A former captain of the then Green Eagles and IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan legend, Chief Segun Odegbami has in this interview speaks on how he failed to become the Nigeria Football Federation president. The member of the 1980 AFCON winning Green Eagles also spoke on some topical issues like the cancellation of the 2020 NPFL and the reappointment of Gernot Rohr.
What was your most memorable moment as a footballer?
My most memorable moment was when we won the African Cup of Nations in 1980 for the first time. The only thing that could have beaten that was to qualify for the World Cup but we didn’t. The rewards, the celebrations made it more memorable.
You were a part of the team that won the 1976 first African football club trophy with IICC for Nigeria. How happy were you?
Remember in 1976, Nigeria had not won any international trophy except for the gold medal at the 2nd All African Games. As a country, we were becoming a little bit close through Rangers International. So to have won it for the first time gave us an opportunity to see and experience how Nigerians would celebrate a continental trophy. It was well celebrated. We met the President at that time, General Olusegun Obasanjo in Dodan Barracks and we were given all manner of rewards. Small rewards but they were big in those days. It transformed our status from just ordinary footballers to well-known superstars in the continent. A year later, I became the first Nigerian to be listed in the top 10 players in Africa. I was actually made 3rd best footballer in Africa. That was the first time in our history that a Nigerian would get to that level.
Most times, ex-players accuse the government of abandoning them. What advise would you give players regarding their future?
My advice is a common sense advice. As far as we are a Third World country and as long as football is not a profitable sport as it is in Europe, that can get you enough money and fame to sustain yourself for the rest of your life, it makes absolute sense to combine football with education. Every child must have basic education and anything else you want to do makes that secondary. Football should be secondary.
You had a blistering career as a footballer but you are yet to do the same in football administration, particularly your ambition to lead the NFF and CAF. What have been your major challenges?
We all know the politics in Nigeria and how it is not a demonstration of meritocracy or about who is the best. It is about who knows how to play the game of politics. So, I failed woefully in the game of politics. I never attempted for CAF presidency but I intended to be FIFA president but the support was so little here in Nigeria that my plane didn’t even leave the tarmac of Abeokuta. That was unfortunate.
What would be your assessment of past presidents of the Nigeria Football Association/Nigeria Football Federation?
If I am to assess the NFF presidents since my playing time, the one that was passionate, knowledgeable that kept the NFF on its toes, who was a great leader, it was Emeka Omeruah. Others have been good in their own ways. Most had good intentions but their capacity to turn the intentions into actual developmental projects that will take Nigeria out of the doldrums was the problem.
Have you abandoned your ambition to be NFF president?
Life is not a constant, it is very dynamic. Change occurs every day. So it is not impossible that one day I could decide I want to be NFF president again. That ambition must be there and I know I have a great vision that can help to transform Nigerian football and take it to the highest levels.
Why is it so hard for ex-football players in Africa to be elected to lead their countries’ football federations?
You will see globally that administrators don’t want star footballers to come into administration. It is like the rich man should not contest for political office. You can see what is happening to Didier Drogba in Ivory Coast now. It is a challenge. We will not give up and we will continue to try.
What do you think are the major problems of the Nigerian Professional Football League?
The league is not professional yet. We know that as the clubs don’t follow the rules of the establishment, the running of the league is not professional, the people running the league are too afraid to enforce the rules, the standard is low. We have a league that is not covered properly by the television and is not attractive.
In concrete terms, how do we get the league out of the woods in terms of professionalism?
We leave the basic and fundamental things and we start at the top of the tree. It is not going to be possible. So we must go back and do those fundamental things that would plant football as a beautiful good game that people want to watch and develop, that the private sector would see is attracting a lot of followers and put money into it.
What’s your take on the recent decision by the NFF to cancel the 2019/2020 football season?
It makes sense that the league was cancelled, not for any other reason other than the health consideration, safety and wellbeing of our footballers, officials and spectators.
What’s your assessment of Coach Rohr? Do you see him as a coach that will take the Super Eagles to the Promised Land?
I don’t think any white coach should come and coach us anymore, not after the generation of Stephen Keshi, Sunday Oliseh, Jay Jay Okocha who played at every level. If they can get the basic qualification which is not essential in my own estimation, they should be saddled with the responsibility. Finidi George, Sunday Oliseh, Emmanuel Anuneke and others have the qualifications Gernot Rohr does not have. So a Nigerian should take Nigeria to the World Cup because a foreigner does not understand our football philosophy and psychology. He will just use his colour to bamboozle us. And these days when the black lives matter a lot, the black race should take charge of its own. The white man can’t love us more than ourselves. My belief is that anyone who will coach the Super Eagles must be a world-class coach. Gernot Rohr can’t deliver that. He is not a world-class coach that we are looking for.