We’ve celebrated mediocrity too long, says Onigbinde
Coach Adegboye Onigbinde is the first indigenous coach to win a silver medal for the nation when the then Green Eagles were defeated in the 1984 final of the Total Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) held in Cote d’Ivoire. The team lost 1-3 controversially to Cameroun. Onigbinde was brought in 1983 to assemble a new Eagles team that will compete for the 1984 AFCON, as well as play the Olympic Games qualifiers after some key players quit the team in 1982. He was called again in 2002 to help raise a team for the country towards the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup. Speaking yesterday to The Guardian’s SAMUEL IFETOYE after the just concluded AFCON held in Egypt, the former FIFA Technical Committee member expressed displeasure at Eagles’ ‘poor’ outing. He also wondered why Coach Gernot Rohr has not been relieved of his duty as Eagles coach. Excerpt:
How would you assess Eagles’ performance in Egypt?
I was not in Alexandria and Cairo to watch Eagles matches. I don’t assess football based on what I saw on television because it is not technically sound to do so. As an individual, I want to say that we have some people in the country who enjoy celebrating mediocrity. The questions we should ask ourselves are: Was that the best team Nigeria could produce? Was that the best we have achieved so far? I don’t know. But everybody has the right to look at situation the way they like. And we are compensating the coach for his feat in Egypt — we are sending him to Europe for a refresher course. Is the bronze won by the Eagles in Egypt better than my silver of 1984 in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire? That is the country for you. In Nigeria, the right is not always right! The man is earning some money, which probably he is sharing with some people. And how much do they pay a local coach that will be enough to share?
What do you think about Emmanuel Amuneke, who guided Tanzania to Egypt succeeding Rohr?
You know the way we do things here in Nigeria. You’re talking about Amuneke now. I admire him, but the question is, is he the best coach Nigeria has now? I know he qualified Tanzania for the first time in 30 years for the AFCON. That is an achievement. But if they employ Amuneke today, will they pay him enough to be shared? There is already a threat now; Rohr has told us off that if we want to sack him, we can go ahead because he knows, according to the information reaching me, if we sack him, he is going to take away $1 million! And some Nigerians were behind that type of contract. It is probably there in his contract that whatever he achieved or did not, he has to be paid off that sum if he was sacked. Which means if he wants to stay for that job forever without achieving anything, we cannot do anything, unless we are ready to pay him that $1million. We have funny administrators running our football in this country.
Unfortunately, it is not only in football that we are experiencing this kind of thing. A lot of Nigerians, especially when they are in position of leaderships think more of what will benefit them than the country. Before the competition started, Rohr wrote Nigeria off by mentioning countries that he thought would likely win the AFCON. And one of the teams he never gave a chance included his own team and yet the administrators kept quiet about that. He has been with the team for how many years now, almost three years since August 2016, and he has just one bronze. When I became coach of the then Green Eagles in 1983, I raised an entirely new team and roughly about a year later, I won silver in 1984. I started, I think in February in 1983, and we went for the Africa Cup of Nations in 1984. And it was an entirely new team with new players. In 1983, all the big names in the Nigeria national team said they were no longer going to be there. So, it was a green field for me. That was how I gave the late Stephen Keshi the chance of becoming the captain of the country back then. A year after, we won silver. Nobody knew how and when we came back into this country after winning silver in Abidjan, let alone people celebrating us.
How did the Eagles lose the 1984 final to Cameroun?
