Former Nigeria captain Christian Chukwu is not one to hide his feelings on the way football is being run in the country. After an illustrious career that culminated in winning the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations, Chukwu has gone on to coach the Super Eagles as well as the Kenya national team. In this interview with Shina Oludare, the former Enugu Rangers’ coach and member of the NFF’s technical department speaks about the future of Stephen Keshi, the push to get foreign-born talent for the national teams as well as the role of the Samson Siasia’s youth sides in the growth of Nigerian football.
Why is the NFF foot-dragging over the appointment of Keshi?
I wouldn’t know why a coach hasn’t been appointed for the Super Eagles. But I think it is overdue to have a national team coach to start preparation in earnest because we are approaching another qualifier for the Africa Cup of Nations and it will be suicidal to miss out on the next edition and even the Fifa World Cup.
In recent news, Keshi has been shortlisted for the Burkina Faso job. What if he is handed the job as Burkina Faso coach?
It is a good one for Keshi because he has served a very long time without any contract. That will be a very great move for him while the country will be the loser. I think the Nigeria Football Federation doesn’t want him because if they do, he should have been given a contract by now.
What is your take on Amaju Pinnick’s journey to Europe to get Euro-born Nigerians play for the country?
First and foremost, my president should not have gone to beg for players to play for the country. That is not his duty. It is the responsibility of the coach. My president’s responsibility is to ensure the country gets a good coach that will take the country to the next Fifa World Cup while giving him the necessary support. I don’t know why in the first instance, he decided to go abroad to scout for players because he is not the one that will handle the team. What if he brings the players and the coaches don’t like them?
What if the players don’t fit into the coaches’ pattern or system?
Does the Nigeria Premier League even have the materials to play in the Super Eagles?
You can see what our junior teams (U17 and U20) are doing. They are all local players and in the real sense of it, they can give us good players that can make the Super Eagles perform very well and also last for a very long time. So, I don’t see reasons why they should be neglected by the NFF and start going overseas to recruit for players. All we need to do is appoint a permanent coach who will get them for the senior national team, and if he has good assistants, he will surely get a good and formidable Super Eagles made up of locally based talent. With this, the foreign-based will not even be up to three, four or five.
The Dream Team VI began their All African Games qualifier on a good note in Gabon, any advice for Siasia on how to sustain this winning tempo?
Samson Siasia has proven again that he is the master of the country’s junior teams. All the time he spent with the Dream Team and Flying Eagles, he had played in the finals of Fifa tournaments. My advice to him is to guide his team and tell them not to let their victory against Gabon get into their heads. If this is done, then I see his side qualify for the All African Games as well as the Olympic Games. Luckily for us, we can start a Super Eagles team with his team.
Do you think Samson Siasia might get the Super Eagles job?
He should forget about that for now. Siasia should concentrate on his present job, get us results and qualify the team for major tournaments.
As someone who has seen it all when it comes to the Nigeria Premier League, is it a wild goose chase for our local teams to have feeder teams?
It is very difficult because the clubs are being run by government and it involves a lot of money. That is one of the disadvantages of having our clubs run by the government. It is a proper thing to start because if this is done, it will help in the growth of the game in the country. Since funding will be a major cog, communities can take up initiative and by this, feeder teams can be formed.
It’s been a while since your team Rangers International last won the Nigeria Premier League as well as played on the continent, what is really the problem?
I wouldn’t know for now but I can tell you that this season, you will see a better Rangers and by the end of the season, they should be able to grab one of the tickets to play on the continent.
And I am tempted to ask, how do we make our league more attractive?
We have to look at the league entirely by packaging it entirely from the playing, facilities, officiating and administration. All these areas need improvement. Can you imagine that people don’t come to watch the league anymore because there is no security? As for the officiating, it is very poor. Gone are those days you can identify a club by the colour of their jerseys but today, you don’t know who is who. Don’t be surprised that on match day, people will ask which team is Heartland, which is Rangers? But when it comes to the foreign league, we easily know the teams that are playing.
So, how do we put this under check?
Let the clubs have their registered jerseys and not when it comes to pre-match meeting, you find the away team presenting the jersey for the home team with the hosts compelled to go and change.
Slightly away from that, players like the Edward Ansahs, Joetex Frimpongs and players from other countries once dominated our league, but it seems that is now history. What do we hold responsible for this?
I will hold our economy responsible for it. I remember when Yekini was retiring, he came to play one or two seasons in the Nigeria Premier League and that season, you saw Gateway FC making the most profit from gate takings because everyone wants to see Yekini. While [Nwankwo] Kanu and [Austin] Okocha were retiring, they should have deemed it fit to play a season or two in the league and you’ll see the stadium getting filled up but due to our economy, we might not have been able to afford them.
If I get you right, you mean the presence of the Mikels, Odemwingies and Yobos would boost the image of our league?
Are you telling me if you hear Osaze playing for Sunshine, Kanu for Heartland and Okocha for Rangers, you will be the first person to be in the stadium to watch them play. Even those who take their time to watch the league games can’t even mention the names of the players on parade.
Many have said the Super Eagles is yet to have a leader in the mould of Austin Okocha, what is responsible for this?
Whoever wants to be the leader of the Super Eagles must come from home not abroad. If our local league players form the fulcrum of the Super Eagles then it will be very easy to have a very good leader because he will be well monitored while having a very good access to his other teammates in the country. But if we continue to insist on foreign-based professionals, that will be very difficult. Remember that Okocha started from home before he went abroad?