Taking up Eagles job to rescue team was a mistake – Siasia



Former Super Eagles coach Samson Siasia talks about life outside coaching, the plight of the ’94 class of Eagles, the 2018 World Cup .

You have been out of coaching since the 2016 Olympics. How has life been?
It has been tough. It’s not been easy since then. Who said life is going to be easy anyway? When tough times come, we have to find a way to get out of it and that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been busy with schools, academies, and other things related to and outside sports. I have been leveraging on a lot of things and working with some grassroots initiatives to ensure that bills are paid. I have an academy with up to 400 kids in Abuja – the SiaOne Soccer Academy. I keep doing things to ensure that we help the young ones.
You were an analyst during the 2018 World Cup, along with Austin Okocha. Are you thinking of becoming a full-time pundit?
It depends on my job; if I have a coaching job, I may have to face that fully. But if the coaching job doesn’t come along and I get that, I will do it because it is not for free. They pay you. The World Cup experience was a good one with SuperSport and I appreciate what they did. If one continues along the line, it keeps getting better. We had Dwight Yorke, who is making money from it but we don’t have that kind of platform here in Nigeria. Victor (Ikpeba) and the other guy Agbede (Segun) have been the same persons doing it over and over again, which isn’t the best because they could switch people to create new things like it’s done in the English Premier League studios.
What do you think is the plight of the Nigerian ex-international after serving the country?
If you don’t have a known face or a popular name, it’s difficult. People like me are still known because I appear on TV and in the last two years, I have coached the national team. There are some that even if you see them, you may not know them. Some of them have nothing to do, which is why we, who are in the spotlight, have to help them because to play for this country is not easy. Some ex-internationals are living in abject poverty with nothing to eat. We have to create a platform where we can help some of them pay the school fees of their kids and feed.
It’s been 25 years since the 1994 Eagles squad played at the World Cup. Would you say you are satisfied with the way your squad has been celebrated going by your achievements as the golden generation of Nigerian football?
To start with, have they celebrated us in any way? They’ve not. Nothing has been done. Even the ones who have died, no one has bothered to check on their families. The worst thing the FA has ever done is abandoning a player who gets injured while playing for the national team. There needs to be a committee that worries about injured players – get insurance for the players so that they have something to fall back on when they get injured and it is serious. That is why rejected players in England and other countries come to Nigeria since we are the second fiddle and option. Nigeria doesn’t treat players well and we expect them to perform well. When these players get injured, they are abandoned. Segun Oduduwa, a former U-23 player, was one of the key players that helped us to qualify for the 2016 Olympics and he didn’t go to that competition. Till date, nobody talks about the boy. That is a bad way to treat people. Nigeria needs to create a programme for both active and former players, which will help them during and after their careers.
The stadium in Yenagoa is named after you. Are you pleased with the state of facilities in the stadium and other parts of the country?
I think they’ve refurbished it to look good. The women’s teams played there (the 2018 Aiteo Cup final). One game is not enough for a stadium, they need to organise more matches for the fans to come out and watch. There needs to be something to drive traffic back to the stadium in Bayelsa because without that, the stadium will just be there and nothing will happen to it while it keeps deteriorating. One of the problems we have in Bayelsa is that the governor does not talk with ex-internationals to chart a way forward for sports in the state.

 What’s your impression of the Nigerian league?
I have said many times that we don’t have a league in Nigeria. It is laughable that a league was abandoned halfway and no team was relegated while you are adding more teams to the league. It is a big problem because the league, which is the bedrock of football in the country, is dying. The LMC (League Management Company), the NNL (Nigeria National League) and others concerned should sit and chart a way forward. This is why we barely have one home-based player in the Super Eagles. The state of the league is something to worry about because with the way things are, we will have no team to play anywhere.
What do you think is the reason why Nigeria hasn’t been able to assemble a better squad than the set of ’94?
That is because we haven’t returned to the grassroots; we have to go to schools sports. The academies need to work with the clubs. In Europe, the players in the academies move to the clubs. The academies teach the rudiments of the game – like the ABC of the game – at an early age of around five, six or seven. When you reach the teenage years, the basics are done and you move to learning the tactics, game studying and other important things. But we haven’t been doing this. It is when we invite players for the U-17s and U-20s that we teach them how to shoot, play corner kicks and others. This is like going backwards. We need to change the way we do things for change to happen. First, we need the infrastructure, where these players will train. That is the job of the government if they are serious about developing sports. They should build manageable facilities that will be easy to maintain and accessible for use by clubs and teams. This will help the clubs because many of them do not have standard stadiums. In developed countries, governments don’t spend on sports; they allow the private companies to invest in it by providing the needed atmosphere for them to thrive.

