Super Eagles will be at Russia 2018 World Cup — Fatai Amoo

By Daily Sports on November 21, 2016

Fatai Folorunsho Amoo, an assistant coach to Samson Siasia for the Rio 2016 Olympics U-23 Eagles team that won a Bronze medal, Nigeria’s only laurel at the world event hosted by Brazil, is a popular name in football circles. The charismatic sweat merchant who has coached some of the top club sides in the country, served as national coach with the Nigeria Football Association at the U-17 level in 2003. His patriotism and concern for the growth of football in Nigeria is captured in this revealing in-depth interview with MANAGING EDITOR VICTOR ENYINNAYA.

Could you please reflect on football in your days, from club level to the national.

Hmmm! In all honesty, I must tell you that there have been lots of drastic changes in the game. The transformation has been so overwhelming. For instance, during my days in the game, it revolved around pure passion for the game. As a matter of fact, money became secondary as the joy of being a player ran so high among us (players), and other stakeholders. It was all about making name and sustaining it. It worked well for all of us who were deeply involved in the act of playing and administering the round leather sport. The entire scenario has totally given way for a money-spinning scene. Presently, players become billionaires just within a twinkle of an eye. It’s good for the game I must posit. It has to be noted that star footballers of today are reaping great fortunes from their sweat. Their hard-earned efforts have brought gritty, colour and hold for the game globally. The difference has not only lifted the game but it also made it the most beautiful money-spinner among other sports, all for the good of the game.

The rapid swift brought tremendous influence for the players, coaches, team owners, and others that have one thing or the other to do with the game.

FIFA also followed suit, cashed in and lifted its status by ensuring that rules and regulations that govern it are dynamic, and conform perfectly to the e-society.

Let me also critically observe that Nigerian players have been great beneficiaries of the revolution that overtook the game. It has helped in no small measure to ease unemployment, as naturally talented lads have availed themselves of the yawning opportunity to get hooked for good in the art of the adductive game. It was the solid foundation of the forerunners of the game that the present day players, administrators and sundry stakeholders capitalised on to build this solid bridge. I am predicting that the best is yet to be seen, and achieved.

In the 1970s and ‘80s, just being a national team player meant a lot amongst your peers, neighbours, and mentors, too. Those of us that were richly blessed with such gift humbly utilised it and never let it become king over us; rather, we managed the fame considerably then, which made it possible for most of us to have found ourselves where we are today. My-self and others, I must confess, have managed life after football so well. I am proud to serve my country as a player and later as coach. Which honour is greater than that? There is no doubt that the future holds a lot for the country in the round leather game.

You played top flight club game and also in the Green Eagles: tell us how it was?

Oh yes! I played club football here, and was in the national team also. It was not easy then to even play in the state team. Permit me to digress a bit. With full respect for the national team players today, it was like a camel passing through the eye of a needle before you are invited to play for your state team, during our time. It involved lots of rigour, hard work, competition and painstaking effort on your part as a player. It was same in the national side also, patriotism was so dripping. No god father or anything near such. All was based strictly on merit and best practices. What l said was the norm in those good old days, which made the game grew rapidly in the land, ensured crowds thronged league centres to watch and cheer their idol clubs and players to victory. I am not saying the process is lowered today, but what l emphasise on is: if this kind of good will and money the game is enjoying today were there during our days, some of us would have been extra-ordinary, and heavy money-bags, due to the kind of talent we displayed. However, one is not in any way regretting it though, bearing in mind that, ‘every man has his time.’ We did our best to keep the flag flying, and God has remained faithful to me. Interestingly, that was the kind of tedious process I went through with others that held their heads high during our time. Let me repeat that it was tougher to get selected into the state team and the national side, because we had water-tight developmental football programmes; coaches and administrators were proactive to the core. It was why Nigerian football was solidly fortified; they all served with their whole heart.

Foremost, the economy was buoyant then, and those managing football set targets for themselves, knowing that it was a big task. So, they honestly worked assiduously and at the end of the day, they entrenched their names in gold. In those good old days, the norm was you focus on what you want to achieve and map out how best to go about. The truth is: both the players at the club and the national team were totally committed. Even before you get your West African School Certificate, you already have jobs waiting for you. Nigeria was like a paradise, unlike nowadays when such privileges have abruptly been betrayed. The passion was so high! As a player in your state team you are already like a king within your neighbourhood; also playing in the national team attracted much respect too.

