Rangers technical Adviser, Imama Amakapabo speaks to Completesportsnigeria.com's SAB OSUJI in Ibadan where the Flying Antelopes lost 2-1 to Shooting Stars Sports Club, 3SC, Ibadan on Saturday in a match-day 35 NPFL tie. The former goalkeeper laments the nowadays' players’ lack of knowledge of the age-long rivalry between Shooting Stars and Rangers. The Super Eagles assistant coach also speaks about his worst fears for the Coal City Flying Antelopes, but insists he’s not under pressure to deliver Rangers’ first title in 32 years.
Enjoy the excerpts…
Completesportsnigeria.com: Coach your team came, saw but could not conquer Shooting Stars in Saturday’s Clash in Ibadan. Rangers and Shooting Stars' clashes rank as the oldest derbies in Nigerian league. What’s your impression about the game especially as 3SC ran out 2-1 winners?
Imama: I’m disappointed that my team lost. There’s no doubt about that. It’s not that we lost to a better side, but due mainly to factors far beyond our comprehension. I want to leave it at that. But having said that, I want to say that we will keep pushing. It’s a whole long season, like a marathon race. It’s not a 100m race, so we will keep pushing. It’s now down to just three games to the end and I must say we’ll continue fighting and see where we’ll be come October 2, 2016.
Rangers are two points behind Rivers United after the conclusion of match-day 35 games. Where do you think the Flying Antelopes will be after the remaining three games?
We have two home games in the remaining three matches. Rivers United have one (home game). Mathematically, if we win our two home games and Rivers United lose their two away games, then Rangers will be crowned 2015/2016 League Champions at the end of the season. The way things are going now, I think nothing is impossible. Enugu has become a place where every team want to come and play because they always get a level playing field.
Do you think you have the right materials to deliver this your title ambition?
Of course. You know 35 games down the line, we’ve been able to prove a point. I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to achieve this year in terms of play and in terms of result. We’ve been able to help the league itself to sell by virtue of what we’ve been able to produce on the field of play. We play attractive football which people admire so much and we are the best team in terms of results on away grounds which many people never thought was possible. We also score goals away from home, to added to our free-flowing football which people have come to appreciate. By so doing, Rangers have been able to attract more spectators to the stands even where people thought was not possible. In all, I think we’ve done well, but I think it will not be nice, and I’ll be disappointed if after doing all these and bringing value to the league and at the end of the season we fail to achieve our objective which is to win the league trophy.
No doubt Rangers and Shooting Stars are the oldest teams in the Nigerian league. Matches between them are always regarded as the well anticipated and most celebrated local derbies. Before Saturday’s game 3SC, what feeling was going through your mind as you led Rangers into that kind of ‘winner takes all’ match?
I know a little bit of the history of Rangers and Shooting Stars rivalry. But to be fair and frank, most of these players that played today never knew what Rangers and Shooting Stars rivalry or derby is all about. It was the press that hyped it all up. Or maybe, just maybe, the people on the stands. I mean the spectators that really understand. Most of today’s players don’t even know the history of both teams. Having said that, matches like these are always difficult, unpredictable, exciting and always see the stadium packed full with spectators. But when it comes to openness of football, it becomes something of ‘foot brawl’ and not football anymore and that was part of what we witnessed on Saturday. Games like these are such that people would wish to watch and take home good memories to talk about, but unfortunately, what we saw was the opposite of this and it is not good for our football.
Are you saying that the game fell short of expectation of the people or is it that the game fell short of your rating in terms of quality?
No; You know we’re up on the league table gunning for the league title. On the other hand, Shooting Stars are fighting to escape relegation. You can see the contrast. Both teams have much to play or fight for and it showed in the game. They gave their best and we gave our best. The players, who are the major actors fought hard to achieve their expectation. It made the game explosive, interesting, entertaining and it was a positive advert for our domestic league. But unfortunately, the drizzle or shower of rain, somehow, did not allow the game flow the way it should have happened. However, congratulations to Shooting Stars for their win.
32 years down the line, Rangers have not won any trophy on the domestic scene. You have shown shrewd optimism about the tide changing come October 2, 2016. How delighted will Imama Amapakabo be if this title dream comes true?
It will be exciting for me personally and most importantly the players. This is because they will take the glory of being the set of Rangers team that achieved this glory. Having said that, I want to add that at the beginning of the season, nobody gave us a chance. But we’ve been able to propel ourselves to where we’re now. Now is the time for everybody to come and help us roll the vehicle to safety. Let me put it this way, a vehicle travelled all the way from Port Harcourt with half tank and with a leaking exhaust pipe. On reaching the Fourth Corner in Enugu, the tank ran out of fuel. It now needs the supporting hands of everybody to help push the bus into Enugu. That’s the point where we’re now. We need the supporters of the team, the sponsors, stakeholders, management and directors of the team to rally round the team. It’s like the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan. We’ve gotten close to the Promise Land, we’ve seen it and we want them to help with this one last push for us to enter that Promise Land.
32 years is too long for a team like Rangers to go trophy-less. Now it appears there will light at the dark end of the tunnel. You want it, the people want it, the state want it. However, is this ambition and expectation not putting you under pressure?
