Soccer Parole Exclusive Interview With Mutiu Adepoju

Mutiu Adepoju

What advice would you give the Super Eagles ahead of the 2018 world cup?

Well, I believe that when a player gets into the field, it’s just 11 against 11 and whoever you are playing, you just have to believe in your abilities and the tactics and everything you’ve been training for and just go for the game, that’s what I’m going to tell them. We played against Argentina a few days ago, and the players got on the field and did their best and that’s the way I want them to approach it but I will want them to be in form for their highest performance for the world cup because that’s going to be very important. I will also advise every one of them should fight for shirts in their various clubs.

At this level in the world cup, are there any easy opponents?

I don’t believe there are easy opponents and that’s what I always say, people are asking which countries we’ll rather be grouped with but I will say I don’t care which teams we’ll have in our group because we just have to go there and play with whomever we are paired with and focus on the rest because all the teams we’re paired with all want to reach the second round of the world cup and also go far too.

What would you think is the strength of this Super Eagles team?

I believe football has changed and the players are getting up to the task, they are all playing in big leagues and they’ve been playing against big players, I believe we has skillful, technical players and I believe we have speed too which is going to be very important and the physical strength that our players have is also going to be important.

What do you think about Gernot Rohr?

I think he’s a very good coach and I happened to be on technical team when we interviewed him and the questions we asked him then when he just came in which he answered them in kindness and I was very impressed personally and since then I believe he’s a very good coach to Nigeria. Everyone is aware of what we used to have and how the players are, their egos and everything, those were in some of the questions I asked him and we can see that he’s quite okay aside the results, we can see there’s unity in the team and there’s kindness, patriotism and all the players are rearing to go so I believe he’s brought in change to the team which the previous one {coach} was not like that so I believe that he’s a good coach and he deserves the contract extension he was given because he has qualified and made it and because he has given hope to the team.

Is it true that the players of the ’94 world cup lost respect for their coach because of the failure of the NFF to renew his contract?

Well, I don’t know. Actually, I was not aware that his contract was expiring at the end of the world cup, all my attention was on football and I wasn’t thinking of anything then but probably, if that was the case, if it had been renewed, it wouldn’t have been the way it came out.

When you went to play football abroad, what was the major difference? And how did it improve you as a footballer?

Well, I went at a very tender age, after the under-20 world cup in Saudi Arabia in 1989. Arriving at a club like Real Madrid, I know how it was here when I was playing for shooting stars and then getting into a big team like Real Madrid and then getting into the dressing room and seeing the professionalism changed my life and my way of thinking… it also change my game too because everything was organized and we had good training facilities and all that and there was the stadium so everything around you just inspires you to strive to be better than what you are.

How about the level of coaching?

The level of coaching is amazing. During that time – yes I was coring goals but after I started playing matches and I saw the improvement in goal-scoring, my improvement on the field change and it was really amazing and I was able to learn a lot.

For you as a player, what was it like going to the world cuP? And how many world cups did you go for?

‘94, ‘98 and 2002. And The ‘94 world cup was the first ever Nigeria qualified for and qualifying for it in Algiers against Algeria, we needed a draw and we got it. Thinking of going into the world cup, the build-up, making the list as a young guy and then getting into the world cup in the US, it was amazing and one of the best moments in my life, there’s nothing compared to it. And that’s why every player would want to play at the world cup.

As a young player, what was it playing with the older players?

As a young player, looking up to players like Stephen Keshi, Eguavon, Chidi Nwanu and all the older players and playing with them and coming to them and as you said, there was a bond, a very strong one because we were together since ’94 when the team was building and there are some players who were also present but where not part of the team taken to the world cup but Coming together, we always feel playing for Nigeria is one of the greatest things ever, yes, money was important but I would put more emphasis on the game, on the football and when we all came together, we were always happy and seeing your teammates in to national team and all that. I think all those things made the bond very strong.

What were the real problems (within the Super Eagles) leading up to the 2002 world cup?

Well, I will tell you to the best of my knowledge. They were talking about cliques and i didn’t belong to any clique and that’s why you see me being free and friendly with everybody, I don’t have trouble with anyone. Speaking of cliques, we always know that in a team of 23 players, you’ll be closer to some than others and talking about the players in ’94, the older one, they had been in the national team before us and they had a say in the team so that’s why they’d have been talking about cliques and mafia and all that. And there were players who were more vocal than others, older that others and the coaches talk to them more than others, that is my own belief. Yes, I know that some players have a say In the team more than we who were young then. Now, towards the ‘96 Olympics, – I wasn’t part of the Olympics and later, most of the players from ’94 and the Olympics, we graduated and moved on to qualify for world cup in ’98. But later, going into 2000, the Nations cup Ghana – Nigeria 2000, we were older than the others but I can say it categorically that there was no clique, some of us older ones advised the younger ones but during the time I was the captain, there weren’t any cliques but there were players that were closer than others. Then, after 2000, I got injured, 2002, I didn’t go to the nations cup so what transpired at the nations cup, I was not part of it. I was only invited for the preparation of the world cup, fortunately, I made the team but whatever happened, I was not part of it. But from what I heard, there were problems, fights and some players disrespected some officials but that’s all I heard about it.

