I don’t Relax with ‘Odeku’ Or ‘Nkwobi’-Nwosu | Independent Newspapers Limited
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I don’t Relax with ‘Odeku’ Or ‘Nkwobi’-Nwosu

Henry Nwosu
Posted: Jul 10, 2016 at 1:30 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Could it have been that Henry Nwosu’s goal against Cameroon in the 1988 Africa Cup of Nations final was over-ruled by the centre referee because Issa Hayatou, the current CAF president, was elected into office that morning? In this interview with Chibuike Chukwu, the former Super Eagles captain barred his mind on that match and what transpired after, struggles of Nigerian coaches and how he integrated into the national team in 1979 as a young school leaver, among other salient issues:


How did you integrate into the national team when invited in 1979 as a secondary school leaver?
Football as everybody knows is mobile; it speaks one language. When I was growing up, I used to play with older people. Besides, in our family, we play football, virtually everybody, including my elder brothers, played the game.  It was easy for me to integrate because I respected the older players in camp. I gave everyone his respect. So they accepted me and loved me as part of their own.
Why didn’t you play in Europe despite your amazing talent?
It was unfortunate that Nigerians didn’t see me play in Europe. But it boiled down to cold weather. I didn’t like cold weather and still don’t like it now. I would not have given my best under such circumstance. But for offers, I had them, from Spain, England and Italy. But if it were to be now because of medical advancement, you would have considered an offer.Possibly yes because everything is possible. May be I would have picked one of the offers.
In the 1988 Africa Cup of Nation final against Cameroon, you scored a goal, which was disallowed by the referee. How did you and your team mates reacted to it?
I did not even believe that the goal was disallowed because I had started jubilating. I gave a pass from the centre circle. I ran from the flank. Both my team mates and the opponents never really understood that I was coming. I connected to Ndubuisi Okosieme, who saw me at a distance. When the returning pass met me inside the Cameroonian vital area, both the opponents and my team mates never knew how I met the ball and over-jumped everybody and headed the ball. The goalkeeper thought I was going to head the ball straight up and he jumped up. By the time I headed the ball down, it beat him. When he was up, the ball was down and when he was landing, the ball was already at the roof of the net. I was surprised after the referee disallowed it because I never believed that any referee could disallow such a fantastic goal. That was because from my position, I knew I was not off; from the position of the person I gave the pass to, I knew he wasn’t off. I went straight to the referee and asked him, ‘referee, what happened? All my team mates gathered round him and were asking the referee what went wrong. But you know he was the author and finisher in the field and his decision was final. After we eventually lost the match, we blamed it on the referee. The referee just wanted to favour Cameroon because the morning of that match-day, Issa Hayatou was elected CAF president. Even on the field, Roger Milla came to me and said: ‘good goal, you scored it but referee say no be goal, leave, ok’. That is the reason why we are still good friends till today. Because of that goal, the name ‘Green Eagles’ was changed to ‘Super Eagles’. It happened that during our reception at the Dodan Barracks, Lagos, then Vice President, Augustus Aikhomu, said that as long as he was concerned, that goal was a SUPER GOAL, and that we should add ‘Super’ instead of ‘Green’ to our name and it stuck.

You were engaged sometimes ago to coach the Golden Eaglets and were relieved of that post just after few months. What went wrong?
If you watch the team that played the U-17 World Cup that year, you will realize that it was the team I built. The players they used were the same players I was building. Somehow, in the (NFF) board, some people didn’t like my gut; some people didn’t like my face and I don’t have god-father. Few of them, though, liked me; the then NFA president, Sani Lulu, used to give me full support. Also Amanze (Uchegbulam) was also on my side but the two of them could not overwhelm the board. I don’t want to go back to the whole thing because I still feel sad about it. I could have taking that team to the finals (of the FIFA World Cup) and possibly win the cup because I know that I am a star in winning something that has been eluding us or winning something when it is mostly needed.

