SPECIAL INTERVIEW: Soccer great Segun Odegbami bares mind on the state of Nigerian football, 2018 World Cup qualifiers and how Nigeria can get it right in sports

By Daily Sports on August 11, 2016

Chief Segun Odegbami, MON, is a household name in Nigerian football. He had played active football for Nigeria in the past, winning 46 caps and scoring 23 goals for the national team. His two goals in the final against Algeria were part of the three that gave Nigeria the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations title in Lagos. He is regarded as one of Nigeria’s greatest footballers of all time.

Nicknamed “Mathematical 7” during his active days in football, because of his skills in the round-leather game, the 63-year-old founder of The International (Sports) Academy (TIA), who has contested for the presidency of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) twice, and in 2015 declared his intention to run for the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) Presidency, spoke to Daily Sports Reporter, ADEYINKA AKINTUNDE, in an exclusive interview on the state of Nigerian football, the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers ahead and other issues. Excerpts:

Daily Sports: Looking at the current situation in Nigerian football, what is your assessment of the whole issue, including the fact that FIFA President Gianni Infantino visited Nigeria?

Chief Segun Odegbami: Well it is very obvious, when you look at what is happening at the football field; the U-20s has failed to qualify for the African Youth Championship, the senior national team has failed to qualify for the African Cup of Nations twice, our rankings in FIFA has plummeted to the lowest level, those are indications that our football is sick, all is not well, and we cannot put the blame on anybody else, but on those who are running the game itself.

But at the same time, we had a visit by the FIFA President, and the Secretary-General. This is an unprecedented development, it has never happened before. So we must give kudos to the present administration for being able to put it through.

However, the question is what did they come to do?  I personally don’t know what they came to do. Maybe, if we ask them (the administrators) they will be able to tell us. But it speaks volumes about their clout; if they can bring in the two most powerful people in football to Nigeria on a casual visit, then that shows clout.

In addition, they invited 17 African football federation presidents, who also came to `welcome the FIFA President. So I see a diplomatic game going on.

When Infantino visited, he promised Africa two slots in the FIFA World Cup. But with what you have said now, is it that the current NFF administration is dwindling Nigerian football?

The FIFA President did not promise Africa two slots; he said if there are changes in the World Cup format as it is being planned, then it will be good if Africa has two slots more. As for the NFF administration, their result is what counts. If they have passed, in your own estimation, they have done well; if they have not passed then they have not done well.

Nigeria will be playing the final round of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Algeria, Cameroon and Zambia. What is your predictions, what do you see?

What I see is very dark clouds. I don’t see how we can do it because we don’t have a national team in place now, we don’t have a coach in place now. We don’t have exceptionally gifted players out there that one can just pick to do the country proud. These things don’t favour us doing well. We are playing against three of the most powerful teams on the continent, so I see a very rough road, a mountain that is too high to climb. But at the same time, when you write Nigeria off, they spring surprises. So I will not write the Super Eagles off completely. 

Concerning the fact that Nigeria has not been able to get a technical adviser for now, seeing that Paul Le Guen has refused the offer, what do you think about Nigeria hiring a foreign coach?

I have said that over and over again, I will never support that. If we do not give our own people the opportunity to gather the experiences that will make us stop depending on foreigners they will never have it. They will continue to condemn us. We need to put a stop to this and give our own people the opportunity to gather their experiences that will make us less dependent on foreigners and more dependent on our own.

Foreigners get the opportunity to come here to gather experiences and add to their CV, our own people cannot go there to get experience and add to their CV. So that imbalance is very unfair.

I would love to see a Nigerian, such that when they are about to start a game, our spirits will be lifted, when our national anthem is being sung, you open your mouth and sing. As long as we have foreign coaches, As long as we have foreign coaches, who don’t know a word of the national anthem, they cannot charge the players, they themselves are not charged, it will not work. So, I do not support the appointment of foreign coaches

You were present at the final of the just concluded NNPC/Shell Cup. That sends a message that you actively support school sports in Nigeria. Doesn’t it?

I am a consultant to Shell on the NNPC/Shell Cup.  I have been for 19 years. We supervise the event. Generally, I have always believed in school sports. I think that until we re-enforce our sports in schools, we will not have a pull from which we will have the regular high quality athletes to represent Nigeria in competitions. I believe that school sports is the key to our development in sports, and until we focus on it, execute it as it should be done, and use it as our grass root development programme, then our sports will go nowhere. It will just continue to be what we have been seeing around. We are not progressing in any of the sports at the rate that we should be progressing.

You have spoken a lot about the NFF administration, but do you have a way out of what Nigerian football is now, or a word of advice for the NFF administration, or a word of consolation for Nigerians?

No. I don’t have a way out. The problem generally is leadership; the NFF needs a leader who understands what sports is all about; what sports can do and how sports can act on the society, how it can improve on the society, how sports can be a catalyst for development in different areas; from medicine, to infrastructural development, to education, to health, there has to be a way it covers the entire spectrum of sports and its potentials, and what it can do. Then you can devise a strategy to use its power to change the society. You need to have all the sensibilities, in your blood to know the routes, how to go about it and how to get it done. But as long as you have politicians in charge of sports, who are not from the sector, who are not sensitive to it, who are not really immersed in it in any form, then we will continue to have what we are facing.

The governments do not fully appreciate the power of sports because they don’t see it, and so they don’t appreciate it as they should. So it is about leadership. Sports need a leader to take it from the doldrums to the limelight.

It is believed that the Federal Government did not really participate in rewarding Stephen Keshi and Amodu Shuaibu, two Super Eagles coaches that died recently. What is your take on that?

I cannot castigate the Federal Government. I don’t know why that is so as I am not in government. I don’t know why it is so and I cannot really say anything. But I read the Minister of Sports saying that after the Rio Olympics, the Federal Government will support the family of Stephen Keshi. So we look forward to that, though I know it cannot be burial he is talking about as Keshi cannot be buried twice. Let us wait till after the Olympics. I am sure it will be revisited.

Photo shows Chief Segun Odegbami.

Source Daily Sports

Posted August 11, 2016


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