Former Super Eagles captain, Nwankwo Kanu believes there are lots of crisis in Nigeria’s house of football. The Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games gold medal winning Dream Team captain reflects on Nigeria’s ouster in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, saying it was a case of a house divided against itself.
In this exclusive interview with Completesportsnigeria.com's SAB OSUJI from Kenya, Papilo also speaks about his mission in the East African nation and Kanu Heart Foundation, among other salient issues. Kanu advises that the NFF Should engage a substantive Super Eagles coach immediately, so as to begin early preparations for the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Excerpts…
Super Eagles will not feature at the 2017 Nations Cup in Gabon after failing to beat Egypt in the qualifiers in Kaduna and Alexandria. What a massive blow for Nigerian football for the country to miss the tournament twice in a row…
Kanu:(Cuts in) I'm a Nigerian, a patriotic one for that matter. I'm the number one fan of the Super Eagles. I played and captained the Eagles and right now I'm the Ambassador of the team. I've been right behind the team since I retired,
supporting them and working very hard to encourage them. I was in South Africa during the Nations Cup in 2013 like I have always been in virtually all their match venues. I even go to the dressing room and after the coach has given them instructions, I would tell them what I've seen in the game so far, so I've supported them all the time. Thank God we won the Cup eventually. But right after that, things went so bad that FIFA wanted to ban us but thank God they didn't after all.
Things are not going in the right direction. I don't know what has gone wrong. Our Federation needs to do a lot more. What's playing out right now is not healthy for the game to move forward. You don't have a crucial game in a
matter of weeks and you begin to see coaches going and coming, it’s not the best. It's so painful we lost to Egypt. It's more painful we're not going to the Nations Cup in Gabon next year. It is terrible this is coming on the back of our inability to qualify for the 2015 tournament in Equatorial Guinea. It's unfortunate. You don't achieve success when there is rancour, bitterness, acrimony and lack of unity in the house. Things really have to change for the better.
Recently you were quoted in the media blaming NFF for all that happened. Can you shed more light on this?
Well, let us not deceive ourselves; things are not moving the way they are supposed to in the Federation (NFF). There are lots of back-biting, blackmail and all that. This is wrong. Football is a team game. It's administration should also be seen as a team work. The leader should work with every member or stakeholder there. Whoever that is there, work with him. Yes, the Federation (NFF) had their own issues, but the players also should do their jobs. Your focus should be on the game, giving it above 100 per cent. I saw the games in Kaduna and Alexandria, the players; yes they played well but lost concentration at critical moments in the games. Every player coming into the Super Eagles should understand that Nigerian national team is not an easy place to come and ride and go home. It is a place you really work hard to be; it’s a place that when you put on that green and white jersey, it means so much more than just a team jersey, so you have to make sacrifice and you have to give everything. But like I said, it is the Federation, NFF that will have to make them feel like that. This has to go across board, from the coaching staff to the players.
Now NFF are insisting on hiring a foreign coach as replacement for Sunday Oliseh. They insist they are done with Nigerian indigenous coaches. What's your take on this?
Foreign coach or local coach, whichever one they want to bring, they should remember that this is Nigeria, giant of Africa. After you mention Brazil or Spain or Germany or England, Nigeria comes up. We have the talent or players. That's why every expatriate coach wants to come here and work because they know we have the players that will make the job easier for them.
Like I said earlier, it is not about foreign or local coach. The most important thing is that the NFF must know how to work with a coach. They must know how to support and encourage a coach.
Emmanuel Amuneke is very good, at least you can see that talents that are coming out from his team. Samson Siasia is also good and you can see what he's been doing with the Olympic team, the Super Eagles and even the Flying Eagles. You saw how promptly the players reported to camp for the games against Egypt. So, it is more about NFF knowing how to work with their coaches rather than whether the coach is white, black or red.
Bearing in mind the current crisis in our house of football, don't you think it may affect our 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification, especially given the fact that draws for the qualifiers will be made in June?
It is important we begin early to focus our minds on the World Cup, preparations should start early enough. It’s too olate to continue to dwell on the lost 2017 AFCON ticket. This is the time for us to know our players, our coach and let them start their work. The administrative arm, NFF, should support them and once this is done, we won't have any reason to fear about qualifying for the Mundial. If it is for players, we have good players; if it's down to whether these players can do the job, yes, they are excellent players. All that I keep on saying is that all these issues here and there won't help anybody. Let us start preparation early enough and we'll achieve result. Let us get a coach, let him start his work and all of us stand behind him and the team, surely result will come.
You were called by Arsene Wenger to come and welcome Kelechi Nwakali and Samuel Chukwueze to Arsenal and make them feel at home when the two Nigerian teenagers arrived London ahead of the contract talks with the Gunners. What is the significance of that role?