Today, it is a different ball game altogether, unlike when we played in the 1970s and 1980s. Things have moved forward electronically. The sport has gone computerized, thereby setting the tone for present day dynamism. It is instructive to point out that nations that are proactive to the tune of the time are heavily reaping the fruits. But, asking me if Nigeria has keyed into the trend, remains a moot point. It is in the public domain that even FIFA, and many federating units that made up the world body, wholeheartedly embraced the new era and reforms. That is why football administration and players of such federations have witnessed upward turn over.

You played all your club football in Lagos State. Why?

I can safely say that I am a Lagosian. I schooled in Lagos, started my early life, played for the state team, plied my club football in the state too. It was my exploits in the state team that caught the eyes of national team coaches to invite me to the Green Eagles. The norm then was that right from primary school, games masters, without much ado, knew those that were going to be fantastic athletes. The story is not the same today and we all know why. Because, the transformation in the game where money heavyweights bought into the sport, like what we have seen in the EPL and other leagues, no doubt have reacted tremendously as a game-changer.

It has turned the lives of our present-day players, families and other dependents lives’ around. The vitality of the game has no doubt made more visible the thick lines that contributed to its uniqueness as the most popular sport in the globe gets stronger, better and catchier the day. The leaning serves as tonic for the game. In short, it strengthened its number one position worldwide.

Kindly reflect on problems of the game from your time to the present.

The process as you will agree with me cannot be the same as much water has passed under the bridge either way in the country. In those days the bulk of our players are sourced locally, notably players from Rangers, then IICC Shooting Stars and few from Bendel Insurance, Raccah Rovers, etc. It made the process so easy for the coaches to work on the players with relative ease; unlike this day when majority of our national team players are plying their trade abroad. As a result, when they are invited, they come in with different playing patterns, in addition to the FIFA stipulated arrival days to the match. And now the lot then fell on the shoulders of the coaches, to ensure the boys are together for preparations in earnest for any given game. You see, even if they are all in Europe, they don’t play the same pattern or tactics.

It makes it difficult to get the boys readily together well ahead for any match nowadays, because they don’t play in the same league system. The crew had to settle down for business of ensuring the team is harnessed for result. Inviting players from different leagues systems pose grave difficulty, unlike then when at least eight of the 11 players came from a particular club locally. I must also add that after the players must have arrived camp, we had to start working on the aggregate of their talents aimed at arriving at desired result. If you are outside the system, impression is always after all, they are all professionals they don’t need much teaching and learning of the game, but it is more than that. The tactics for any game must be perfectly adopted and mastered by all. The coaches are doing their best to ensure results come.

Okay, draw the line in terms of administration then and now?

You see, drawing such kind of line between the administration of the old and new would look as if one is criticizing, rather than speaking the truth, which sets soul and mind free. This is with full respect to our administrators today. If we are to look back, we must have realised that in the past, when you had people like POC Achebe, Patrick Okpomo, Nathaniel Idowu, Sunday Dankaro, Okon Effiong, Isidore Oduah, and others, that held forth between the 1970s and 1980s you would know where I am coming from, and going. For those of us that had the opportunity to be in the national team when they were actively administering the game, I knew richly what obtained. We knew their pedigrees and it rubbed off handsomely on our football. The best thing is for me not to comment on that area, because there is no how it will not look as if l’m not taking sides. l have always restrained myself from drawing comparisons on administrations all these years. I will rather maintain seeing things from positive angles, in order to move the game forward. I am not one for arm-chair criticism. As an ex-international and professional coach, I tried my best to place issues on sound perspectives, what would vividly stand the true test and realities on ground. For those of us who played in the national team then if l drew conclusions, it will look as if l am criticising the others, so let’s leave it at that for now. Nigeria’s football is gradually evolving.

You were in Brazil for the Rio Olympics Games. Recall your experience to Nigerians?

Sincerely speaking, we must be honest to ourselves. The experience we had before and during Rio 2016 Olympic Games could better be imagined than described. My often and candid take here is that we must try as much as possible to avoid a bitter, shameful and dehumanising repeat in future. There is a proverb that says: ‘If you have not encountered worst and terrifying experience of a daring situation, and you turn around to say you have, you will be regarded as a joker by people that once travel the rough, tough and lonely road.’ There is no how a person will have original grasp of such situation appreciate the facts, when one has never experienced it in the first place. Therefore, you better not tell the story. Whatever one has gone through in life, from any adventure or otherwise, presents adequate opportunity for him to learn from. What happened to us before, during the build-up and the event proper, ought not to have happened to us if we do learn from the past, in this part of the world. We have to start learning fast and fast. It is a shame talking about the same teething problems over and over again in every Olympics year. It looks absurd!