 Looking at the 2018 World Cup, were you happy with where the Nigerian team got to, playing Argentina, Iceland and Croatia?
We could have gotten out of the group stage but we didn’t do a good job, which was why we couldn’t move to the next stage. We had played against Argentina four times at the World Cup and lost on each occasion before 2018, but in Russia, we could have done a better job. We didn’t learn our lessons and we got punished.
Do you think the Eagles have learnt from their World Cup mistakes going by their AFCON qualifiers?
We have not been managing our games well. All the mistakes that happened to us at the World Cup, which cost us qualification to the second round, are still with the team. The same mistakes that happened to us in 1994 are still there and we have not corrected them. We have not learnt how to kill off a match while having a favourable result; some match-winning gimmicks like a player falling down with 10 minutes to go to slow down the game, marking out the opponent’s danger man, and many others. We have not been doing such things and we need to learn them. These things will help us a lot to win matches and ensure we progress in competitions. We keep committing the same mistakes over again and we keep getting punished for them. We need to learn how to deal with set-pieces. At the World Cup, free kicks and corner kicks were major problems for us because we haven’t been dealing with them well. Our players don’t know when free kicks and corner kicks are dangerous to them and when not to concede them around their vital areas.
After missing the 2015 and 2017 AFCON, the Eagles are back for the 2019 edition. Can this side reach the semi-final of the competition?
It’s not predictable but we need to correct our mistakes, which have been there since the World Cup. South Africa came here (Nigeria) and beat us 2-0 and we couldn’t do anything. The AFCON is a tough competition and any mistake you make, teams punish you for it. If we keep possession, we have a better chance of scoring. The team have been struggling to get passes together; we need to work on that as well. We need to play to our strength. When we are going forward, we should do so together and when we are defending, we should defend together. The coach has to do his homework and make his team formidable. I am talking from experience; of the things that didn’t make me qualify (the Eagles for the 2012 and 2017 AFCON). When next I have the chance, these are the things I will work on to build a strong team. Achieving the semi-final or winning the title depends on how well you work with your team and prepare them for the task ahead. Also, our game plan and the way you correct the mistakes you perceive in the team go a long way in achieving our set target at the tournament.
You won silver and bronze at the Olympics (2008 and 2016) and silver at the U-20 World Cup (2005). Are these the highlights of your coaching career?
They are the highlights. Winning silver and a bronze at the Olympics is not easy especially with the circumstances that surrounded the team before we went for the Games. Anytime I took charge of a team, I always ended with them. The only time I didn’t start with a team was when Austin Eguavoen was sacked and I was brought in to the Super Eagles and when (Sunday) Oliseh ran away. Why I couldn’t succeed with those teams was because the teams were not mine. I will never do that again because it never worked for me on those two occasions. I have learnt my lessons from them that whenever I get a coaching job in Nigeria, I have to start from the scratch because that is the only way I can be successful.
When will you say was your most challenging time in coaching?
I will say the problems we had before travelling for competitions. Many times, there would be no buses for the players. To get water at training, we have to go and beg people to do things for us; to get sponsors and many others. Those were really trying times. Also, when we couldn’t qualify for the Nations Cup (2012 and 2017) and everything fell on me as a coach. Those were the very trying times I have faced as a coach because getting out of there and move on is always not easy.

Back then, it wasn’t really easy while growing up as a football player. Can you recall when you bought your first car?
I actually didn’t buy my first car; it was a gift. My first car was a Volkswagen Beetle. Back then, things were a little bit better than now and they took good care of players. The league was very good and the school system was good – playing in the Principals’ Cup and other competitions. From the Principals’ Cup, we went to the national U-20 team. Those days are gone. We need to go back to those days when the structure was there. It’s very easy. We should just return to the grassroots and reform our league. But are we going to do that? The times were tough then but it is better than what it is now because if you could have a 17-year-old boy driving a Beetle, then it tells you how good the times were.
You scored a great goal against Argentina at the 1994 World Cup. Looking back, how do you still feel?
I feel great about it. I wish I could still score more goals but we can’t turn back the hands of time. We had many great players then, on the pitch and on the bench. We had the likes of (Austin) Okocha, Mutiu (Adepoju) and many others. That was one of the best teams Nigeria ever assembled. The issue is can we replicate that team? Till now, I don’t think we can.

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