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African teams not showing enough character at the World cup – Peter Ijeh

A former Super Eagles striker Peter Ijeh is not happy about the poor state of Nigerian football and in an interview with AJIBADE OLUSESAN from his base in Sweden said concerted efforts should be made to encourage knowledgable individuals in the management of the sport in Nigeria… Excerpts:

The World Cup is underway in Qatar with the Super Eagles not featuring in the event, just like many Nigerians, you should be unhappy about this development and how do you think we can avoid a repeat?

Honestly, I am happy the World Cup is on; on a personal note, as a coach because it still creates an avenue for me to watch other teams playing style, culture and technical disposition. But as a patriotic Nigerian, I could have been happier if my country is there but truth be told all the teams participating in the World Cup deserve to be there.

I think this is a wake-up call for us to ensure that we have better preparation and projection for the Eagles come 2026. However, I need to add that the results emanating from the World Cup as regard teams from Africa are not encouraging at all; it shows that African soccer is still lacking a modern technical and tactical mix.

We have seen shockers in the tournament with Argentina and Germany getting beaten by minnows what do you think this means for football?

I can tell you that upsets will become a new norm in the competition because we are going to see more of that. More teams now have their players exposed to football in other countries; look at the Japanese team, about seven or eight of their players are playing in the German Bundesliga. Their diaspora players are bringing a wealth of experience back to their country.

From what you said earlier you seem not to be impressed by the performance of African teams so far, Cameroon just lost to Switzerland ….

As a coach, going out for a tournament of this magnitude, you just don’t sit back in low-block defence and allow the opponents to be comfortable with the ball while depending on the counterattacks. The techni-cal ability playing out from the bench is pretty poor. We haven’t seen that tactical discipline, flamboyance, flair and composure associated with African football on the stage.

We have many of these players playing for top clubs in Europe and I think we should have brought that exposure to bear on our performance. They are just comfortable sitting back; look at Canada, incredible performance from them; Belgium were just incredibly lucky to have run away with a 1-0 win, those Canadians took the fight to their more experienced opponents and that is the kind of thing we expect from the African teams.

I am more disappointed in what Senegal did; it was a bad performance for them. They represented the best opportunity for the continent to go far in the tournament but they let so many people down with their show. They only proved that they have no bite when Sadio Mane is not there; the midfielders tried to produce some moments of grace but the attack line was flat and they couldn’t really threaten the Netherlands. The African teams have not shown enough character as much as we used to see in the past, it is unfortunate.

Would you say the Super Eagles would have done better had they qualified?

There is nothing that suggests we would have done better; we are not in the competition because we don’t deserve to be there; we have to accept the reality that our football is not developing the way we expect and the result is what we have seen now.

The Eagles have some quality strikers, Victor Osimhen, Paul Onuachu and Ademola Lookman are the highest scorers for their clubs in Europe and would have lit up this tournament with that form…..

Eagles have always been blessed with good players who do well for their clubs but we have not been able to see those forms translated to good performance for the national team. It is a team of individual qualities but as a team, we have not been doing well. Look at the way the squad has turned out even after we lost the World Cup tickets; they haven’t been spectacular.

You are certainly not impressed by the work done so far by Coach Jose Peseiro….

He has been with the team for some time and up til now, I don’t know his philosophy. We don’t know the pattern and playing style of the Eagles. Peseiro hasn’t put his personality on the squad and the results have also not been coming his way. He has lost about five matches now as Eagles coach. Look at the big teams we have played, we lost almost all of those games; we beat Lesotho and Siera Leone but we haven’t made our mark in big games. You don’t need to spend all the time in the world to be able to build a team that people will be able to identify as your own with the tactics, philosophy and playing pattern.

We don’t have anything to evaluate; what we have so far looks like the coach just tells the players to go out there and play football without clearcut technical and tactical direction. It is good that the African Nations Cup qualifiers will resume soon, maybe we will begin to see the changes but with the way we are playing, we can only manage to beat some smaller African countries, we can’t achieve much on a global stage. So, Peseiro has to start showing us he has a plan for this team, we must start to see a clear-cut identity regarding the squad in terms of the way they play.

Many Nigerians were particularly sad about the way the team lost 4-0 to Portugal in a friendly match a few days ago, did you have such a feeling too?

