The Technical Adviser of Akwa United, champions of the 2021 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), Kennedy Boboye has said Nigerians shouldn’t expect much from the ‘Promise Keepers’ in their debut appearance in the CAF Champions League. In this interview with Trust Sports on the sidelines of the 2021 Aiteo Cup finals in Benin City, the former Plateau United coach spoke on his team’s performance in the just concluded NPFL season and continental plans.
How happy are you now that you are the first coach to win the once elusive NPFL title for Akwa United?
First of all, I give thanks to God. I thank the fans as well. However, it is nothing special. I feel normal. I don’t feel anything extra-ordinary. It has always been the plan to win the league. It is the dream of every coach to win laurels. So I give thanks to God.
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At the start of the season, were you confident you would win the league title?
Yes it was our target to win the league and I was confident about it. We had an agreement and the target was for me to win the league. We worked towards that dream. I didn’t do it alone. The chairman of the club and the players put their hands on deck to ensure we emerged winners at the end of the season.
Your second round clash with Nasarawa United was no doubt a title decider. How did you navigate the top of the table clash?
Everybody in the team including the security knew the importance of that particular game. It was not for me to start explaining to the players. They knew if they drew that game, we would have shot ourselves in the foot. They knew that nothing short of victory was needed in that game and thankfully, we won.
You set a record for the most consecutive wins in the league. How did you manage it?
We took it 5 games at a time. The first target was to win 5 games at first and win the next 5. That was how we were working and it went well for us.
In the just concluded season, your team recorded the highest number of away victories. How did you manage to achieve such victories and do you think you can replicate that in the coming season?
We had the right type of players who had a winning mentality instilled in them. When we go into any game, the first thing we think of is to score. And when we score and don’t concede, then we go away with the victory. I have full confidence in my team to the point that we believed it was only when the referee blew the final whistle that a game could end in a draw, not a loss.
How will you describe the players who delivered the first ever NPFL title for Akwa United?
They are the kind of young players that will give you the results you need. The old legs you have in your team are there to motivate the younger players. The most important thing is to blend the young with the older players.
You have won two league titles now. Which of the two was more difficult to achieve?
No title comes on a platter of gold so my first title with Plateau United was not a stroll in the park. However, I will say the more difficult of the two is the one I have just won with Akwa United. It was a very tough season.
Which department of the team was most crucial to your victory?. And considering the stars in the team, how were you able to avoid a crisis over team selection?
Every department in the team was very important to us. We encouraged one another to avoid mistakes and we didn’t change the winning team anyhow. We only changed the team maybe due to cards or injuries. We tried to rotate the team as carefully as we could.
Now that you will be leading Akwa United to their maiden CAF Champions League, what should Nigerians expect?
One thing we seem to forget in this country is that if it is Enyimba, Kano Pillars, we might be asking what should be expected of them. People will expect much from them because of their experience in the competition but Akwa will be going for the first time even though they have played in the CAF Confederations Cup in the past. Considering that this is going to be our first time, Nigerian’s shouldn’t have high hopes. We will have to take it step by step. First, we have to get our recruitment right as we have some players leaving soon.
The league has just ended. Would you say you have enough time to prepare your team for the continent?
No, we don’t have enough time as the competition starts in September. What will work for us is that the bulk of the players will still remain with us. However, we have about two or three players, including Charles Atshimene, our highest goalscorer who will be leaving us soon. We must get players who can easily understand the pattern we play. There is a defender in Plateau United that we are trying to get.
Last season, we Nigerian clubs struggled in the continent due to late kick-off of the domestic league. Are you not worried that the same scenario might play out again?
Yes, it will. We can’t wish it away. Those that are playing competitive games have match fitness. They are in better shapes than those who will be going up against them but are yet to play competitive football. It is not going to work. Nigeria should key into the FIFA calendar as it will help everyone since we will all start the league at almost the same time. Some are starting their leagues now while we just ended ours. By the time we start, others would have gone far and how do we compete with such teams? We will only try and pray and if God helps us, then good.