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Nigeria has potential to win world cup if right things are done, says Atere

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Fatai Atere


Fatai Atere was a member of the Golden Eaglets that won the 1985 FIFA Kodak Under-16 World Cup in China, after defeating the then West Germany 2-0 to lift the maiden trophy of the youth championship. Atere, thereafter, led the Nigerian cadet team to the 1987 edition tagged the FIFA Under-17 JVC World Cup in Canada where Nigeria finished second behind winners, the then USSR. The now police officer in the United States once had had an illustrious career that almost landed him a lucrative contract with the English top-side, Tottenham Hotspur, before it was botched by the NFA, which denied him the needed transfer clearance. In this interview with The Guardian’s SAMUEL IFETOYE, Atere bares his mind on the failed state of the country’s football and what should be done to revive it to its former glory.

TELL us how your football career started?
I began playing the game at a very young age beginning with the round ball known as ‘felele’ in the streets of Lagos. That was the time when you could find a space to play football and enjoy yourself. Playing the round leather game was not something that my mother likes because she wanted me to concentrate on my education not now that students are being supported to play football. In early years, I played under Coach Olumuyiwa Fashanu for the All Stars Team and it was from the All Stars team that the then Coach Mutiu Okunnu discovered me and I went on to play for IBWA. It was at IBWA that I was noticed as a good material and I then went to play in Spain, Sweden, United Stated for the Youth Sports Federation of Nigeria (YSFON). And from there to the national Under-16 national team after I returned from United States, where with YSFON I won several competitions and from there we were all drafted into the Eaglets. While playing for the national team, I also played for some clubs like Felele FC, Greater Tomorrow Football Club. I played for IBWA-Afribank for 10 years and then I moved to Bank of the North in Kano. I was also part of the late Coach Kashimawo Laloko-led team in the Mainland team among others. At a very young age I was making money, which my mother never believed was possible, as she never wanted me to play football.

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Any regret over the blunder made by the then NFA?
No, I think in every situation one finds himself, one must give thanks to God. At times, I wondered why the then Nigeria Football Association (NFA) had to cut short my promising football career. I had gone for trials in England with Tottenham Hotspurs, which agreed to sign me after I impressed them in the number of games that I featured for them. I had left the country for trials in England after the U-20 ECOWAS Cup and Tottenham had concluded that they were going to sign me for £1.5 million. But the then NFA secretary, the late Mr. Patrick Okpomo, declined my clearance, saying that I was a government property and that I cannot be signed. I thank God that I am still alive. Right now, I am into a lot of things that I am doing in United States. I can tell you I am still very much active in soccer. I am the commissioner of the Nigerian Soccer Federation in Maryland, Florida, where I still engage myself in football competitions being played all year round in the United State. During competitions, I usually go there as a guest coach to see what they are doing.

What’s your thought on Nigerian football?
I am worried about the current football administrators we have in the country because I believe they don’t know how to handle anything. Even when I was playing, we had to beg for everything. The thing has become worse now that people have to resort to paying money for them to be put in a team.

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Imagine at the China 1985 FIFA Under-16 Adidas World Cup, the officials never believed we could qualify for the final, which we eventually won. We had to wash the jerseys we used in the preliminaries for us to play with them in the quarterfinal, semifinal and even in the final game for the trophy, when there should have been jerseys for every match in the knock out stage. What this mean is that the officials had expected us to be beaten for us to leave the competition so that they can keep the rest jerseys for themselves. And the question you ask is, why would they to that? I am just telling you a little of what these administrators have been doing in the Nigerian soccer that does not work for us and they are still doing it up till now.

There are people who have played the game and they know it well. They have good education background and not those who have not played the game before. These are people who are former internationals, those who have gone through the rudiments of the game. Played the game to highest level and are well qualified to become administrators. They understand what good kits meant to sports men and women, the allowances as motivation, securing travelling documents on time etc. When it comes to picking the players, they leave it to the coach to do his job. The current Nigeria Football Federation president, what does he know about football? Even the minister of sports, what does he know about sports before he was appointed? We don’t need political appointees to run sports in our country again. Nigeria should learn from other countries, where you have those that have played the game before serving as administrators, because they understand the need of sports men and women better. I think Coach Genort Rohr is making good use of the players available to him as far the Super Eagles team is concerned. He has tried his best, but I think he can do better. I also think he needs to look inward into the local league for good players because I believe we have good ones among them who can play better than the ones being invited from Europe. My general assessment on Rohr is that he is doing well, but I know he can do better. I believe we have the talents to win the World Cup if we can get our acts right.

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In this article:
Fatai AtereGolden Eaglets
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