From what I have said, it’s clear that it was what we would have entirely avoided. It nearly cost us the football medal, which turned out to be the consolatory medal the country of over 170 million people had from Rio Olympic Games 2016. I must be frank with you, we had to come together to give the players physiological boost, and also given the vast experience of Mikel Obi in the game, too; he rallied the players to the fullest. During that trying period, the technical crew and team officials adopted strategy as if the team arrived the venue weeks back to the games, and it equally helped us. We knew we were in total confusion; each time in the flight, we kept asking ourselves if we can make our opening game against Japan. Remember, we were counting down; we were smiling outside but inside us, if there was an X-ray machine, it would have shown the opposite. We resorted to smiling because we must be seen by the players during such tensed moment as very cheerful and in total concentrated mood. If the lads have seen us being frightened and dejected, it would have sent a very dangerous signal. The Chief Coach Samson Siasia, my good self, the team doctor, and other officials must get kudos for the rare plan that kept the spirit of the players high in the flight at the obvious and hopeless circumstances. The team officials’ resolution to work together for the overall interest of the squad and country paid off, with our psychological stimuli to the boys.

Now, what then do we start doing for Japan 2020 Games?

My humble response would be: we should avoid re-occurrence. I will not, as a coach, allow such ugly and dehumanising experience to happen to me and my team in any future engagement. Please, permit me to beg that we rest that Rio experience, as it is so heartbreaking. We are grateful to Nigerians down home, and the players that had the heart of a lion, which rallied us that far, though the crew and the team planned more than what we settled for at last. Their faith in us propelled the resilience.

The semi-final game against the Germans was a very difficult one. What really did you tell the boys before the encounter?

I must confess that we were positive about the match, and we worked hard on the team in full readiness. However, the Germans were good that day; they watched and studied our clips; we did same to theirs too. The basic thing is: we are out, we are out. I don’t give excuses. However, from my own perspective, we lost the game by missing the services of Eteoba and Okey Azubuike. I am not saying without them, we would not have moved forward, but we dearly missed their services, because these were lads that held midfield solidly tight and forcefully join the attack to give opponent’s defence intensive pressure. Now, put that aside, those that replaced them tried their best, but all fingers are not equal. l cannot, in terms of output, rate higher those that came in for the first team players.

Secondly, it depends on how your players process information. We watched, paused, and analysed the clips of the Germans, and we watched them repeatedly, seeing how they played, and instructed on how to handle the game. For instance, we instructed our wing backs to always be at alert, never allow crosses to drop, by making sure you are on your positions; that the Germans rely on crosses to do the damage. However, before you knew it, the opponents have already capitalised on the same areas we hammered on to score their two goals. The Germans studied us as much as we did to them also. We had Stanley Amuzie who overlaps. What am I saying? The Germans took advantage of what was our short coming. We gave our team enough information about the Germans, but they failed to heed. Tomorrow is another day. If you replay the video clip of the game, you will see that their two goals came from the same spot we heaped seriously on to our wing defenders. It can be frustrating after doing your homework, only for it to be fluttered by your wards. When you have players who go to the field and cannot quickly read and understand the trends of the game and do the needful, such occurs. We did a lot in the training. They failed to make use of all they were instructed to do, and then add their initiative, which was why we failed to advance.

Please, let our readers into why you gave Mikel Obi kudos for his leadership qualities?

Yes, it was not unfounded. I am not one that talks with both sides of my mouth. The young man even beat hollow his worst critics, and displayed leadership by example. It beats everyone’s imagination how the Eagles captain came up with such quality that helped stabilise the camp. He is a wonderful guy. I don’t really know if I may call it coincidence. I had known Mikel Obi when he was growing up in the game. It was way back; I was chief coach of the Julius Berger FC, and was appointed as one of the assistant coaches in the U-17 side. When l came up with my letter, l was not officially released by my club. However, when l arrived the Ibadan camp of the team, the exercise was almost over. I met the coaches led by Ganiyu Salami, late Aloysius Atuegbu, Hassan Abubakar, and my humble self was to work with the elderly man who welcomed me. He said: Fatai, take these remaining lads that are yet to undergo screening, try them out and bring us your report. I can recall that I discovered some of the talented players and coincidentally Mikel was among them. I stayed in the Ibadan camp for about five days and returned to my place of work. When I was playing in the Green Eagles, coach Salami was already an assistant coach in the team and I saw it as big opportunity to work under him. If you would remember, I assisted late Shuaibu Amodu to qualify the Super Eagles to the World Cup, which we were prevented from leading the team to. No reason behind that till today. I have moved on as that had long been consigned to the past. I declare that it is well with our football. Again, when I was appointed assistant to Siasia in the U-23 Olympic Eagles, Mikel was invited and then appointed the captain of the side. To be candid, he displayed excellent leadership to the players, which helped to make the job of the technical crew easier. As the top-most and one of the high-flying players in the country, he brought himself to the level of every player he met in camp, and blended perfectly with them.

