I’ll Only Coach Eagles If…..Erico | Independent Newspapers Limited
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I’ll Only Coach Eagles If…..Erico

Posted: Feb 28, 2016 at 9:34 am   /   by   /   comments (1)

Former Green Eagles goalkeeper, Joe Erico, who later assisted Shaibu Amodu in coaching the team and qualified the team for the 2002 World Cup is sad that his was denied his entitlements after his unceremonious sack shortly after the team won Bronze at the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations in Mali.  In this interview with Peter Edema and Chibuike Chukwu, Erico also talks about the ongoing face-off between Oliseh and the football house, why the game is not developing in Nigeria, his time with the national team, among other sundry issues. Excerpts:
Should Oliseh be blamed for the failure of the Super Eagles to win the African Cup of Nations (CHAN) or administration?
You see, administration has greater role to play in the success of any team, especially players’ welfare. The coach has 20% role to play. Footballers, couple with the administration is 80%. Administration takes care of everything. You tell the coach what you want and provide the enabling environment for him to excel.
Do you support the plan to hire a foreign coach for the Super Falcons?
Well, we have had foreign coaches before but how many of them excelled? The foreign coaches had free hand in the business. They got all they want for their players. People were scared of them.
Nobody respect our indigenous coaches and I don’t know why. I have said it severally. In Nigeria, we don’t have organised youth programme that will ensure the replacement of aging players. In the absence of a developmental programme the coach is at the receiving end of poor performance. The coach must be mentally tough with the administrators and study their tricks as Clemence Westerhof did. Westerhof was the only successful foreign coach and he was there for five solid years. Why? Because the administration of football was taken off the NFF and the Sports Commission and dealt directly with the Presidency via Nduka Irabor, who was the Press Secretary to Augustus Aikhomu. President Ibrahim Babangida was interested in the team, so also was Aikhomu. Nduka Irabor swindled the FA out of the mainstream and everything worked. So Westerhof was getting everything he wanted. Secondly, the players were there; the league was good. We have Leventis United, Julius Berger, Iwuanyanwu, Rangers, and Shooting Stars etc. Look at the players that starred during Westerhof period; where were they playing? In the league and they were known and celebrated. They league was super.
Are you saying the quality of our league is low now compared to your time?
No, because there are a lot of efforts being put into it right now to make it better than what it was three, five years ago. But people are not coming forward because it is a government thing. Our league is a government thing. That is why it will not grow. Football is an independent thing. Football club is a money-spinning venture if well managed. It makes money for itself and should not be a state venture, where you wait till government gives you money. Until we exploit the money-spinning aspect of football, it will not grow.

Are you suggesting that state governors should hands off ownership of football clubs?
I agree, but unfortunately, the state governments cannot hands-off now because they have not given the clubs a level-playing ground to operate. There were privately owned clubs in the past and were getting partnerships from other companies- Leventis United, Ranchers Bees, Iwuanyanwu Nationale NEPA, ACB, and Julius Berger. Companies were buying into their shares.
You said Green Eagles players got N1,000 for winning Nations Cup bronze in 1976. Can you compare your time to what obtains now, what has changed?

We cannot compare that time to now; things have changed. The population was not as large as it is now and our currency was strong then. We were getting five shillings, three shillings per day and at the end of a week, each player had about two pounds and that was money. Every weekend, the then secretary, Late Patrick Okpomo, with Orokoyo, will bring the money to camp; you don’t go hustling for money. What is happening now is that you pay players’ money into their account. Why is our own bringing trouble? Time has changed but we are not changing with the time.
Tell us your experiences when you were playing for the Green Eagles?
It was quite interesting and a proud thing to adorn the national colour. You are known everywhere you go. When I was playing, I had this Vespa; every place I go, I was known. Everybody wants to see you; I don’t know what it is like now because they have frustrated everybody. As I’m talking to you the NFF owes me. Ask other coaches that have worked for the national teams, they are owed. Immediately we came back from Mali (2002 Nation Cup) after finishing third, we were sacked without pay. I don’t know if Keshi and Amodu got theirs’ later because they went back.  We’ve qualified for the World Cup. FIFA used to set money aside for preparing the team. Why do they sack coaches at the peak of their careers? Incidentally it is because they want to bring in foreign coaches. Most of the coaches that worked for the national team died without collecting their due. Aloysius Atuegbu died without collecting his money; Coach Ibe died without collecting his money and so many of them. NFF should pay me my money; they should pay the coaches they owe for a long time, even the dead ones.
How did you get into the Green Eagles; where were you discovered?
It all happened in 1969. I was playing in Lagos for Mighty Works owned by the Ministry of Works. We were playing at Onikan Stadium when then Green Eagles team manager, APC Cole, approached me. The team was in Sudan for the 1970 World Cup qualifying match. Then they invited Christian Nze and I. Nze played for ECN Club then. We were asked to join the team in Sudan. Even though we didn’t play, we watched the team and came back with the team. That was how I started playing for the national team. It was quite interesting being in national team. We were so friendly and were brother’s keepers.
You mentioned that the FA does not like Nigerian coaches. What do you think is the reason?
Yes because they don’t believe in Nigerian coaches. They believe we will not be able to do it. They fail to put in place good developmental policy only to blame the coaches when national teams fail.

If asked to coach Eagles again, will you accept the offer?
That is a big question you have asked. Nigeria is my country but it will all depend on a number of factors. But not at this age; I can only be at a supervisory level. I will be 70 in about two year’s time.
(Cuts in) But there are coaches at that age around the world?
They don’t want such in Nigeria; at age 70, they (NFF) will say you are too old; he is an old man. Look at Arsene Wenger, Alex Ferguson and even the current Leicester City coach, Claudio Ranieri, who is about that age. That is the time you bring experience to bear on the job.
Are saying that if they call you and the conditions are right, you will take it?
I will look at it very well but truthfully, the condition will never be right as long as we are still in the old system.
How will you feel if Super Eagles and other national teams return to Lagos to play?
This is the home of Eagles; this is the home of football. I am happy that the minister has promised to do something about the national stadium. When Nigeria is playing here, the crowd alone is massive. I can still remember when we played Zambia here. I was to be in goal. When I came out of the tunnel and saw the crowd, I was like, waoh, is this the same crowd we played in Zambia earlier? So we really hope football will return to its home, the sports city, National Stadium, Lagos.
Is it true that you twisted your leg on the field of play?
When I returned from the national team in 1969, I joined ECN. The team was like Manchester United in Nigeria because everybody wanted to play there. It was in the 1970 FA Cup final between ECN and Plateau Highlanders. 29 minutes into the match, I went up and landed wrongly and got the leg twisted. We did everything humanly possible, but you know medical treatment now is not what it used to be. I still managed it through the national team because I was quite young. When we went to Germany, I was advised to manage it like that otherwise I will be dragging it. If sports medicine was what it is now, it would have been treated.
How did you manage to play with a twisted leg?
There was nothing I could have done than to play knowing the kind of society I came from. If I had been laid back, I couldn’t have made it this far. I summoned up courage because in every disability, there was ability. I pushed on with God on my side. By that time, I never thought of marriage, but when I got married in 1978, I had my kids, four of them. When I was done with playing, I became a football translator, so I decided to go for a coaching course.
Tell us about your family
To God be the glory, I was able to raise a good family and I am proud of my children. My wife is with me; new love, new relationship because we are left with only two of us at home now. The kids are on their own; all graduates to the glory of God. I don’t know the degree they have now, but I know I was able to take them through the university and they are all in the United States. I am very proud to have them. I kept going even when I got injury because I needed to take care of them.