First, I’m an Arsenal Legend. You know I played for Arsenal during my playing days. In addition, I'm an Ambassador for Nigerian Football. So being called upon to play whatever role for young Nigerian players coming up, for me, is not
something special. It’s not something I can say no to. I'm proud of them and I'm happy making a positive impact in their careers. If there is any role I can play for Kelechi Nwakali and Samuel Chukwueze to further their careers, I will do
that without hesitation.
Let's talk about Alex Iwobi. Are you not surprised that at just 19 years old, he has broken into Arsenal first team and even scored in his first two English Premier League starts of the season?
I'm not surprised about Iwobi's rapid progress. I saw him during Arsenal's pre season. He has the talent, he can do wonders in his career. Age is on his side and with concentration, the sky will just be his stepping stone. This is one
of the things Arsene Wenger does, giving the young players opportunities to showcase what they have. And Iwobi has grabbed his own chance and is doing well. I'm happy for him.
What actually took you to Kenya from where you are speaking with me right now?
I'm an Ambassador for StarTimes. I'm here to do promotional work for them and also that of the Kanu Heart Foundation, KHF. We want to promote the game and StarTimes digital television at the grassroots level in Africa. That's why I'm here.
Do you think StarTimes can favourably compete with other pay television cable providers around the continent and the World in general?
Why not? Already they have the television broadcast rights of the German Bundesliga and Italian Serie A. Nigerians love football and that's why I'm pushing them so they can as well be a part of Nigerian football. Besides, the StarTimes television subscription service is affordable for everybody to buy.
Congratulations, your club Papilo FC have emerged champions of this year's Imo state FA Cup.
Thank you very much.
How delighted are you about this landmark achievement, given the fact they are just an academy team that defeated a professional side like Heartland FC in the final?
I'm very happy; I've been receiving a lot of phone calls from people congratulating me because of the club and this aachievement. The good thing is that the club is an academy as well as a football club, so I'm happy they are doing very well. But then, I must say it’s not an easy task. They went out there, did their job and won the game.
Last year, Papilo FC lost in the Imo FA Cup final but still reached the Round of 16 of the Federation Cup. Do you see them matching or surpassing that performance this time around?
We always work and pray for improvement in anything we do in life. Like you said, last year, we lost to Heartland in the
final and now we beat them in the final. It shows there is progress. With this, we'll go and represent the state at the national level. Who knows, yeah, we can reach there or even go beyond that stage.
What inspired your decision to float this team or the academy?
It was primarily established to provide a platform for the youths to discover their talents, hone such talents and progressively make a living out of it. And I'm happy the club is playing this role effectively, given the fact that some
youngsters have attained national and international heights through the Papilo FC. Don't forget too that I played the
game, so I know what I'm talking about.
How easy has it been running the club?
It has not been easy. As an individual, no sponsor behind us, we've been going on, knocking on different doors, it's been difficult, but all the same, I'm driven by the passion I have for the game and desire to give back to the society.
The society wants us to come home and invest, which is what I'm doing. We have the club, with an academy of 15 to 17 years old players and we're moving on. I've been doing this for years, putting my money down in what I believe in.
You also intimated us about the Kanu Residential Camp in Canada coming up in August. What's the level of response towards the program?
The responses have been wonderful. People are registering, especially kids from schools who want to be in that Canada Camp to learn more. Like I said, I wanted us to make sure that the camp is not only in Nigeria but everywhere. From Nigeria, one can go to camp in Canada, United Kingdom and America. You can also come for the camp from the United States of America to Nigeria, that's the way I'm seeing it. It's also good that, like I know, travelling is one of the best forms of education. You go out, see new places, new people; new environments, and the more you mix up, you learn more. These are part of what the Kanu Residential Canada Camp has set out to achieve and we're making a headway.
Yet in all of these, the Kanu Heart Foundation is still waxing stronger. Can you give us an update on the Foundation?
As you know, things are very difficult in the land, but I want to let you know that the Kanu Heart Foundation has successfully carried out 500 heart surgeries so far. Yet we still have so many patients on the waiting list. Right now, I've
been to Uganda where I visited some hospitals and saw some kids operated upon and I offered my words of encouragement.
If we have such a hospital here, it will be great, it will help reduce costs, it will encourage us to do more. Right now, Kanu Heart Foundation is partnering with that hospital in Uganda. I'm also in Kenya, doing some grassroots work. I also
went to a hospital in Kenya to see what they have over there and also to be part of what they are doing. So what I'm trying to do is as much as possible, to open more doors for the Foundation and work out partnership arrangements with other hospitals.