BY JOE APU
Respected football coach, Adegboye Onigbinde marked his 78 years birthday in March, 2016 and for a man who at this age should be retired and resting, the Modakeke chief would have none of it.
Still very active in the classroom and on the field of play, Onigbinde would pass for a man still in his early 50s.
Recently on a trip to the ancient city of Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, Onigbinde was seen at work with his core staff at the Lead City University located just after the Ibadan tool gate coming in from the Lagos end.
While he maintains that what has kept him looking good at his age remains the fact that he nurses no animosity against anybody and as such can sleep with eyes closed, he admits that he has made enough enemies to last him a lifetime because he has always remained with the truth. Just before the sallah break, Sunday Sunsport spent 90 minutes with him touching on his life as a coach, his problems with the NFF and why he is unfazed with Nigeria’s World Cup group B opponents. In fact, he says that Nigerians should stop living under the illusion that the Super Eagles are pitted in the group of death in the race to Russia 2018 World Cup.
Enjoy the interview.
SS: Good day coach, you are in a University environment; what are you doing with the Lead City University?
Onigbinde: On invitation, I was requested me to establish a football development programme at the Lead City University, Ibadan, Oyo State. This programme will be executed in stages and we’re starting with a football academy.
SS:What’s the motivation for you taking up this job?
Onigbinde: It has always been my ambition after serving in the continental and world football bodies for about 25 years to leave something for the young coaches and Nigeria in spite of the fact that people running football in this country don’t see any wisdom in that. My experience over the years have become irrelevant to them; so let me do it through the Lead City University by leaving a model behind.
I have said it over time that by FIFA status, Nigeria cannot boast of a single football club side going by the FIFA statute. Let me illustrate it by noting that a section of the FIFA status statute that (a) the controlling board of any football body must be democratically elected. Going by the clubs run in Nigeria, none of them fails in line or can anyone fault me by telling me when the boards were last elected in Shooting Stars, Rangers or even Enyimba. Even the few privately owned clubs are not left out. A situation where government at any level appoints board members for the club makes it a parastattal.
SS: Is it possible for a club in Nigeria to be run independently without government funding?
Onigbinde: When the then governor of Oyo State, Lam Adesina of blessed memory virtually forced me to take up the job of General Manager of Shooting Stars of Ibadan, it took him five months to convince me but before I accepted, I asked him if he would let me run the club the way clubs are runin other parts of the world and his answer was “Chief, don’t report anything to me. I have confidence in you.”
In that season, I budgeted N80m but only got N40m courtesy of the civil servants and it was that money that I used to bring 3SC back to the Premier League. I spent my own money and I thought that was the right time to take the club out of the grip of government. I reached out to the supporters of the club and told them that they were cheating themselves because they are the real owners of the club.
I proposed to them that each of them should pay N1, 000 each to obtain a membership card and knowing the number of fans the club boasts of around the federation, I targeted at least one million members. If you multiply that 1 million by N1, 000, you can imagine how much the club would be making would be in the region of N1b. That would be enough to run the club without taking money from government coffers.
Unfortunately, that dream was not allowed to materialise because some people felt that it was easier to spend government money and go away without accounting for it.
These people went against it and by the time a new government came in, the song on their lips and the media was that Onigbinde is not from Oyo State and not a member of their party. This was a way of looking for an excuse to get me out of their way.
SS: Many Nigerians blame Oliseh for Nigeria’s failure to qualify for the AFCON 2017, do share this view?
Onigbinde: The national team is not where you perform experiments and a place of learning. That is very annoying. I have nothing against Oliseh and I mean absolutely nothing but the truth is that he did not have a coaching experience commensurate with coaching the national team and I want someone to prove me wrong. Hiring him based on the bases of the fact that he analyses football on TV is wrong.
SS: But it was the technical committee of which you are a member that decided on Oliseh…
Onigbinde: I was a member of the technical committee but for the past three to four years, nobody has invited me to any meeting. As I speak with you, the NFF has not written to withdraw my membership. SS: Nigeria is at the verge of hiring a foreign coach, why is the NFF not confident about Nigerian coaches?
Onigbinde: The NFF claims it does not have confidence in Nigerian coaches but the question I ask is have they ever taken pains to select the best out of the bad coaches?
Earlier, we talked about Oliseh; when was the job advertised, how many people applied, how many people were shortlisted, who conducted the interview before the appointment?
How do you condemn everyone when you picked the wrong person for the job. The case of the NFF is like that of a man who was asked to pick an orange from a basket and he decides to close his eyes to pick the orange and when he gets out he finds out that the orange he picked is bad. Instead of admitting his error, he goes about saying all the oranges in the basket are bad.
SS: But then sir, is that not partly a problem of some Nigerian coaches given the accusations that some of them take bribe to pick players for the national teams?
Onigbinde: Do you know that the NFF is responsible for the division in the Nigerian Coaches Association. I recall some few years ago when we were going to hold a congress to elect our officers, I got a call from a reliable source that if I got elected they would not recognize the election.