The Eagles just messed up the chances of proving to the world that they actually deserve to be at the World Cup. They should have put up a world-class show against a World Cup-bound team; that would have sent a strong message to their fans and helped their psychology going forward. But they didn’t pull their weight and that result was not quite pleasing. I expected the players to have been more dedicated, and I expected the coach to have galvanised his players into producing encouraging result but that didn’t happen.

Some people believe what Nigeria experience on the pitch of play is a reflection of poor administration of the game in Nigeria because the right of people are not allowed to run the game, do you believe that?

It is an open truth that our football is not run according to the global best practices and that is why we are where we are. Look at our league, our clubs are finding it difficult to make their mark in the CAF Champions League. In the past 10-15 years we have not seen our clubs go beyond the quarterfinal of the tournament, most time they crash out in the preliminaries; that shouldn’t be happening to Nigeria. Apart from the fact that the league is badly run, more ex-internationals should have been integrated into the system and created a platform for them to help us develop the youngsters. They would have used their exposure and experience to help football grow but they don’t want to engage people who will add value.

The government recently scrapped the League Management Company which was running the league and appointed an Interim Management Committee, of what benefit do you think this action is to the game?

You can’t build a house on a bad foundation; the LMC badly run our league and the result is there for everyone to see. For several years, our league has not been on television; we have robbed the talented young players of the TV exposure which would have helped them prove to the world what they can do.

This thing is working in Europe, why is not working in Nigeria? It is because we don’t have the people with the knowledge and experience in charge to bring these positive things to bear on our football. Even the interim committee is proving not to be different; they haven’t shown us the blueprint, or the plan they have for the league and they have already announced that the league will start in December. People are comfortable with what they can grab from the system before they leave the position; they don’t plan for the future.

That is why clubs sell players and they can’t account for the proceeds; the managements of these clubs don’t even have plans for their outfits. When I moved from Julius Berger to Malmo FFK, after just 45 minutes, the coaches said I was what they were looking for and after some time they brought a certain young player, his name is Zlatan Ibrahimovic and they handed him over to me, they wanted me to be his mentor.

Right from Day One, they had a plan for Zlatan and by the time they sold him to Ajax, they declined to take bulk money, they told Ajax to bring this small money, wand said they would be getting 5 percent from all the contracts he sign subsequently. So, all the transfers Zlatan has gone through, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Barcelona, MLS, Manchester United, Malmo have been collecting money five percent.

Malmo had a small stadium, during my time; the one like what we used to see in Nigeria but today, they have a massive edifice, something that can pass for a national stadium; it is that kind of Zlatan deals that brought the money they used to build all the facilities and they are making more money now through the usage of the stadium. Those guys didn’t do things for their own sake, they did for the community, they did for their country and football. We need to imbibe such culture.

Your daughter is one of the most exciting young female footballers in Europe, you will be happy she is following in your footsteps and will you allow her to play for Nigeria’s Super Falcons?

As a father I am proud; she keeps developing and scoring great goals. She was given the Goal of the Year award in the Swedish league. What then tells us is that if I could develop my own daughter to become this good, you can imagine what I can do with boys. That is the experience we attempted to bring to Nigeria but they keep saying no. Playing for Nigeria? I can’t say categorically because, in the society where we live here, you can’t dictate to a child who is already 18. He or she should be able to take decisions on his or her own, that African mentality can’t work here; as a father and coach, I can only guide her and provide her with options. She has played for the Swedish U-17, and U-19 and she is in U-23 now but you can’t rule out playing for Nigeria but there has to be some level of stability in the way the system is run there, because that matters a lot.

Going down memory lane, you had a tremendous club career but you did not hit top height with the Super Eagles, you managed just a few games, what happened?

We all know that players aren’t invited based on merit and that has to change to save the next generation. I played over 300 professional premier league games in Scandinavia. Scoring over 138 times and played 22028 minutes at the club level. I still hold the record of scoring the highest number of goals in one season in Sweden, 24 goals in 23 goals since 2002. No player has broken that record. Instead of sobbing over non-invitation, I took solace in education. Now I am a proud BSc holder and a Uefa Grade ( A) coach. The next generation should learn from that and not use or dependent on the national team as a yardstick for their career. The reverse should be the case.

Some players have complained about how coaches and even administrators demanded bribe before they could be invited for the national team, did it ever happen to you?

My dear, let’s just let the sleeping dog lie. Let us hope transparency prevails in all ramifications of our national life. The dignity of a player is when he’s given the chance to perform without favouritism, godfatherism, ethnicity or tribal considerations. CONTINUED FROM PAGE 15

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