Speaking of betrayal, I don’t know of any agreement. I believe each player came to the national team to represent the country because of the love that everyone has for the game. I’m not speaking for anyone but I know what happened in 2000, what would have happened if I reacted the way other people would have reacted, probably, we wouldn’t have gotten to the final that we got to in 2000 because I was the captain so I know what happened behind the scenes, so I know how I handled it and suppressed it.

When did you get your first cap for the super eagles and how many caps do you have?

I got into the super eagles after the 1989 under 20 world cup. I was invited them I was playing in Julius Berger but I travelled out without having any debut, without playing any game and then in 1990 when I was Real Madrid’s second team, I was invited in august 1990 and I got my first cap against Togo in Lagos national stadium, we won the game 3-0.

More than 60 caps because there are some friendly games I’ve not counted.

Last cap?

In 2002, some friendly games we played before we went to the world cup because I wasn’t featured in any game at the world cup but I played all the friendly games before that, I played in England, Jamaica and other friendly games I played in japan.

There were money issues within the NFF and the Super Eagles in ’98, what happened?

The way things were handled then wasn’t too good and I said we didn’t lay much emphasis on money but what is due to you should be given to you and if it doesn’t come, that’s when there will be problem because it will feel like you’re just working and without reward. There were some issues then but I believe the way NFF I handling everything now, things are going to change and I don’t think all those problems are going to come back.

You used to be general manager at 3SC (Shooting Stars), what’s going on with them now?

There isn’t much I can say. Shooting Stars is a club I grew up to know, to love and I even played for the team in 1988 and I could remember that they were in relegation division 2 when I was signed and we brought the team to the first division and then I was the highest goal scorer in 1988, that was before Saudi ’99 and before I signed for Julius Berger. As for what Is happening in shooting stars, I believe the people in authority should be able to turn things around, If there is interest. That’s one of the greatest and historical clubs in Nigeria and the first club that has ever won the first continental title for Nigeria and all that. Shooting starts have history, a very rich one. They have fans and supporters all over the country. I believe if things are done properly they should be in the likes of Ali Zamalek, not going far into Europe when speaking about some clubs but I don’t think there’s will or interest to change that club from what it is now.

When you were there as general manager, what obstacles did you face?

A lot of obstacles, I met the team, a club that was being run like a boy’s club, a team that has more than 60 players and there’s no uniformity in them, no training facilities, no training kits, the balls were worn out and all that so when I got there I had to cut some things down, order some Jerseys. I just tried to bring in some of the experience I had in Spain and I had a four-year plan and short-term, middle-term and long-term plans which I was trying to execute but at the end of the day, everything that I planned didn’t come through .

Were you sacked?

I was not sacked at Shooting Stars. I spent 5 years there, the first year, I brought them back to the premier (Nigerian premier league) and then other years I maintained them, we had problems of money, the financing was not able but we tried our best to keep the team in the premier. Later when I saw that some people wanted to play upon my intelligence, they brought a board and they were asking me after the season and we maintained the team in the premier, they were asking me to reapply for the job I had instead of renewing the contract and I just didn’t take them seriously. There were other things during that season that I was not happy with so I put in a resignation letter instead of reapplying and the day before I put in the resignation letter, we were supposed to have a meeting but they did the meeting behind me. I was supposed to be the one to present everything since I was the general manager but they did the board meeting behind me near my office in the boardroom without informing me so I had to just put in the resignation letter and move on because I couldn’t. I had wanted to leave the year before but the commissioner, Dapo Adesina, begged me to stay.

Are you going to return to the NPFL in any capacity?

Well. I can’t say right now but no one knows tomorrow and you can never say never.

What are the benefits of the partnership between the NPFL and La Liga?

Well, the partnership has been running for over one year now, we signed the partnership in July 2016 and a lot of things have happened and everybody is aware that immediately after signing, we took the NPFL all-stars to play pre-season tournaments in which they played Valencia, Malaga and Atletico Madrid and that gave experience to the players and it puts Nigerian league into the limelight too, for the clubs in Spain to know that we have a league here in Nigeria and many things have happened after then, La Liga have brought coaches to come and train NPFL under-15 coaches which was done in February this year, La Liga helped in tournament of NPFL under-15 promises.

Was there any kind of bad blood between the Super Eagles at the ’94 world cup?

Those are the kind of things people observed and are saying. If it’s true, I wouldn’t know because I was close to (Rashidi) Yekini then although I was on the bench when he scored the goal and I personally would have celebrated with him because we were very close but it was afterwards that I heard that…. Probably I would say, without mincing words, that maybe because of what happened during the Nations cup… there was this argument about Yekini being given some money for being the highest goal scorer… actually, I wouldn’t be able to expanciate on it….


Abideen Owolabi

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