We would have won the title in Abidjan if some Nigerians had not sabotaged us. I don’t think this is the right time for me to talk about the issue. Another reason is that the three main perpetrators of that sabotage are no longer alive. The man linked up with a key member of my team to sabotage my effort at making sure that the Eagles won the title. We scored first, and then we scored the second one, which the referee disallowed. The three goals scored by Cameroun were through that key member of the team. It was like giving through pass to the Camerounians to score. Coincidentally, President Muhammadu Buhari was the Head of States then. In the dressing room before we went for that encounter, somebody came to me to convey a message to us that we should do our best to win, which I appreciated and I still appreciate even up till now. But because these ‘saboteurs’ got a wind of what they expected to do, they made sure that winning the final did not happen. We played our group matches in Bouake, Cote d’Ivoire after qualifying for the semi finals that key player in the team asked me if I know that ‘chief’ is in Abidjan now? That was the man that they used, a lawyer, who was a member of the board of the NFA then. I said that was good because I had thought that he had come to either help or cheer us. I didn’t know he came to sabotage my effort. You know you don’t talk ills of the dead and as I talk to you now the three of them: the oba, the man sent to Abidjan and the key player in the team are dead now. I am not trying to rejoice over their deaths, but that is the truth of the matter. In Nigeria, you don’t overstretch yourself trying to do the right thing. It’s unfortunate that this is the kind of country that we have found ourselves.
It is not only in football that you get this, but also in almost all aspect of our lives, particularly in politics. How many people in the position of authority think about Nigeria first before self? It is only those of us who are ‘stupid’ that do! It is only we Nigerians, who think of Nigeria first that are ‘stupid’. Starting afresh as a coach also happened to me again towards the 2002 World Cup, where I had to raise a team in three months. I was brought in March and the competition started in June. Players, who failed in the 2002 AFCON in Mali between January and February, decided they would not be part of the World Cup in South Korea/Japan. People told me, they warned me that I shouldn’t take any of the players from the AFCON in Mali to the World Cup that if anyone of the players responded to my invitation that he was coming to sabotage my effort and that was the mistake that I made. So, I started raising the team virtually from the scratch and when we started playing friendly matches and they saw that the team was shaping up, some of them started sending messages, coming to me, begging me that they will cooperate. And it was one or two of these players that actually sabotaged my team against Argentina, against Sweden. And that was why I changed the entire team against the one that played England. I have lot of things to say but we thank God for life.
The knowledge acquired working with FIFA has it been utilised?
I worked with the FIFA for about 20 years, was it for fun or was it because I bribed FIFA? FIFA has membership of more than 200 nations. And you can imagine how many technical men are in these member-nations. And I was good enough to be one of the 25 that served for 20 years. Was it for fun? The experience and knowledge that I gained spanning 20 years are they relevant to Nigeria today? I have personally been labelled a persona non-grata in Nigerian football. Now we are celebrating mediocrity and in FIFA Statue Article Two, which deals with the objective for running football, the opening sentence, which makes it the most important point talks about improving the game of football constantly. I have been looking for a copy of our developmental programme I am yet to see one, because there is no blueprint for any development anywhere. We are just into football promotion. Competitions in sports are like examinations in schools.
Why does a teacher set an examination? To assess what the pupils have learnt. That is what competition stands for. But are we assessing our competition? Our local competitions, are we assessing them? How do we know how far we have gone and what is left undone? A serious-minded country when going for the AFCON should be there with some technical men assessing the team’s performance. When I was going to the World Cup in 2002, I selected five assistants and the football federation was angry about it. They said no, but I told them if you remove anyone of them that I was going to leave the job because I knew I had an assignment for them. Today, the technical department of our football federation is just there in name. The technical department of a team is the key; it’s the powerhouse of any football association because they are the ones who will develop, and assess. With technical eyes, which of our performance throughout the AFCON in Egypt was commendable? Even the ones that we won, we had a team that operated convent defensive system, which worse than being flat and there was no cohesion.
We had a group of players, not a team because there is a difference between a group and a team. A team supposed to work as a unit. And that was the ‘wonderful’ work by our ‘wonderful’ coach in Egypt. I read Rohr said after one match that he picks his team according to the standard of the opponent. Why didn’t he pick a team to face Algeria that beat us? Whether club level or national level, if I handle a team, even when I pick against a primary team, the instruction will be that they are to approach it as if it is a cup final. Every match should be seen as a cup final. Before the beginning of the tournament in Egypt, Rohr had dispirited the Nigerians team; giving the Eagles no chance to win the title in Egypt. And that was the same team he was taking to the AFCON. God bless Nigeria.