The ‘90s were a golden age for the Super Eagles to which they haven’t been able to build up to lately but is it about to change this AFCON? Jay-Jay Okocha thinks so!
In an interview with Jay-Jay Okocha, he spoke about that golden era of the 1990s and how they became to be known as the ‘dream team’.
“Nobody was expecting us to do very well because we didn’t have the best preparation but as individuals, we stuck together and said let’s just try and see how far we can go. Lucky for us we won it and since then we are like heroes in Nigeria, some of us got stadiums named after us. We were (treated) like Presidents you know. We got the highest reception you could ever think of. After that, there was pressure on the next generation to then repeat that achievement, but they failed.”
Jay-Jay Okocha also talked about the current team and how they’re having ups and downs lately – missing the previous two editions of AFCON but qualifying for the FIFA World Cup last year.
“Well, I think we have to change our mentality a bit and change our beliefs because we have limited ourselves to trust in our talent alone. Our talents are not good enough to get us those results that we need to be a world power when it comes to football. We’ve managed to be successful in patches but that continuity has not been there. And for me, lack of planning. If you don’t plan for the future then you are planning to fail. You have to invest to be able to succeed when it comes to football. Your talent might take you to a certain level but at the end of the day you will suffer for not having things that are needed to go all the way.”
He also talked about his experiences playing abroad and being to many countries and comparing the football infrastructure of the two worlds of Nigeria and abroad.
“Having had the opportunity to play for a very long time in Europe, I was expecting to see us emulating what they’ve put in place there. In this part of the world, you can’t play football without having a good training pitch. So, we need infrastructure. We also need to put a good youth system in place and invest. And that is definitely not happening in Nigeria unfortunately. I can use Germany as an example, they’ve invested over a billion euros in their youth system. How do we cope with that? Football is money, we all know that; there are no two ways about it. People running football are not really ambitious enough in terms of making bigger investments. That’s why I come back home to help change things. I’ve invested in pitches and continue to run clinics to help encourage others to do the same.”
“Lucky for us we have a lot of players playing overseas, and that’s why we are doing well with the national team. We are not relying on our home-based players to take over. When it comes to the local league, I think we still have a long way to go. Because one of the issues is that most of the clubs belong to the government and their budgets simply are not adequate to run a competitive league. That ends up leaving talented players going abroad to learn the (technical) basics and in many cases, they reach a level of success. All that experience from other leagues is brought together and those players are able to help our national team. Just take a look at the current roster and tell me how many players are playing in the domestic league, maybe one.”
He also talked about his nephew, the Arsenal and Super Eagles’ star Alex Iwobi, and how he is one of the high hopes of Nigeria’s going into the AFCON 2019, and how he thinks the Super Eagles will do in this year’s edition of Africa Cup of Nations.
“He’s like a son to me, I’m very proud of his development. Yes, it does help to have an uncle who is a footballer, but he’s earned all he’s gotten. As far as the Africa Cup, I think we have a chance to get far in the tournament and possibly win it all. Because we’ve been progressing in the last few years. There is a certain level of stability. The coach Gernot Rohr knows his team now he’s been there since 2016. He knows the expectations are high, but it won’t be easy. Preparation is key and so is the mindset ahead of a tournament like this one. It’s important (for the players) to believe you can win it all. After all, that’s what Nigeria expects from them. And of course, that includes me, I expect Nigeria to win it all.”
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