To our utmost delight, you saw him cracking jokes with his team-mates, thereby creating conducive and relaxed atmosphere in the camp. To be candid, if you looked at the players that were in the 2016 Rio U-23 Eagles, how many of them were in the top-flight clubs in Europe. Mikel immediately adjusted to be their equal, it was an added advantage. He has won everything at the club level and some in the national team. His humane disposition from day one to the last day in camp was one that made wholesome impact that brought sanity, composure, collaboration and high spirit the team had in Rio Games. In short, he shut up even his most ardent critics that he has all it takes to lead, and he did not disappoint at all. Mikel provided rock-solid exemplary leadership that helped to shape and define the mood of the team, as the games of football event lasted. I believe that it is good enough to let Nigerians into all these, so that others coming would learn a lesson from his character. He ensured that every player got his due respect. His cool comportment encouraged his team-mates to deeply interact with him; also asked questions to know and learn more. The players confessed that they enjoyed his presence.

John Mikel Obi never lived in isolation, which singular act, won the hearts of the rest of the players and great sense of belonging even at the training. He always urged them on, saying: come on, guys, let’s do it harder and better for the country. All those pep talks worked wonders for the team. With my experience in coaching, when Mikel chose the way he did, I knew our team would go far and I was proved dead right. Mikel worked hard and transferred such to the rest of his team-mates.

He even declared that anytime such opportunity comes, he would do more. My take, therefore, is that our other star players should emulate that sterling character by the Chelsea of England player, so as to encourage the younger ones among them. John Mikel Obi has set that record for the good of the game. I pray the Super Eagles players will cooperate with him, as they plan to conquer their group opponents to pick Russia 2018 World Cup ticket.

As a veteran of many crucial soccer battles, do the Super Eagles have a chance of qualifying to the World Cup in 2018?

Oh! I don’t have any doubt about that in my heart of hearts. They have a bright and slim chance like any other team in the group. If you ask me why the bright chance? Everyone is now on zero point, and with the number of matches, it is up to any side to up their game and lead the way from the onset. That is why l said they have bright chance. Now, the new technical hand, German’s Rohr, has seen some of the players, but he has not seen all. He has also led the team to defeat Tanzania in a formality AFCON 2017 qualifier. No doubt, he is experienced and knew, to some extent, African players and their kind of football. For him in Nigeria, it will be a different ball game. Whether he is capable or not, it is not in my domain to say. I pray for his success, because that is the aspiration of Nigerians that her darling side would book a place in the next World Cup in Russia.

What’s your assessment of the indigenous coaches?

The indigenous hands in the team are some of the best among us. Salisu Yusuf has seen top actions in Enyimba International, Kano Pillars and, I think, El-Kanemi. These teams, with their geographical spread, are no push over. He is solid to give enough information on players in NPFL. Alloy Agu is the most experienced in the team, even though he is a goalie trainer. He does his job well and he has gone round, too. The technical adviser has a good supporting staff. For the foreign legion, the German knew them from reports on their performances in their respective clubs every day. In all, the Eagles are safe and in sound hands. Foremost, it again depends on how the NFF will handle the whole thing. When coaches ensure present form determines players invited, the job will be half-done, and another is motivation of the boys. Apart from the monetary, there are other aspects to show the team their welfare is paramount. Look at how Enugu State Government is handling the case of the injured Rangers player, closely monitoring him and even promised to fly him out, if the need arises. We don’t pray for injury, but such approach by Governor Ugwuanyi remains more assuring and a hallmark to lift players’ spirit. We pray for them to get it right from the onset, and then take it from there.

Give a word on NPFL?

