Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president, Amaju Melvin Pinnick, has expressed confidence that the current crop of Super Eagles players have the physical, mental requirement and toughness to play in the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup final.
He pointed out that though he does not want to set a target that would mount pressure on the players, the federation has however done its best in terms of logistics and administrative requirements to unconsciously bring out the best in the players.
In this interview with Weekend SportingSun, the Glass House boss painted a lucid picture of the preparations the federation have put in place for the team to do well in Russia. He equally reacted to the team’s goalkeeper crisis and the crashing out of the Nigerian teams from the CAF interclub championships.
What is the update you have for Nigerians concerning the preparations for the World Cup?
We are not facing challenges and I would like to thank the federal government for creating the enabling environment for us strive. The government has given us all the support and more importantly created that stability we always sought for in football.
The government has really done well by giving us financial support to reach our goal. I thank the Minister of Youth and Sports, who has been a major supporter of our programmes.
Talking about the World Cup, I don’t think we have any problem because I speak to the technical officials, especially the coaches every day, and I am also in touch with the technical committee.
I am totally in charge of the World Cup and I don’t delegate functions that are crucial because the desire of every Nigerian is for the Super Eagles to do well at the World Cup. So, I don’t think there is any challenge.
We had a meeting with the team in November and signed a contract with them that 30 per cent of the FIFA money which is $2.8 million will be paid to them.
I am a very transparent person and every detail on bonus for each match and up to the final as well as share of income from FIFA money was agreed on. I am not one of the presidents of the federations that don’t talk about money and you find every detail of it.
The $2.8 million we agreed with the players is almost 100 per cent already for them to collect whenever they come. We met a couple of State governments and even made presentation to FIFA in raising the money and I can assure that the money is 100 per cent ready for collection.
We are making an arrangement to fly in the Congolese national team because that is our responsibility. We are not going to give them any money. We would bring them here, stay for two days and take them back to their country after the match.
They are like 10 steps ahead of us in FIFA Ranking and we just want to humble them here before going to England. The tickets for Nigeria/England match is almost sold out and it will be a good game.
The match would be played at Wembley June 2, and from there we will play Czech Republic in Austria on June 6, before moving to Russia for the World Cup. As it is, I think everything is going on smoothly and I would thank Nigerians, especially the media for their support.
We are ready to play England on June 2 in London in an international friendly. We had a conclusive meeting with the England FA.
What about the funds from the federal government for the World Cup?
Government has its processes and procedures. I want to announce to you that the process is ongoing. If we need funds from government today, I strongly believe that we can get it but we want to allow them go through the processes.
We are doing everything within our reach in ensuring that things go on smoothly during the World Cup. Good enough, there is no reason to complain and like I said earlier, government has been amazing in supporting us.
We all know that President Buhari is a man of integrity and he loves due diligence and due process. He has assured that funds will not be a problem and we are not in doubt because he has done it in the past.
What is the technical crew doing about solving Eagles goalkeeping crisis?
For me, there is no team that does not have a bit of challenge. It could be at the left full back, right full back, midfield or attack. The complaint about the Argentine team today is that of goalkeeping and aging players. Croatia is equally facing the problem of aging players and their full backs.
The Iceland team is young and enterprising but lacks the technical depth. Challenges must not be human alone and for me, our keepers are good. What we are doing is to send goalkeeper trainers to the clubs of all our goalkeepers. Our foreign keeper trainer has left for Deportivo to continue with Uzoho.
They are going to concentrate on training and knowing new skills. We have his video in those two games which he intends to correct and provide the platform for him to excel. Some other trainers will be going for Alampaso, Akpeyi among others.
The beat is completely in the hands of the coach and we can only advise them. Rohr knows that I have never called him one day to include any player in the team. It is a principle I have maintained.
What is your perception about Video Assistant Referee (VAR)?
I support it because the match between Real Madrid and Juventus would not have generated the debate it did. We should know that the world is evolving technologically and football should also move forward.
Without the federation running the risk of putting the players under pressure, how far can the Super Eagles go in Russia?
Everybody knows that I don’t put players under pressure. I want them to go there and play their game. The game Iwobi plays for Arsenal is different from the one he plays for the Super Eagles. Arsenal game is more regimented but it is a different ball game for the national team.
For a player to be a star he can play ball but to be a superstar, he must go the extra mile. That is what differentiates Jay-Jay Okocha and Kanu from others. It is not everything that the coach said that a player must obey religiously. There are times a player needs to dribble to ignite the spectators and there are times a player will do something extra ordinary in a game.
My dream is for the Super Eagles to play in the finals of the World Cup. I have been interfacing with the Minister and we have agreed that setting target may not be the best, but I have constantly said that my target for the team is to win the World Cup trophy.
Nigeria is a big football playing country and let me remind you that in 1994, we almost defeated Italy but they went ahead to play in the final. We defeated Bulgaria but they ended up playing third place. We have watched lots of videos about the steady rise of the Nigerian team.
The good thing about the current team is that it is very well equipped with sophisticated training equipment. We are very much scientifically equipped. We know the target we set for them but we don’t want to put pressure on them consciously.
We can do that unconsciously by creating an enabling environment for them. If for instance we are not meeting our financial obligation, they will relax. When we have done everything and given them all they need, it will mean unconsciously putting them under pressure to deliver.
If today they get to the World Cup final, we made them to understand that the World Cup money will be shared 50-50 between the team and the NFF. Winning the final is $48m, it means the team will get $24m and the football house will take the remaining $24m.
We need to announce it publicly that we are putting them under pressure because they unconsciously know that they are. We have given them the best including ensuring that they fly the same aircraft Real Madrid and Barcelona like to fly. We want to motivate them and let them know that Nigeria is a great country. We want to let them to know that things can be done differently.
What is your impression about the performances of our clubs at the Total CAF inter club championships?
I have been able to get to some appreciable level of vision. When we get re-elected, our vision is to ensure that all the clubs are independent of their state government. Most of the successful clubs are the ones with rich history and tradition. Manchester City is not a UEFA Champions League club. They may have the players but they don’t have that tradition.
We must start building this tradition around these clubs. In those days, we had clubs like Rangers International of Enugu, Abiola Babes, Leventis United, IICC Shooting Stars, NNB that would always get us to the semi-finals and finals. What we want to encourage is for government to have 20 per cent equity because of their stadium and give their friends, contractors the remaining 80 per cent.
Nigerian clubs will have to struggle because of the structure and that is the truth. The only one which seems to be immune is Enyimba because they have that semblance of structure, independence and rich history. We have been on this for the past 20 years yet it has not worked.
When is the football federation moving into the new secretariat?
If you go there now, you will notice that work is going now. Our expectation is to relocate to the new secretariat before the World Cup.