A former Super Eagles coordinator, Mr Emmanuel Danjuma Attah, says Nigeria’s overreliance on foreign players was what robbed the country of the ticket to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. In this interview with Sports Trust, the former FCT FA Chairman and Director of the General Service Department of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) said that to prevent such a disaster from happening again, home players need to be included in the Super Eagles.
HHow disappointed are you that the Super Eagles did not qualify for the 2022 World Cup?
It is a very big disappointment that Nigeria is not part of the 2022 World Cup. If I had been told that Ghana would end the Super Eagles bid for the World Cup, I would have said that this would not be possible. The Black Stars aren’t what they used to be. Maybe we were cheated by their poor outing at AFCON 2021. After the 0-0 draw in Kumasi, I thought the Eagles would finish the job in Abuja to make the Nigerians happy but it didn’t happen. product.
Would you say the Super Eagles were confident enough against Ghana in Abuja?
From my experience in football and the years I was Super Eagles coordinator, I can tell from the body language of the players whether they are excited or not. Before the match in Abuja, the body language of the players was not encouraging. When the Eagles came out, I told someone sitting next to me that I didn’t like the boys’ body language. The only player who looked confident and spirited was Victor Osimhen and he showed that on the pitch. The rest played like nothing was at stake. They were completely nonchalant in their approach. I don’t know what happened, but I suspect a lot of things went wrong before the game.
Do you agree with a former international, Garba Lawal, who said the biggest losers from World Cup defeat are the Super Eagles players?
I agree with him because some players don’t know what the World Cup is and what they missed. The World Cup is not something you watch on TV. When you watch it on TV, you won’t get the real feeling. It is when you are physically there as a player, official or spectator that you will understand what it is all about. It’s a totally different world. I am sorry to say that some of the players who missed this opportunity to go to Qatar might not have another chance. I pray that God grants some of them another opportunity. Apart from the money they lost, their market value is also negatively affected.
Do you think Oyibo players have been educated on the existing football rivalry between Nigeria and Ghana?
I am sure you are referring to those players who changed their allegiance from their adopted country to Nigeria. I don’t think they were lectured properly. I believe if some of these players had been told the story of the rivalry between Nigeria and Ghana, I am sure they would have died on this pitch to beat the Black Stars. This new generation of players must be well oriented. They must be made to understand that Nigeria cannot afford to lose a few matches. It is not enough to convince players to come and play for Nigeria.
What would you say is the way forward?
The coaches have been asked to step down but is that the solution? I do not think so. We have to look within. We have to go back to the days of the late Clemence Westerhof and the late Stephen Keshi. It is urgent for us to develop our players at home. Until we do that, we will continue to suffer at the hands of overseas-based players. The overreliance on overseas players is what denied us a ticket to Qatar 2022. Most of these players are not engaged because they don’t know much about this country. Keshi has built his Super Eagles squad around local players. Even overseas-based players struggled to make the team. In fact, during the AFCON 2013 qualifiers, he performed 95% of his matches with mostly home players. It was only in the last qualifier against Liberia that foreign-based players dominated. Interestingly, he won AFCON 2013 in South Africa.
Do you think the current NFF will have the patience to do what Keshi has been encouraged to do?
They should rethink because developing native players takes time and patience. It also requires adequate funding from the football federation. You see, any coach who is not patient or works under pressure will always jump on any type of foreign-based player. So I want to reiterate that we need to build Super Eagles around homegrown players. Keshi was frustrated in his early days with the homegrown players, but when he calmed down he made the best of it. It was a local player, Sunday Mba, who scored the goal that won the AFCON 2013 title for Nigeria.
But some Nigerians feel that homegrown players are usually not up to the job when given the chance…
I don’t think that’s a fair assessment of local actors. You can’t bring local players together for two or three days and expect them to win against Mexico or Paraguay. They must have enough time to stay together and develop this understanding. It takes time, energy and resources to build a great team.
Would you say there are still quality players in the NPFL who can do better than the overseas-based Eagles?
No one can convince me that we don’t have quality players left in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL). What we lack is the ability to identify the actors. We should select players based on merit. These missions must be entrusted to sincere, incorruptible and patriotic coaches, ready to do a thorough job. Don’t forget that great players like Daniel Amokachi, Emmanuel Amunike, Jay-Jay Okocha, Kanu Nwankwo, Garba Lawal and a host of others have dropped out of the local league. In the last Super 4 in Abuja, I saw so many talented players who can play for Super Eagles. I don’t want Nigerians to confuse league management with national players. The two are not the same.
What do you think of the continued clamor from football fans for the NFF chairman and his board members to step down?
Football is like the opium of the Nigerian masses. They don’t want to lose and when they are angry they can react in any way. Most of them are still struggling to put the loss behind them. They are not happy that their team is not at the World Cup, so they can demand the resignation of anyone. For obvious reasons, I do not wish to say more about the failure of the Super Eagles and the reactions of Nigerian football fans.