We went spiritual to ensure Super Eagles clinched 2018 World Cup ticket — Rafiu Ladipo •Calls for total support to enable team soar in Russia

By Victor Enyinnaya on March 27, 2018

Views: 16,375

Dr Rafiu Olalere Ladipo is the President-General, Nigeria Football Supporters Club, Worldwide. He toiled for the survival and bringing to prominence of the Nigeria Football Supporters Club. His astute character brought the club to its enviable status, which has several times won it recognition from the world football governing body, FIFA. Ladipo has led the club to many countries to support the Super Eagles, either for the World Cup or AFCON. Nobody will take it from him as a workaholic and goal-getter. He supports the national team with great passion. Lado, as he is fondly called by his fans and numerous admirers, is a compassionate person. PG worldwide has paid his dues as successful businessman and frontline NFSC who has driven the club to all-time height.

He is an eminent son of Ibadan, and so has been conferred with a distinguished Merit Award by the prestigious Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes (CCII). Ladipo has received almost 365 various awards and honours from different parts of the world. He is a lesson in character, a great bridge-builder, and encourages his followers to always be steadfast in all their undertakings. MANAGING EDITOR VICTOR ENYINNAYA caught up with this round-the-clock busy man and recorded this inspiring conversation that touched on the Super Eagles, Russia 2018 World Cup, among other issues.  

Daily SportsLet’s start with World Cup 2018 programme as released by the Nigeria Football Federation?

Dr Rafiu Ladipo: Thank you so much. First and foremost, where have you been?  It’s nice we are all working hard towards the good of the beautiful game. I must at the same vein tell you that I am delighted we will be in Russia come June World Cup football summit. Before I go straight to your question, I must say that Nigeria Football Supporters Club, where I am the president-general worked relentlessly behind the scene to assist Nigeria qualify for the Mundial. It was not as easy as many must have thought. We paid for our tickets, cheered every move by the Super Eagles, sang, drum, dance and clapped - all in the tradition of Supporters Club - to ginger the players and electrify the arena. We fasted and prayed also, all geared towards making the Nigerian side to excel.

To put it mildly, we went spiritual to ensure Super Eagles clinched the ticket. As veteran in this terrain, in football match, you need mother-luck. It is why you see the two sides play: one side will have more luck; that is why you see a team play so well in a given match and lose to its opponent. We prayed vehemently for mother-luck to smile on the Nigerian side. Having traversed with the team all these years, I knew what it takes to overcome and we did not relent at all, we played our own role very well from the stands. That is just a tip of the iceberg and why a team needs mother-luck. NFSC went out of its way to do it right, and we are not making noise about that feat because it is what has associated with us these odd years of supporting the Super Eagles in our unique way. Let me further tell you that my people used their money, time; risked their lives and other resources to support the Eagles. It was not a child’s play or small sacrifice but, rather, deep love for the game and the country which spanned many years. It was the source of our steadfastness in ensuring that the team succeeded.

Lest I forget, before the last game against Cameroun, when it became apparent it will be difficult we declared three days fasting and praying for our players. At the end of the day, it paid off handsomely. You will agree with me that despite several boasting by the Cameroonians, the African defending champions were humiliated all round.  It would be recalled that prior to that game, let Nigerians know that I won’t eat my Salah meat until the Indomitable Lions fell. And, true to my prediction, we beat them 4-0 in Uyo, and forced Eagles to one all draw in Douala.

For eight days, I was not in Nigeria. It is instructive to note that we NFSC travelled by road from Uyo through the borders to Douala, then to Yaoundé, two whole days. It then took us five days to get back to Nigeria. We were delighted that the two games in Uyo and Yaoundé we qualified, despite the botched one by NFF officials in Algiers. It was no mean achievement. I appreciate the team, technical crew, every other group that contributed positively to see us in Russia. No doubt qualifying for the World Cup is what every country would wish to, but playing in the tournament is a different ball game.

Therefore, Eagles and her technical crew must brace up decisively and prepare to the teeth. The Russia championship would serve as litmus test for the Nigerian side. The Mikel John Obi captained-team must prepare to give very good account of themselves. Yes, we have been in the competition several times, so we are not much excited what will excite every Nigerian is enhanced performance. The current team, despite being peopled with younger players, must get their acts together keenly committed, determined and be courageous; then take it from there to surpass the second round stage, which we attained since US 1994. The players must aim to play in the quarter-finals; it is what the team can attain and even possibly play in the semi-finals; it involves depth-planning, motivation, concentration, exceptional organisation, precision thinking and execution. If they trek this path, the lads would have written their names in gold. In view of the above, everything humanly possible must be done to put the team in a formidable form that will turn it around in winning mood, in all their outings.

We all are aware that proper and prompt preparations will turn the Eagles team into a strike-force, once blending is fast achieved and steady the squad into victories, which will make us proud as a nation. So, the programme by the federation is well-tailored into ensuring a one-stop team would emerge, given the level of the friendly matches the side will undertake before the final kick-off in Russia. Let me further emphasise that the Grade A matches are positioned to toughen the boys and make them better, shaking off any kind of fear. It is a good step in the right direction. And we pray it will all go as planned and envisaged too.

