The problem was that we did not qualify. We all saw the Africa Cup of Nations and we saw the quality of football. If we had participated, it could have been a bucketful of experience for some of our young players. Now that we have missed this opportunity, I still don’t know if we are trying to build our national team after our outing at the Fifa World Cup. We really have to single out the big giants in Africa such as Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. We all saw the quality of football they played and it stood out and there was no surprise at the end of the tournament. Even though African football has developed and has gone a long way, the heavy weights are still there and pulling their weight and that is what we are supposed to do but unfortunately, our preparations and organization have been woeful. Hence we did not qualify for the Nations Cup.
But don’t you think Nigeria could have done well if we had qualified?
From the quality and the morale of our team before qualification, I doubt it but in football, you have things that you write on paper and things you see on the field of play. They are quite different but to me, on paper, I doubt it. You saw the quality way the Ivorians and Ghanaians played, they were tactically very good. For instance, the Ghana squad was not the best of the entire bunch but they made the final because they were tactically sound. For me, the Super Eagles would not have done better but as Nigerians, we do spring up surprises like the last edition (in South Africa), we were not favourites on paper, yet we won the title. That could have happened too but it is high time we prepared well and take our place as giants of Africa. In football, you are rewarded for what you have done and the development of the game. To be honest with you, I have not seen any of that and it is not surprising because we are in Nigeria and sentiments cloud our judgment.
Now with Stephen Keshi looking set to return as Eagles handler, any advice for him?
I cannot tell Keshi or the NFF what to do. If they (NFF) think this is the right decision, I respect that. But I must tell you, since he took charge I have not seen any improvement and in my own opinion, I don’t think he deserves to be there because we were at our lowest when we did not qualify for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations and I believe that trend will continue.
In your days as a national team player would you say that you got the best of care and attention from our football administrators?
From 1985 when I first represented Nigeria till date, it has been all lies. They lie to you every time and there are lies everywhere. I played under different administrations and I can tell you that nothing has improved. It has been the same tale every time. It is really not the best of condition the administrators have to work. Then again, one needs to address some issues affecting our football and if you don’t do that, we will keep going round and round like it has been since 1985 when I [first played] for the national team.
So is Taribo West’s assertion that ex-players’ curses are affecting Nigeria’s fortunes in football justified?
I will not agree to that. It is very wrong. Of course, ex-internationals are part of Nigerian football but it is not everybody that is gifted that on retirement, you return as an administrator or coach. They sure have a role to play but I don’t want to subscribe to the fact that their neglect has been the cause(s) of turmoil on our national teams’ success. There is no blueprint on how to cater for our ex-internationals all that is done is to get only those who want to get involved just like every other person. My problem is just about the sentiment in Nigeria and we need to separate that from our football then we have something to celebrate about but I don’t see that happening in this country.
Don’t you think the likes of Kelechi Iheanacho and Taiwo Awoniyi should have gotten an invite to the Super Eagles?
Of course, but you need to give them time to develop. Kelechi for instance was a standout talent at the 2013 Fifa U-17 World Cup but then again, there is a period of development. I am one of those advocating for him getting an invite to the national team, not to play all the time, but to gain experience and systematically integrate him in to the team. If you don’t do all of these things, you just can’t say the whole U-20 and U-23 teams should make the bulk of our senior national team. Also, in integrating them, judging by their current form will not help matters because you will discover that it is not all of them that are fit to play in the Super Eagles. All of these should be taken into consideration before suggesting on whether they should be called into the senior national team or not.