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Eugene Agagbe: Lobi Stars won’t succumb to pressure from title contenders

The Head Coach of Lobi Stars, Eugene Agagbe, has vowed that the ‘pride of Benue’ who are focused on winning a continental title won’t bow…

The Head Coach of Lobi Stars, Eugene Agagbe, has vowed that the ‘pride of Benue’ who are focused on winning a continental title won’t bow to pressure from rival clubs. The former international spoke to Trust Sports on his appointment, support from the government and management of Lobi Stars, his toughest matches so far and plans for the second round of the 2023/2024 NPFL season.

 

How happy are you with the performance of Lobi Stars in the ongoing NPFL season?

As you are aware, we are currently topping the league table. And considering how competitive the league has been this year, it is no mean achievement. Therefore, I am very happy with our position. I want to thank almighty God for his mercies and divine provisions. He is responsible for the good results we have recorded. And by his grace, we shall maintain this present momentum till the end of the season.

What were your thoughts when you were appointed to lead Lobi Stars’ technical crew in the current season?

My appointment came at the right time because the club needed a coach with character and the required experience to fight for laurels. My Vice-chairman and CEO, Mr. Dominic Iorfa, considered me fit to serve as the Head Coach. So, the moment I was appointed, I didn’t wait for anyone to set a target for me. I gave myself a target which is to pick one of the continental tickets. I am so happy that by the special Grace of God, since the league started, Lobi Stars have not dropped below the first three positions. We are either first, second or third on the table. At the moment, we are on top and our aim is to remain there till the end of the season.

How much technical support do you get from the Vice-Chairman, Iorfa who is known for his coaching abilities?

Thank you so much for this question. Iorfa is a great football administrator who has seen it all. He once coached the club and his passion for the game is amazing. He lives, eats and drinks football. However, I want everyone to know that Iorfa does not interfere in my job. He does not intrude at all because he has confidence in me and the technical crew. Of course, he gives useful advice when necessary but team selection is my prerogative. In Lobi Stars, there is understanding and respect for one another. This is one of the reasons Lobi Stars are in a prime position to win the league title.

How much support are Lobi Stars enjoying from the government of Benue State?

I tell you it is massive. His Excellency, Governor Hyacinth Iormem Alia has made Lobi Stars one of his priorities and the envy of other clubs in the NPFL. I am sure other clubs would wish they had a governor like him. When he hosted the club and showered us with cash gifts including buses, I asked myself what we are going to do to reciprocate such gestures. The only way to thank His Excellency is to bring the NPFL trophy to him. Interestingly, the Deputy Governor, Barrister Sam Ode who doubles as the chairman of the club is a football enthusiast. He is a great motivator who ensures that we are adequately motivated at all times. However, running a football club is capital intensive and considering the current economic crisis, I want to most respectfully urge the government to give more financial support to the club. On our part, we are not relenting in our efforts to bring honour to the state by playing in the continent next season.

Although Lobi Stars are top of the table, only two points are separating them from Plateau United. Isn’t this too close for comfort?

Well, we started the league together with the other teams so to have a two point advantage is not a small thing. The gap may not be big but only one point or even superior goal difference can win a team the league title. We are not disturbed by how close other clubs are. We are fully focused on our race. Lobi Stars are focused on the target which is to win a continental ticket. My boys are equal to the task. Honestly, I don’t feel any pressure at all.

The second stanza of the NPFL is said to be tougher than the first round. Are you not worried that Lobi Stars might crumble later on?

I am not ignorant of what to expect in the second round. It is not going to be easy but as it is said when the going gets tough, the tough get going. So, we are not going to buckle under any pressure. Moreover, we have not done badly in the second round as well. In five matches, we have won two at home, lost two and drawn one on the road. This is not a bad performance. Our target is to record at least three away wins this season. We got two in the first round so we are looking forward to the remaining one or more in the second round.

What is your toughest match so far?

I will say our home match against Kano Pillars. We took the lead but they equalised for the match to end 1-1. It was not an easy match for us. Then, our match against Bayelsa United in Yenagoa which produced our first away win of the season. Although we won, it was not an easy match. They played very well but were unlucky.

Which is your most memorable moment for now?

We have recorded away victories at Bayelsa United and Kwara United but my greatest joy came in our last away match at Abia Warriors. We forced them to a 1-1 draw and our equaliser came in the last minute of second half added time. In fact, it was the last kick of the ball. I won’t forget that moment in a hurry.

What are you doing to ensure your players stay focused till the end of the campaign?

Like I told you earlier, soon after I was appointed, I sat down with members of the technical crew and my players to share with them my vision and the target I had set. We discussed and agreed to work towards achieving it. Nothing has changed.

How are you coping with playing home away from home?

This is actually why I am one of the special coaches in the NPFL. I am the only coach who is playing his home matches away from home, yet topping the table. Other clubs that are using their adopted homes are struggling against relegation but Lobi Stars are on top of the table. I also thank God that I am not among coaches that have been sacked over poor performance.

Your next match is against Rangers in Enugu. What are your expectations?

It is going to be a tough match for us but we are prepared to take on any opponent. If you want to be champion, you must be ready to beat the best. I am confident we would leave Enugu with a good result.

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