What area(s) in Eagles would you suggest Gernot Rohr to fortify? 

Oh! The technical head knows that this is the time the real work has begun. I am glad that he is a highly-calculating fellow who knew where and what to do at any given time. One thing about the Franco-German is that he is not one for too much talk. He knew there will be every need to strengthen vitally all the departments of the team before the competition proper.

For me, he has to raise our attack to be razor-like; midfield as an engine-room of the team must be formidable, alive and more articulated to soak in and control to make it extremely difficult for opponents to come in to try our defence. Yes, Mikel John Obi and Ogenyi Onazi must be up and doing, while other imaginative midfielders must be brought into the team. And most importantly, the defence must be as a rock. No panics or mis-timing and calculations, because of the dare-devil nature of our opponents’ strikers.

From the above, therefore, our defence must be solidified to calmly meet the enormous challenges that will likely crop up on the course of the tournament. There will be no mincing words on that: Balogun and Toast Ekong must be swifter, bold and calculative to effectively checkmate the opponents, without committing flaws in the 18-yard-box. On the goalkeeping area, there is every need for the technical hand to ensure drastic improvement would be geared in that area. In short, much and special attention has to be paid in that vital department in the football field. He is the one that sees better than the players and so an imaginative goalkeeper has it as his duty to organise his defence well, by ensuring he calls to order anyone that is off-line, or when the team is not marking tightly or man-to-man option. A goalkeeper that organises his defence properly has got one aspect of his job done. I would have joined in the call for the return of Vincent Enyeama. My take is that the veteran goalie should be left alone to enjoy his retirement from international football, which he left not when he should have. We all knew what was responsible for his exit from the services of the national team. A lot has been said. I would plead we allow him to enjoy his life. It is not easy! He has paid his dues in the national side and bowed out when the ovation was loudest. What if he is brought back to the World Cup and he eventually makes mistakes, what would we say? Same Nigerians calling or pressurising will not only call for his head, but would also blame him.

However, Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Uzoho and others may not have the same capacity as Enyeama, it is good to note that NFF said it will hire an expatriate goalkeeper trainer for that purpose. And, I presume that by the time he must have worked on the goalies, there will be much and marked improvement. He would know what to do. The area(s) that needed touch, no doubt, he will concentrate to bring out the sharpness and super reflexes on them. It’s why he will be employed; and nothing is impossible once you venture into it. It is a matter of our goalkeepers to be determined, articulate, bold, fearless, calm, focused, and concentrate strictly on the task ahead. Yes, he will do it because that is why he would be hired.

Do you think this Eagles team made up wholly of average players will fly?

True, the entire squad is made up of average players, no superstar of sort, but I believe the Eagles will fly. This Eagles team will not afford to do less. The team is not under any form of pressure than the quest to do well as soon as the whistle for the biggest football event in the globe sounded.

It is my belief the Nigerian side will fly, particularly once an enticing welfare package is worked out for them. What this young team needs is moral and financial encouragement. The need for heavy financial support cannot be overstressed. World Cup at that level revolves around that. There is no short cut to it, after the boys must have been well-prepared, then financial motivation has to be packaged to enable the team to concentrate and avoid distractions of any kind. That is how it should be, and one prays the Super Eagles would be well looked after.

What will further enhance the lads to do better is attractive welfare package. The players are hungry for honour and eager to get juicy contract packages at the end of the championship to new and super clubs, than where they are now. NFF and other corporate bodies have leading role to play in this regard, because the name of the game is money.

What is your candid assessment of the NFF board?   

What is your own assessment of the apex football governing body? Ha! Ha!! Ha!!! Well, the NFF body has great assignment ahead. Let me reserve any kind of assessment for now and urge that all hands should be on deck to make Russia 2018 World Cup one that would be in the minds of Nigerians for a very long time to come, because of its milestone tiding in our football and World Cup participation history. The above boils down to let the present board give us a team that will make us proud. It is the task Nigerians have given to them, no more, no less!

What in your opinion are the problems of the game in Nigeria?

There are several problems confronting the game here, like lack of adequate funding, good administration, provision of modern-day infrastructures in all our stadia complexes, rganization, planning, maintenance culture, training and retraining of our coaches and other support staff.

What is your advice for our Technical Adviser and his players?

Gernot Rohr should continue with his full concentration nature. He should also maintain being himself, as he has so far shown, no matter the under-current and intensive pressure the powers-that-be may mount on him. He must ensure nobody impose any player on him; because, if he accepts such player(s) and fail, he is the one that would bear the shame. He should not listen to wrong counsel, but continue to give the fans, players in current form: willing, hungry, committed and cool-headed to listen to instruction. Foremost, he should not play names, only those in sizzling form would be good enough for the forthcoming World Cup fiesta in Russia.

Thank you, Sir, for your time.

It is my pleasure. Keep being a great partner in our spirited bid to give this round leather game meaning in the country. I wish Daily Sports well. Bravo!

•Photo shows Dr Rafiu Olalere Ladipo, President-General, Nigeria Football Supporters Club, Worldwide.

Source Daily Sports

Posted March 27, 2018

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