I feel really satisfied because when I took over Niger Tornadoes in week ten, I was given the mandate to rescue the team from relegation. If you remember, they were in the nineteenth position out of twenty clubs. The club was neck deep in relegation. With the match we won against Heartland, we have ended up in the fifth position and this is where my happiness lies. With such accomplishment, I think I have every reason to be happy.
Wouldn’t you have been happier with a continental ticket?
Well, I leave that to God alone because what happened in Tornadoes truly speaking is not just my making. I look at it as an act of God. It was wonderful performance from the team. From nineteenth position to fifth is not a small feat. So I won’t insist that God should have given me one of the first three positions, that will be asking for too much. Rather, I will continue to thank God for where he has taken us to.
Would you attribute the feat to God and the support many people believe you enjoyed from the Niger State government?
Certainly yes, especially from the Chief Servant of the state himself, that is the Governor of Niger State, Dr. Mua’zu Babangida Aliyu. He has been very supportive, financially and morally. The management of the club has stood solidly behind us. The members are always very close to us. In fact the level of motivation from the governor himself and the management has been overwhelming. I must also sing praises to my players. They have been wonderful. When I took over the team, the players lacked confidence in themselves. However, I did not bring in a single player into the team. I settled down to work on the same players and the moment I restored their lost confidence, they began to deliver. The same club that was threatened by relegation became a serious contender for the league title. That tells you the level of discipline that was introduced into the team.
What was the magic wand you used in restoring the lost confidence and discipline?
It was nothing too much as I always attribute the success to God. On my own side, truly speaking, when I came in, I discovered that the players lacked physical fitness. I had to work seriously hard on their fitness level. Moreover, because of their position on the table, they were psychologically down. I have to work on their psych and make them believe in themselves. I brought the players to my side and I was able to lift up their spirit. I did not do anything extra ordinary but truly speaking, I lifted up their spirits. There and then, they made up their minds to play for me as a person and then for the club.
Are you going to make major changes in the team or just some few adjustments here and there?
This mistake is always made by clubs in Nigeria. Every club in this country, even the biggest of them all, that is by my own ranking, Enyimba does the same mistake. They are fond of forming new teams every year. This is what European clubs don’t do. They don’t do it and it is not done elsewhere, if you really want to copy the right thing. Continuity is the best. For example, if Manchester United are playing tomorrow, you sitting here will know who will be coming out to play for the team. It has been like that for the past five years. For now, I have a shortage in the central defence, may be that is the only area we would like to consider bringing in somebody. We won’t be going out for twenty central defenders, may be just one to add to what I have. The mistake we make here in Nigeria is that for instance, some of my club officials may want some of the players to go so that there would be space for them to bring in their brothers but that is what I don’t take from any club. When you attempt to impose players on me, I go away because it doesn’t bring any good results. We must assemble a formidable team and we can only rely on the players who did excellently well this season. If there is going to be any adjustment, it must be very minimal. If I remain with Tornadoes, I will maintain the same team. Already I have sung it more than ten times into the ears of my management so I don’t think over night, they will go the other way round.
Having coached more than five premier league clubs in Nigeria, will you say you are very satisfied with the way Nigerian football clubs are managed by football administrators?
Thank you very much. This is a very serious and gigantic question. Truly speaking we have been singing this same song over and over again that Nigerian football is not growing, Nigerian football is not growing. But we have not paused to ask over self this pertinent question. How will the game grow when those in charge of football are not honest? Management committees are not honest. The worst thing is that most of the premier league clubs are owned and funded by the states. The state governors therefore appoint their political associates to run the clubs. It may interest you to know that most of the club chairmen do not know the dimension of a football field. It is happening. Then tell me, you bring somebody who has no knowledge of the game, somebody who does not know anything about the game and you make him the chairman of premier league club because he supported your political campaigns. What then do you expect than for the game to continue to move backwards? Because most of them don’t know anything about the game, even when money is released to them, they hardly know where it should go to. Just look at how much Nigerian players are paid. It is a very sorrowful story to tell anybody. How much do they pay the coaches? Peanuts and so how do we expect the game to grow? It won’t except football falls into the hands of people like ex-footballers and coaches who know the game.
But must clubs depend on state governments for funding? Why can’t they go out and source for sponsors?
This is another crucial point. It is important that clubs look for corporate sponsors. Football is all about money. Even in Europe, small teams don’t win anything. In England, before you say anything, they tell you about the big four, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal. Those are the teams because they spend big money to buy big time players. The same cannot be said about our clubs. In fact, we should stop thinking and talking about how the league will grow because we know the right thing to do but we are simply not ready to comply.
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