t come out clean to call a spade a spade. That’s why we have the same bunch of people who don’t want to rock the boat as long as they stand to benefit personally, in charge of the game which is detrimental to our football development. It’s the reason why some of us have been kept on the sidelines all these years for daring to challenge the status quo but that won’t deter us from speaking out since God has been faithful in sustaining us.
Stephen Keshi’s assistant, Daniel Amokachi has been saddled with the responsibility of leading the Eagles in the upcoming friendly matches arranged for the team.
That’s the normal thing to do since the issue of the chief coach is yet to be fully sorted out. It’s good that the NFF are at least trying to keep the Super Eagles active through international friendlies since we’ll not be playing any major competition for the time being. Amokachi has been on ground with the team, he is familiar with the players and that would help him to do a good job.
Let’s digress a bit to the U-23 team. The head coach of the Dream Team, Samson Siasia, is of the opinion that he is building a team that could be the Super Eagles in the nearest future. Do you agree with his views?
There is nothing wrong with Siasia’s views. Of course, the U-23 team is the closest amongst the age-grade national teams to the Super Eagles and if a coach can do a good job with the U-23 team, such a coach has the potential to do well with the senior team. In the past, we have seen a huge number of players within the U-23 age bracket who were already a mainstay in the senior team. Besides, Siasia is in a good position to air such views having had previous experiences of handling the U-23 Eagles and the Super Eagles.
What are your expectations for Nigerian football in the New Year 2015?
Well, I expect us to do well in the age-grade competition as we have been doing in the past. I think we can win the U-17 World Cup again and we can also do well with the U-20 team. The U-23 team is gradually taking shape and look in good stead to do well too. Of course, our female teams can always do us proud and I expect them to build on past achievements. But I am not expecting anything much from the Super Eagles because of the current air of instability which has been prevailing over the team. By and large, we have not been consistent in being able to transform our various successes in the age-grade teams to the senior teams and that has been a big minus.
Your parting words…
What’s more to say than to wish all Nigerians a prosperous new year and to keep our resolve to build a better country for ourselves and the coming generations.