NFF still owes me — Eguavoen

10 Jul 2016

NFF still owes me — Eguavoen


Austin Eguavoen

Former Super Eagles captain and coach Austin Eguavoen in this interview with ’TANA AIYEJINA talks on the issue of mafia in the national team, how he’s being owed by the NFF years after quitting as coach and more

There’s still this feeling that some group of players tagged mafia were involved in selection of players and decision making in the Super Eagles’ 1994 squad. As an influential member of the team, were these allegations true?

One of the most successful managers we’ve had in this country is (Clemens) Westerhof and after him I think it is Stephen Keshi. Westerhof is a foreigner and he did very well with the national team but locally Keshi is the most successful, there’s no doubt about that. Those of us in the team who later turned coaches all tried to embrace and emulate Westerhof’s style of management because he had a unique style which yielded results. I played under a lot of coaches but Westerhof introduced a five-man captainship and all the clubs I have worked with in Nigeria, I have five people as my captains. There’s a head captain and the other four are his assistant captains. The reason is this, when there is a government, there’s the Senate and the House of Representatives, so the President can’t just take a decision on his own. He has to consult with the other arms of government. But if it’s only one person with all the powers, he would be difficult to deal with. So, when you have five people representing the group of players, it’s better. We all had our arguments but at the end of the day, we succumbed to what the captain (Keshi) said but he had to make us understand beyond reasonable doubt why he wanted to take such a decision. He was our leader and a leader will always lead. If he stuck out his neck alone, he might have problems but with five people taking decisions on behalf of the group, it was easier. I think that’s what Nigerians saw and interpreted as the mafia in the team. There was never a mafia in the national team; there were five captains that always stood for the guys but Keshi was the leader with four of us behind him.

But there were complaints by some players that they were shut out of the national team by the mafia in the squad…

READ ALSO: NFF gets $1.5m from NNPC for foreign coach

(Cuts in) Players like who?

The likes of Chidi Nwanu and Jonathan Akpoborie were reportedly among these players. Is it true?

I don’t think so because I played for a very limited time in the national team with Jonathan. My era in the national team started in the 1980s. In fact, my first game for the Super Eagles was on July 4, 1986 and Jonathan was in the U-20 team then. I was his captain in the Flying Eagles but because of my age, I didn’t go to Chile for the U-20 World Cup in 1987 and I already had a deal to play for Gent in Belgium. And I didn’t come back to meet Jonathan until 1997, prior to the 1998 World Cup. Frenchman Philippe Troussier was the coach. The Eagles qualified for the 1998 World Cup and another foreigner Bora Milutinovic took the team to the World Cup. If you want to talk about Jonathan being shut out, Nigeria was not managed by a local coach then, I would say I really don’t know where that is coming from.

What about Nwanu?

READ ALSO: NFF to convince Yusuf to work with foreign coach

Nwanu should be happy that he played for Nigeria. Let’s face the facts: he’s one of the finest defenders of his generation, no doubt about that at all. But when he got his chance, he played. Let me ask you, ‘how many qualifying games (for the 1994 World Cup) did Chidi Nwanu play for Nigeria?’ He didn’t play any game. But when he had his chance at the World Cup proper, he played. Keshi got injured just before the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations, that was why he wasn’t having regular playing time and late Uche Okafor took over from him. But when we got to the World Cup in the United States, Westerhof found out that Chidi was a lot better than Okafor and he played. That’s why I said Chidi should be happy that he played for Nigeria. Jay Jay (Austin Okocha) was an asset coming from the Mauritius 1993 Flying Eagles team. So, when you see an asset, what do you do? You protect it. And so we protected him. So, if Chidi was ahead and better than everybody, we would have protected him as well.

How would you compare your era and that of the present national team?

Things have changed and I believe it’s a generational issue. When we were growing up, my mum would flog us with a cane so that we would obey and do what she told us but today, you have to pet children. In modern football, you can’t do so much and the money involved is so much. If we have to get it right and want to start winning laurels again, the players will need to have Nigeria at heart. But it’s a little bit difficult to do because you play for Nigeria and nothing happens. In countries like England, there’s a platform provided and whoever that is sensible, will make use of the system. With all due respect to someone like Paul Gascoigne, he didn’t fit into the system with his lifestyle. But that platform is not here. However, if you are sensible, when you are playing, you know that your future is not guaranteed with Nigeria. I’m not scared to say that anymore. People have been talking of coaches being owed here and there. I’m also being owed, not by (Pinnick) Amaju’s board but by the past administration. But it’s still the Nigeria Football Federation. I have called Amaju several times, I have called Musa Amadu and he apologised, I have called everybody but nobody has said anything about it. So, I’m not going to cry over it. Who would blame any Nigerian athlete who doesn’t give his best to the country? When you get hurt, you will be left to your fate.

There have been applications for the Eagles coaching job. Why haven’t you applied?

READ ALSO: NFF should pay my wages – Oliseh

For the Eagles job, I don’t think I want it right now because I’m trying to leave the country so that I can improve myself. If you count the first three coaches in this country today, I’m among the knowledgeable ones and I know that. But why I’m not being called to the national team is what I don’t know. A coach is as good as his last game, so if I’m employed today, you will raise eyebrows and ask questions. So, not until I put my house in order first, and I come back bigger, leave me out of the Eagles job.

Who do you support to manage the national team: a foreigner or local coach?

It’s a difficult question to answer. Whoever NFF settles for, I’ll be fine with it. Right now, Samson Siasia is doing very well. If he’s given the opportunity, maybe he would do better. But if we want a foreigner, we should do it as quickly as possible because we don’t have much time ahead of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. We are in a very strong group. If we don’t have the right money to pay an expatriate, then let’s look for a local option fast. The interim coach Salisu Yusuf says he doesn’t want to play second fiddle to anybody, so whoever we pick, we should support him.

Do you think the Eagles can qualify from their Russia 2018 World Cup group, which includes Algeria, Cameroon and Zambia?

READ ALSO: Amodu: Nigeria has again lost another football icon – Ubah

It’s a very tough group, no doubt about that but if we start well, we will qualify. If we don’t start well, we won’t qualify. We are going to Zambia first, if we get three points or even one point there, then we are on course. But if we don’t get a point there, then we  would be playing under tremendous pressure. And I don’t see these players having the heart to withstand that kind of pressure.


News Source: PunchNigeria, 9jaTales


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