On account of that, what do you consider to be the main challenge of coaching in Nigeria?
It’s not easy to be a coach in Nigeria. Those employing you want to dictate for you and want to tell you who and who should be selected for matches. It is very wrong. If you have given me a job, allow me to do the job. It is not as if you cannot advise me. You should advise me but don’t impose ideas on me. I am a matured man; I control family, I control people. Even as a player, I was sometimes controlling my fellow players, though rightly. So if you have given me a job, allow me to do the job so that I can take responsibility if it didn’t go well at last. If you have an advice, give it to me but don’t impose it on me. Watch in Nigerian football, coaches are sacked every day. The team manager is always there, rubber stamp; the chairman is always there, rubber stamp; the secretary is always there, rubber stamp; media officer is always there, rubber stamp. Why are they not being sacked as well? When the team plays well, everybody will say it is a collective effort but when the team loses, they will say it is the coach, forgetting that the coach has done his job and put the boys on the field to do their own. No coach will ordinarily want to fail.
There was a situation I was coaching a team and I made a substitution. My oga was behind us at the stand and was shouting ‘why did you put that player and all that. I turned a looked at him and removed my face. Three minutes after entry, the player got us the equalizer and I turned again and told him, ‘oga you see am…’ You don’t train these players for us; we know them better than you. You don’t play players based on being flashy. Some can be flashy but on the field of play, they will shiver. Let our administrators allow the coaches to do their jobs. If they know better, they should come and coach and then we administer; we can do both because during coaching courses, we were thought that and being former players give us advantage.

Will you still go if any NPFL or NNL club come calling to hire you?
I am very free and searching. I am up for grabs and any team that thinks that they want a good coach who will do the job passionately, they should come to me. I am not too expensive because most of them think I am very expensive. Money is not the issue. I want to build players. I went for one interview. Before I even sat down, they said Oga Henry, we no go fit pay you ooo; there is no need to wait. I told them let’s discuss, money is not everything. If you can pay my salary and make sure that my sign-on fee is moderate, then we have a deal. To me, it’s not about the money, it’s about the job. Up till now, my last team is still owing me and I know that they will pay. I don’t make troubles over money.

Amaju Pinnick and the Sports Ministry have disagreed on the issue of who coaches the Super Eagles with the NFF insisting on foreign coach while the ministry maintains its stand on local coach. What is your take on that?
I have always said that they should leave national team coaches to local coaches. I played under Clemence Westerhof and also Otto Gloria. Gloria was a fantastic coach. He thought us a lot. But some of all these foreign coaches that come today come because they know that we have talents here. They come, do one or two things, even failing in the process, collect our money and disappear. Some, when we lose a match, do not even come back with the team, they disappear right from the match venues. But we (local coaches) are always here. I don’t believe in foreign coaches any longer. It’s high time we gave the job to our own coaches. Pinnick has never loved ex-internationals. I’m sorry I have to say it because I am always frank. I don’t mean to insult him. He has never loved ex-internationals. He may love some on paddy paddy level, but he does not love anyone to work with him. So I am not surprised that he is an advocate of a foreign coach. But he should give us a chance even if he does not love us.

What was your relationship with the late Stephen Keshi Like?
Stephen Keshi was my child-hood friend. We started together in the early seventies when we were in primary schools. He was in Saint Paul’s at Costain while I was in a school at Barracks. I can’t remember exactly how we met. We met and became good friends myself, Keshi and Franklin Howard and few others including Edema Benson. We started playing a kind of ball called felele in Mushin, Ebute Meta and all parts of Lagos. Keshi was really a good friend of mine. He was more like a brother, but you know as we started growing, everybody has his family so it wasn’t like before. Occasionally we still meet. Even as a national team coach, after every match, I usually call him to say, ol’boy, this is what I observe. This is because my strong point as a coach is that I read games. We were very good friends until he died.
I was even the one that helped him into Saint Finbarrs College. He was my junior. But the other day, somebody said that it was Keshi that took me to Abidjan. No, myself and Keshi with three other players were suspended because we went to national camp late. I would have been out of that hook but I just decided to play along with my team mates. I had already bought my ticket to travel from Benin to Lagos for the national camp. The other ones said ‘ol’boy, make you leave am today so that all of us go travel tomorrow, we no go train today even if we travel’. So that was how I stayed behind. That night, we heard our suspension. It was a plan to suspend us really. But we later realized that it was a plan by the then coach, Chris Udemezue, to see that we were suspended just because we lost a friendly match 5-0 earlier in Algeria and they media drew zero and put his picture in that zero. He felt that we the NNB players sabotaged him and he wasn’t happy with us and then looked for a means of us getting suspended from the national team. After we were suspended, me and Keshi left for Abidjan; he never took me there. When they lifted the suspension, I came back and rejoined NNB but Keshi stayed back. That was what happened. Some people who said they were managers came back to me that I was wanted in Abidjan, I left again and Keshi was not aware of it. As at that time, he had left for Belgium.

It was known that during your active days, you used to relax with Odeku and nkwobi. Do you still enjoy them?
I don’t relax with odeku or nkwobi, but if you say big stout, I will say yes. But my relaxation was always playing drought game. Now I relax by going to watch games. Sometimes I hang out with friends. Somebody is getting older and it is not like before. But now sometimes I take Heineken if I want to relax.