Lawrence Ukaegbu aka Dajuma of the Chile’87 Flying Eagles squad invokes memories of a team that was full of talents under the Late Coach Christopher Udemezua of blessed memory. Ukaegbu in this interview at the Dan Anyiam Stadium in Owerri speaks of his high hopes for the Super Eagles in Russia 2018 and gives recipe for what has to be done to rejuvenate players in the Nigeria Premier Football League who he says deserves a place in Rohr’s squad for the mundial.
What has been happening to you?
I have been around and presently with Enyimba for now as technical director of Enyimba Feeders team.
How would you rate players commitment today as against your time?
The truth is that during our own days, we were all committed and dedicated to the game that it reflected with results. These days, I don’t think the players have the determination again. Perhaps if we start educating them on the importance of being dedicated to the game and having perseverance, they would work differently.
Looking at the Super Eagles, what chances do you think we have in the World Cup?
We have a very good chance. Mere looking at the Super Eagles team now, like I have always said about the issue of commitment, those in the national team know what is at stake.
Look at the caliber of players we have now, you will be able to see that they are committed. From the home base players to the foreign base, one could see their fighting spirit.
We have a very good chance. After the draw, people predicted that Nigeria will not make it, but I believe the Super Eagles will in the final. I mean all the way to the final. I say this because back in 1994 at our first World Cup in USA, lack of experience cost us progress and this was due to loss of concentration.
From your experience of European football, how would you access Croatia, Iceland and Argentina?
Every team is difficult. People just keep calling Argentina but I see the Croatians as a more difficult team in that group. Look, we are not just going to play against a big country like Argentina but against tactical teams. Every team there is a difficult and tactical one, so the approach we use should also be tactical against any team we will be playing. It’s not going to be easy, but I believe we will scale through.
Back to the local league, how would you access and compare the league then and now?
There is no way you can compare my time as a player and the present day players.
The good, disciplined and dedicated players are lacking now. So that is just the issue. There is no way you can compare my time and theirs but let us hope as time goes on that the players would realign themselves, let us watch and see whether there would be an improvement. But for now, there is no way you can compare the two.
This time around, things have really changed in the approach towards the game. I don’t really know and understand what is happening. If the truth must be told, football is going down and there is no for comparism.
Those days, we played more years at home before traveling out to other countries, but this time around, everybody wants to travel even when they are not fully developed. However, I believe that some of the home-based that are in the CHAN can make Rohr’s list to the World Cup.
What advice do you have for our league players?
I urge them to wait for their own time. To be patient, the time will come for you and by then it would be obvious that no one can stop the move. They must endeavour to establish themselves first before moving out.
Can you recall your worst moment as a footballer?
I wasn’t and am still not happy the way the Flying Eagles squad of 1987 was bundled out the Junior World Cup in Chile. Everyone had high hopes for us and even before the World Cup, other teams were scared of Nigeria because of the way we played. Under Coach Udemezua we had a squad that included Etim Esin, Adeolu Adekola, myself among others. Unfortunately for us, we were knocked out in the first round. That was my saddest time in my football career. Looking back, I still can’t say what went wrong.
What would you say was the high point of your career as a footballer?
I got so many happy moments as a player. I can’t place my heart on a single one. The really sad time I had was that World Cup time. I always want to give my best to win and make people happy each time I played.
If you are not into coaching now, what would you have been doing?
I would have been in the army by now because I love the military status. I can still join them because its not late.. ….Smiles!