Former Super Eagles forward Jonathan Akpoborie did not mince words in condemning the planned re-engagement of Stephen Keshi as the head coach of the Nigerian senior national team. In this interview he granted early in the week, the former Golden Eaglets star also spoke on few other issues pertaining to Nigerian football.
The 2015 Africa Cup of Nations has come and gone, what are the lessons Nigeria should learn from it?
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.
As the Golden Eaglets continue to compete in the African U-17 Championship which is going on in Niger Republic, what are our chances?
I expect them to come out in flying colours. Their coach [Emmanuel Amuneke] is a very good one and I admire his philosophy. I think they are good enough to rule Africa. Also, they need an element of luck to do well not minding their level of preparedness.
I’m sure you have a roadmap on how to move the country’s football forward.
The NFF on its own is actually moving towards the wrong direction taking decision such as appointing Keshi as our national team coach. Well, I won’t attribute this decision to them alone. Amaju Pinnick actually told him to go but we never knew the forces that brought him back. On the part of our league, the LMC has been instrumental on the growth of our league. I don’t actually see the NFF taking decisions on their own because things that happen there are political. In a nutshell, to move ahead, the NFF must separate our football from Nigerian politics and that will move us ahead.