The League Management Company (LMC), in my candid view, has done well for the growth and steady improvement on the domestic league. That is not to say they have reached their limit No, I based my assertion compared to past years. There are much still to be done. We have seen some innovations, confusions and agitations. The speed of improvement is commendable. We, in this part of the world, don’t have patience. It has been causing us a lot. We don’t really try to break it down by way of planning and implementation. You must try and be systematic too. If we resort to systematic planning, we are going to achieve. Let me give you one typical and genuine example, in EPL. La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1, etc, you don’t see a team coming from the lower league to premiership to say they’re coming to win the league or all the 20 teams on the log claiming to win the diadem. Sadly, all the teams in NPFL want to come tops.

For instance, when you look at your team’s financial muscle and the calibre of players in your lineup, you set target for your team and, most important, set up a sound welfare for your team. To get things right, before they sign, you tell them, this is what I can pay; don’t go beyond what your club can afford. If clubs don’t go beyond their financial power, they will not owe here and there. Look at a club like 3SC owing up to six months: how would these boys give in their best? It is not possible! They will be battling relegation every season. So, sincerity is key here. Let all our clubs try to secure sponsorship, no matter how little it may be. The LMC is not doing badly presently, but they can do better. It is a continuous exercise. Let me appeal here that all the warring parties in any dispute with LMC should come together and settle amicably, for the progress of the game. It is one industry that is employing many families and we should not fold our hands and allow rancour and unnecessary be bickering to ruin it. This medium is an avenue for me to drum it that every outstanding issue(s) should be trashed out, declaring no victor, no vanquished so that the league will be sponsorship-friendly.

How did you feel working with Samson Siasia?

Sincerely speaking, it was an experience. I knew him way back during our school years. He attended Gaskiya College, Orile and I attended Silatu Secondary School Yaba. As young guys playing for the state team, you knew football was well developed in almost all the states then. I remember when the NFA asked states to produce four players to the national team in 1982; I was from First Bank FC and Siasia from, maybe, Julius Berger. We knew ourselves as players until that job came. I was exciting and I enjoyed working with him, as humans we cannot be perfect. He is a jolly good fellow; we appreciated each other with others around us then. It is not every cloth you put on the sun to dry. By and large, by the grace of God, we had a team of very understanding coaches where we managed our affairs well.

Is there any lasting impression you would like to share; for example, people that encouraged you one way or the other in your career?

Yes, thank you so much. There are. When I was talking about how I grew up in Lagos, there was this man, Honourable Razaq Ademola Seriki, one-time chairman, Lagos State Sports Council and minister of the Federal Republic: we grew up together in the same neighbourhood and went to the same secondary school. When I was playing then, he and other young guys were Stationary Stores FC supporters till tomorrow, while some of us were NEPA supporters. Even after school, when it was obvious I am hugely talented, they did everything to ensure I play for Stores. But, I did not see myself playing football, I was not thinking of plying the trade. Since then, we have been friends and brothers, and he has really played key roles in my life, till tomorrow. Seriki did not play the game, but his passion for football is so dripping. It will be safe to say he eats, drinks, sleeps and wakes with the great excitement of the game. Every time I am like his hero. Another prominent person is Wasiu Ayinde Barrister. We grew up in the same neighbourhood. While I was playing football he was into music. We grew up together, till tomorrow we are still like that. Those guys are great, which ordinarily I won’t say anything without mentioning them, because of their roles to mankind, not only me. Of course, this interview will not be said to be complete if I fail to mention the name of my caring brother, His Excellency, former governor of Lagos State, Raji Babatunde Fashola (SAN); presently a minister of the Federal Republic. When it is good or otherwise, he is always there for me. I, sincerely, want to use this medium to thank him for all he has done and continues to do for my family. Honestly speaking, he has really been much supportive. We have closely known each other for over 20 years and he has never fluttered. He is there for my family and I. God will always be there for them that truly care and share with the down-trodden, which Fashola roundly represents. If I am reflecting on my career without mentioning some of them, it will be quite imperfect, though they are so numerous to mention here. Till tomorrow, we are inseparable from one another. These are guys that contributed meaningfully to my success story in the game till today.

Thank you very much, for your precious time.

It is my pleasure, Victor. Your medium is striving harder to attract traffic to your website every day, with your ‘breaking news’, updates and other juicy stories. I follow your portal closely and I wish you well.

•Photo shows Coach Fatai Amoo.

Source Daily Sports

Posted November 21, 2016


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