New Telegraph


Ex-international, Friday ‘Elastic’ Elaho, in a recent interview which CHARLES OGUNDIYA was part of, has said the issue of Mafia in the Super Eagles in the past was the imagination of people as there was nothing like that during his time with the national team. Excerpts…

How did Clemens Westerhof discovered you?

I need to correct some impression, I didn’t start with Westerhof, I started with Coach Paul Hamilton in 1986 after the Flying Eagles. I have been in the team since ’86 and was part of the Eagles when the German coach, Manfred Hoener, was there in 1988. Although I was not really playing like that but by 1989, I became an integral part of the team with Westerhof. It was a good experience with him because he was a good manager and we all brought our heart to play for him. The thing I love about him was that he so much believed in the home-based players and that’s where he started and we didn’t disappoint him. He took the team to Algiers ’90 and despite starting badly with the opening game against the host, the team went all the way to win the silver medal losing 1-0 to Algeria in the final and it was a good experience for us.

Looking back at that Algiers 1990 AFCON, could you share some of the memories with us?

Most of us in that team were playing for the local league and we were invited to the national team and we decided to prove a point because other people were professionals and when we got to Algeria we lost our first match 5-1 to the host team; it was not good but we rallied back and beat everyone to get to the final. I am not trying to exaggerate here, I was the most outstanding player in that tournament, and I was a local player in Nigeria here, so that’s what I want to see from local players in Nigeria. I want to see them excel, I want to see people talk about them.

At that tournament in Algeria, which game would you say was the most difficult and most exciting for you as a player?

You know, when you’re playing a host team, it would be difficult for you because everybody would be supporting them so it was a bit difficult for us when we played Algeria, but we didn’t have to care whether they were the host team, we just had to try our best which we did but again other teams like Egypt, Zambia, Côte d’Ivore, I won’t say it was easy but because of the way I was playing people saw those games as very easy because I was just too outstanding.

What would you say about the issue of mafia in the national team at that time?

I don’t really understand what they mean by mafia. It’s always like that when you have a group of people and some players are not playing, they then came up with the issue of Mafia in camp. Personally I don’t think there was anything like that, the players were better than each other. When people were saying there was Mafia in the camp, I don’t really know where it was coming from. We have a job then and we were taught to focus on the job, so I don’t believe in any mafia.

How did you come about the name Elastic?

It was from the late commentator, Ernest Okonkwo, it was a during an FA Cup we played between Iwuanyanwu Nationale and BCC Gboko; it was that day the name came out.

There was this story that a lot of players would beg you not to embarrass them with your elastic dribbling, how true?

Yes, I don’t have to praise myself but I know I was very good then. Most of the defenders in the league then were always a bit scared because of my style and physicality.

If you are to xray your career, which club will you say gave you the breakthrough?

When I was playing for Bendel Insurance, I enjoyed the place same as ACB Gboko, but when I moved to Iwuanyanwu Nationale, that was where I really enjoyed my game. I will say it was there the real Elahor came out and I was invited to the national team. At the club the players were not under tension or any pressure, we were there to play and enjoy ourselves. Although we were boys playing, we played like men and I remember that we played a whole season without losing.

Playing in Denmark, could you compare the way football is run over there and back home in Nigeria?

There is no comparison. It’s strictly professional over there, you are employed to do a job and you must do it well. The point is you don’t have to bother about anything ranging from your salary, match bonus, insurance and the rest. Over there you are given a car and whatever you need you get as a player. Over here, the administration is bad, you cannot compare it with European standard. No insurance for players and when you are injured, you are on your own, you will have to go and take care of yourself, players are risking their lives playing here in the country. Sometimes I don’t blame players running abroad to any league to play football, because if you look at the standard in Nigeria with respect to administration and welfare of players, it is nothing to write home about, so I don’t blame players who take the next available flight to leave the Nigerian league.

What makes Nigerian football unattractive to fans unlike your days?

The problem is the fact that our best players don’t want to stay back at home so no star for the fans to watch during league games. During our days, we stayed for years in the league playing in the then National League. I was at Bendel Insurance for four years, two years at ACB and another two years at Iwuanyanwu, so you can see how many years I stayed in the league. People wanted to come to the stadium to watch ‘Elastic’, people wanted to watch the likes of Toyin Ayinla, Segun Odegbami, Felix Owolabi and so many other big players in the league at that time, we had fans supporting the teams. Talking about Stationery Stores, Bendel Insurance, Rangers or Iwuanyanwu Nationale, these are clubs with great followership in the country. But nobody around now that fans will want to follow and flock the stadium to watch each weekend.

Will you say their quest to play for the national team contributed to their moving out of the country as the current coach of the Super Eagles, Gernot Rohr, has not really been giving them an opportunity in the team?

When the players are not taken care of very well, they will leave. Also the salary these players are getting for me is not enough, so they will go to a place where they will get something better that will help their lives especially after football. And again, I am one person who always wants the home-based players in the national team because most of us started from home; the coach cannot tell me he cannot get six players from the league here. That’s why Westerhof is better than most of these coaches, because the number of the players playing at home will always be more than those pros. Sometimes he will invite six or thereabouts from Europe and the rest will be players from the league. If you don’t expose the players at home, how do you want them to get to the level of the pros you are inviting? Expose them and see where they can get to. It’s appalling that every time you only invite one player and that’s a goalkeeper who will not even see a game, it’s not right at all.

Would you say the effects of European football is part of the reasons fans are not turning up for league games?

In South Africa, they were able to manage the situation by putting their matches at different time from European football. We can adopt the same pattern here in Nigeria by putting our games at 2pm, 7pm or even weekdays. But the problem will be how many clubsides in the country have good floodlights for evening games? During our days, we had some foreigners playing in our league, if we have good sponsors, we can do that again.

Between you and Austin Okocha, who will you say was a better player?

The truth is we didn’t operate from the same position on the field of play. While I played from the left side of the wing, Okocha played from the middle, so if you want to rate the best outside left, they will mention my name and if you want to talk about the best midfielder, you will have to give it to Okocha. We had different roles to play on the field.

Who is a better dribbler between the two of you?

Nigerians will have to answer that because the two of us happened to be entertainer. For me, I am more forceful when it comes to attacking while Okocha always enjoyed himself on the field of play. No doubt about it, Okocha was a good dribbler during his days and one of the best that came from the continent.

Which was the toughest match of your career?

That was when I was playing for Brondby; we played against AS Roma in the quarterfinal of the UEFA Champions League that was in 1990, it was a very difficult match because after playing goalless in Denmark, we went there we lost the match 1-0, it was a very difficult but good game.

Looking back, will you say you had a fulfilling career with the Super Eagles?

Yes, of course, I’m very proud of it, because don’t forget I was invited to the national team in 1986, you can calculate from then till 1993. It was a successful one.

Do you have any of your children playing football?

I have young children growing up so if they want to go into football no problem, because I can’t force them as a father. If it is basketball, athletics or whichever sports they want to take part in, I will support them. For me I am still alive and want my fans to know that football still remain my life.

What are you doing at the moment?

I am a coach at the moment, coaching an amateur clubside playing in the Nationwide Leagueone.

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