I’ve said this several times, if it is God’s will, it will happen. If not, it won’t. If it happens, fine. But if it didn’t, I believe it cannot take away the fact that the players really put in their best. It also cannot take away what my players and I have been able to achieve for the whole of this year. It will be nice if we win but if we don’t, I’ll still carry my head high. If it’s God’s time it will surely happen, but if not, life continues. To suggest I’m under title pressure is not it. I’m not under any form of pressure to win NPFL title for Rangers despite the fact we have come very close to it and people expect us to win just as we ourselves also want to win. Victory comes naturally from God, so I’m not under pressure at all.
Tell me coach Imama, what’s your worst fears in the season?
My worst fear in the season is my players will go empty-handed after putting in so much. And this is not just for their own making, but some other factors. Honestly speaking, I very much fear for it. We have worked so hard in the season, we’ve done so much, brought in so much to make the league more interesting and attractive in terms of our quality of play which everybody has applauded. But these will count for nothing if we fail to have something (the trophy) to show for it. I know we can win because we are capable of winning, but then fear of doing well and not winning the league as a result of factors not your own making and leaving the players go empty-handed is my worst fears, I must tell you.
Amongst all the other Premier League clubs, you are the only former goalkeeper fully in-charge of a team. Most other ex-goalkeepers are serving as goalkeeper trainers. What’s your thought on this?
I feel different about it. It’s a matter of choice. I had the opportunity of being a goalkeeper trainer. I was also invited to the home base Super Eagles as goalkeeper trainer. But I refused. It depends on what you want in life. My life has been full of miracles. I was a goalkeeper during my active days. I survive where others fail. When I was keeping, my size confused many people. Today when I tell people I was a goalkeeper they find it difficult to believe apparently because of my size. Now, I’m a coach, I’m also proving a point. It’s not about the size, but about what you willed yourself, what you desire and what you really want in life. It has to do with what you have in your head. I want to be a coach. Probably most others are contented with being goalkeeper trainers. That’s their choice but for me, I wasn’t satisfied being a goalkeeper trainer. I didn’t want to box myself into the corner of being just a goalkeeper trainer. Today I’m assistant coach of Super Eagles. Maybe one day I’ll become head coach of Super Eagles.
Rangers, as a club, are seen as the identity of the entire South Eastern part of Nigeria. Admitted, it is being funded by Enugu State government, but its supporters base cuts across the entire country. In the light of this, has it occurred to you the joy you will be bringing to the people of the South East if you eventually deliver the league title for the first time in 32 years? I mean the joy of the people, the atmosphere in the area …
(Cuts in) It plays in my mind. But the truth is that if I let open what plays in my mind as regards that, it will overcloud my purpose and at the end of the day it will be like a mirage. So I don’t want to let it happen. Like I always tell my players, let us lift the trophy first and allow what gonna happen to happen. We’ve heard a whole lot of things, you know, but let us just wait for it to happen so that if there is going to be no darkness that we’ll know. Let us win the trophy first and then see what and how the people in the South East, the people in America and Europe gonna celebrate it. Three matches to go, that is nine points still to play for, let’s see how it goes, but I assure you, we’re going to put our lives for it.
Is it safe to say the season will go down the wire?
You cannot say you have won the league now. All along, it has been a ding-dong affair. When we played Rivers United in match-9day 34, people felt Heavens gonna fall that day but we overwhelmed them the way we played and outscored them with a (4-0) result that shook the whole of Nigeria and here we are, we’ve lost today (2-1 to 3SC). Nobody can say what’s going to happen. It’s three games more to play, so let’s wait and see how it goes.
When you defeated Rivers United 4-0, your team went one-man down and still scored (twice). On Saturday against 3SC, it happened again. Why is it that whenever you go a man down you still score rather than falling back to defend?
It is my philosophy. We just want to play. The best form of defense is attack. Without sounding boastful, I don’t think there is any team in the country today that can stand us in terms of quality of play or ball possession. We’ve been able to dominate most of the teams we played against in this area. Sometimes it could be frustrating because some people don’t want you to play. I always tell my players, ‘guys, let’s go out there and play to have fun, keep the ball as much as we can’. Numerical advantage in football always show when you play long balls. But when you keep ball possession, numerical disadvantage becomes advantage. This we’ve been able to do overtime. When we keep the ball, the opponent will come out to play to take the ball from us and this gives us advantage.
You always show preference to the 4-3-3 formation?
Yes, I do. It makes for the ball doing the running instead of the players. It eliminates playing long balls which makes players conserve energy when the ball is doing the running.
4-3-3 is more peculiar to the FC Barcelona of Spain. Are you importing the Barcelona ‘tiki taka’ football into the Nigeria League?
It has to do with my philosophy. When we have Bobby (Clement), we play false nine (9). The players we have sometimes determine which approach we should adopt, but I’m always happy seeing my players adapt to the variations we do in training during matches.
Thank you so much Imama, for finding time to speak to Completesportsnigeria.com.
It’s always my pleasure.