By EMMA NJOKU
Former Super Eagles’ aggressive forward, Jonathan Akpoborie, has warned Coach Stephen Keshi not to heed calls to use home-based players to prosecute the 2013 Nations Cup and 2014 World Cup qualifiers if he looks to qualify Nigeria for both events.
Nigerians have continued to applaud the brave performances of the home-based Eagles in recent international friendly matches, particularly the latest one in Dubai against the Pharaohs of Egypt, which ended 3-2 in favour of Egypt.
While Akpoborie, in an exclusive chat with Saturday Sunsports, commended Keshi for doing a good job with the home-based players, he, however, predicted that Nigeria would not qualify for the World Cup if the Super Eagles’ gaffer relies completely on his home grown charges.
“I would like to ask Nigerians one question; where is the best football played in the world? In Europe of course! And we have many Nigerians playing football there. Now, why would you dump all the good players in Europe and go for the home-based ones when we are complaining that the quality of our domestic league is poor?” he began.
“The truth is that an amateur player in Europe’s mainland is better than a player in the Nigerian League. Perhaps, one or two players in the Nigerian League could be better, but I would be surprised if Keshi decides to use the home-based players to prosecute his matches. I can assure you, if he does that in the qualifiers, Nigeria will not qualify for the 2013 Nations Cup and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil,” he predicted.
The former power-playing forward, who is noted for his bold stance on issues bordering on Nigerian football, identified poor administration as the bane of the country’s football. According to him, with good administration and proper motivation of players, Nigeria would reclaim her lost glory in the game of football.
Akpoborie, who favoured foreign-based players for the World Cup and Nations Cup campaigns, cautioned against the choice of Kaduna as venue for the Nations Cup qualifier against Rwanda in June.
“Majority of our best players are in Europe and they should be used in prosecuting our international matches. I expect Keshi to pick one or two home-based players to compliment those from Europe in his squad. That is the most sensible thing anybody could do.
“What we need to rise again in football is proper motivation of our players, which must be married with good organisation. But all these are not forthcoming at the moment. During the qualifying series for the last World Cup, those things were not there, players’ motivation was very poor, just like the organisation,” the former Julius Berger of Lagos forward averred.
“We have to realise that the weather condition affects our foreign-based players whenever they come to play in Africa. It would be wrong to take those players to Kano where the temperature is almost 40oC. You don’t bring a player from Europe where the temperature is below 15oC and compel him to play in Sokoto or Kaduna and still expect him to perform well. That idea is both administratively and technically wrong.
“Again, we should provide adequate facilities for the players because they play in the best leagues in Europe, and when you bring them to Nigeria to play on bad pitches for instance, they easily get beaten by other African teams that are used to playing on bad pitches. So, if we must expect to get the best from our foreign-base players, we have to provide the needed facilities in good measure, otherwise, it would be a 50-50 situation.”
The unrepentant advocate of foreign coach for the national team, made no bones about the appointment of Keshi as Super Eagles’ coach. But he feared that Keshi might go the way of Samson Siasia due to what he described as the ‘huge sentiment in Nigerian football’.
“I want to see the changes the people running our football have promised. They picked Stephen Keshi as coach of the Super Eagles, which I don’t have problem with. But the sacking of Siasia was not really the problem with Nigerian football. If you sack a coach and the system remains the same, fears are that the same fate, which befell Siasia, might also catch up with Keshi.
“It’s not that we don’t have good coaches in Nigeria, but there’s this huge sentimental aspect in our football that makes it difficult for a Nigerian coach to successfully handle our national team. The sentiment is so big that no Nigerian coach can run away from it.
“Having said that; let me acknowledge the fact that Keshi is doing a good job considering the result of the last international friendly match against Egypt. Although I did not watch the match because it was not televised, the fact that it was the home-based players that put up such a brave performance needs commendation.
“However, we’re still waiting for the Nations Cup qualifier, which I believe is not going to be an easy game. The World Cup qualification is another big challenge. One might think that we’re going to have an easy run, we need to be in our optimum best to be able to qualify for the World Cup, but I have my fears.
The former Rostok of Germany forceful forward, also spoke on players’ commitment and team selection during his days in the national team compared to the current Super Eagles’ squad.
“I don’t think there is any difference in terms of players’ commitment during my time in the national team and now. When there’s seriousness on the part of the administrators, it would rub off on the players and everything would fall in place.
“I don’t care if one is playing for Chelsea or Manchester United. If the coach says all players must report to camp latest by Monday, any player who fails to do so should be asked to stay away. But I don’t think that a Nigerian coach can take that stand. The players would keep giving you one excuse or the other; my mum is sick and stuffs like that, but they cannot do that in their clubs in Europe.
“We have so many players in Europe. So, why must anyone stick to a player that is always giving you excuses why he would not answer a national call? In football, there’re core members that make up a team. Such players are known to be consistent and committed and the coach should know them and handle such players with optimum respect.
“You don’t bring in a player to the team because he is somebody’s candidate or relative. That’s why I advocate for a foreign coach for the Super Eagles because a foreigner would not just field a player because he is somebody’s brother or candidate. He would rather go for the best legs that can give him the needed result.
“The president of the country has no business in the dressing room during football matches. He cannot influence the coach in a match situation. But I know that in Nigeria, a coach is expected to submit the list of his invited players to someone to vet.
“You have a situation whereby the Nigeria Football Federation would tell the coach no, this player should not be invited, but invite this other person, and I ask, where does that happen in Europe? It can only happen in Nigeria and if you ask me, all those nonsense must stop,” Akpoborie declared.
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