Former Super Eagles captain and coach Sunday Oliseh reveals in this EXCLUSIVE interview how he made sacrifices for Nigeria and lost his place at his European clubs to see Nigeria to glory, including winning the 1996 Atlanta Olympics men's football gold medal with the aptly nicknamed star-studded Dream Team. He tells it all to Completesportsnigeria.com's JOHNNY EDWARD…
Two decades ago you were part of the Nigerian squad that won gold at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games in USA. What were the unforgettable moments of the Games?
Before the Olympics, we had won the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia which was my first appearance in the competition. That was where God helped me seal my name in the African archives of football.
I was voted the player of the tournament by France Football and that was a confirmation that I could really go further with my game. That feat also propelled my move to Italy at that time. I was the first Nigerian player to star in the Serie A as at that time with Reggiana.
It was the experiences I had playing with RFC Liège, Cologne and Reggiana that helped me a lot at the Olympics.
The Olympics were so difficult and it was at that time I started funding the team. Nigeria went there with no funds and I had to give my credit card to rent buses for us to go for training; there were so many sacrifices made but at the end of the day it was the most prized medal I ever won as a footballer.
Your team narrowly won your first two games against Hungary and Japan before losing to Brazil. Could you relive how those matches went?
The fact that we won our two games made it look easy but Hungary gave a tough fight because of their defensive play. It was relieving to us win considering our preparations. But we had quality in all departments which made us excel.
The defeat to Brazil in the final group game?
Hmmm…. at a point we were even in all departments with Brazil but we lost concentration in a split second and got punished for it. But that gave us a good reality check ahead of our next game against Mexico which we won.
You were suspended for the game against Brazil in the semi-finals. From the bench, what was going through your mind when Nigeria were trailing 3-1?
I recall Jo Bonfrere (the head coach) staring and fuming at me with anger each time we conceded a goal. The saddest thing for him then was his leading midfielder was missing in the game.
He didn’t just see me as his player but like an assistant coach of the team on the pitch. He practically blamed me for the first two goals we conceded because they came through the defensive midfield position and he looked at me as if I was at fault because of my suspension.
But the turning point for us in that game was Wilson Oruma. I must confess sitting on the bench was horrible but I must also admit that had I not missed that game against Brazil I would have missed the final against Argentina as I was just one yellow card away from suspension.
Just like I always say God knew what He was doing.
Where do you rate the Atlanta 96 gold medal in your list of your achievements as a football player?
The best among them all.
You are one of the six technical experts picked for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games for analysis by FIFA. How excited are you, serving in this capacity at this level?
It's always a delight to serve FIFA as a Nigerian and I can't wait for the games to start in Manaus.
How did playing for Nigeria affect your club career?
It affected it a lot. It cost me my place in Juventus because I was away with the Nigerian team in 2000 for six weeks. And I come back to a team that had Zinedane Zidane, Edgar Davids, Antonio Conte, Alessio Tacchinardi in midfield and they were winning games.
And the coach, Carlo Ancelotti, who rarely changes a team told me personally, 'I can’t change these men'. It cost me my place in Juventus.
Also during the World Cup qualifiers in 2001/12, when I was at Borrusia Dortmund too, the coach then Matthias Sammer never wanted me to honour national team games. And as a captain, I had to go for those games and each time I did I returned to the bench.
But the difference with Juve was that if Sammer’s team didn’t win I got back into the team.
Looking back in your career, what are your regrets?
None at all because nothing happens by mistake and even the 2002 World Cup in South Korea/ Japan which ended up being Nigeria’s worst performance at the Mundial immortalized Sunday Oliseh and others as those who did well for the country in the past and they were not there; and the team crashed.