After that, there was another call asking that a certain individual must be voted president because they don’t like my face and can’t handle me. I called my colleagues and told that I didn’t want them to suffer because of me before leaving the venue.
SS: So, what is the problem the NFF have with you and why do they hate you?
Onigbinde: I don’t believe the NFF hates me. The truth is that they don’t feel secured with me around because they know I will not buy some of the things they do. I have no time to hate anyone but if they do, it will remain in their heads and bother them but for me, I don’t have time to worry about such things.
I will never do anything to generate hatred but I owe my maker, the Supreme Being a duty to always stand for the truth. Some of the things they do are not acceptable to me professionally.
SS: How did you become Nigeria’s coach to the World Cup in Korea/Japan?
Onigbinde: Back in 2002, the then NFA wanted me to head the technical department. I was in Europe when they got in touch with me to apply for the job and I told the Late Patrick Okpomo that I would no longer at that stage of my life beg to apply for a job. He pleaded with me that that the job had been advertised and that I should apply.
I then decided to write thus: Dear sir, this is to declare that my services are available if needed. I thought that it would be thrown into the trash can but I was later invited for an interview that was very rigorous and I was appointed. Till date, I didn’t receive a kobo for the job. Nobody has written to terminate that appointment.
In their letter to me, they stated that they had offered me the appointment but that the final decision would be based on a discussion later. That discussion is yet to take place since 2002. In spite of that I wrote a letter accepting the appointment and did not stop at that, I went to Abuja to report for duty.
We were going through that when the case of the 2002 World Cup came up. It was on the basis that I was head of the technical department that they assumed that the job should come to me and asked me to take charge of the team for the period of the World Cup.
SS: Nigerians were also of the view that you were always glued to your seat on the bunch because you were guiding your estacodes jealously?
Onigbinde: Where was the estacode. I did not receive a kobo in Korea/ Japan until we came back from the World Cup. Because I usually carry my bag, people read meanings to it. I still carry that bag today and contains my personal effects.
Initially, when I was given the assignment, they said they were going to pay me N2m. We played seven matches in our build up, the money did not come. When we got to Japan, I called the NFA and told them that if the money was not paid I would not take the team out. They now rushed a naira cheque to me in Japan. What was I to do with it in Japan? So, where was the money I was protecting?
On my return from the World Cup, I went to my bank and deposited the cheque, it bounced on my face. It took sometime before that money was paid.
SS: Russia 2018 draw pitted Nigeria in the group of death with Cameroon, Algeria and Zambia.
Onigbinde: When we were heading to the World Cup in 2002, the talk was that Nigeria was in a group of death with Argentina, Sweden and England. I bet you but for that act of sabotage by that player, Nigeria would have gone all the way to the final and I say this because it is on record in FIFA technical department that our loss to Argentina cost us a lot.
It is mediocres that believe in such things. Our concentration should be on producing a formidable team.
Talking about the group, first let me say I have not changed my nationality. As a Nigerian, I wish my country well but qualification for the World Cup is not by magic.
It’s not about who we’re going to face but are we must be adequately prepared for the battle. There are key areas of fitness that must be taken into consideration. The team must be psychologically, intellectually, medically, physiologically, technically and tactically fit and the team is ready to go anywhere. Football is a fair game with 11 players on both sides.
The only problem with our football in Nigeria is inadequate development of our coaches. If you want to develop the standard of education in any country, you must first have qualified good quality teachers. It is not different in football.
When I was in the CAF technical committee, we decided to grade all African coaches and since then Ghana has graded more than 2,000, Egypt has graded more than 4, 000 and Nigeria has not graded 500.
SS: Comparing foreign and indigenous coaches:
Onigbinde: Why would anyone compare indigenous coaches and foreign coaches are they given the same treatment?
When I first handled the national team from 1983-1985 my salary was N10, 000. I did not have a room as my official residence and for one year I had no new balls nor new sets of jerseys. Will they treat a foreign coach like that? So, I don’t see any reason for comparism.
SS: What’s your take on the lingering crisis in the NFF?
Onigbinde: The cause of the crisis is with the root. When the root is bad, the branches and the fruits will also be bad. How are those running football at the state levels elected? When those at the state levels are not qualified to run football, it runs on to the national level and that is why I don’t blame people when they fail in positions of authority. Most of them are where they are not on merit but by sentiments and who they know.
SS: What’s your comment on the demise of Stephen Keshi and Shuaibu Amodu?
Onigbinde: People are busy saying all sorts of good things about them. Sincerely, all of these people are just paying lip service because there’s no sincerity in what they are saying. When these coaches had problems with their employers, what did they do to assist them? I pray that their souls rest in peace.
That’s why I’ve told my family that if I die today, they should not waste time burying me because sycophants would want to come and make eulogising speeches that are not sincere.
SS: Many say there is juju in football, how true is this?
Onigbinde: You know I come from Modakeke and of course you know what the place stands for but my people say that the man who has a wrestling charm with him must be wary of who he challenges.
Juju does not play football and that is the truth. A player who does not know how to receive the ball, control the ball or pass it.