Since winning the 2015 FIFA U-17 tournament in Chile, it has not been rosy for Nigeria in global age-grade competitions like it used to be.
While the country failed to qualify for the subsequent 2017 edition, the Golden Eaglets made an early exit in the 2019 edition when they finally qualified.
For the U-20 and U-23 teams, the fortunes are not any better.
In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, one of Nigeria’s respected coaches, Samson Siasia, gives his opinion on what is wrong and how to address the problem.
The former Super Eagles coach also offers some update on his pending case against FIFA to upturn the life ban slammed on him for alleged involvement in match-fixing.
He also speaks on the rave of the moment, Victor Osimhen, and other issues around football.
PT: You must be impressed with Osimhen’s move to Napoli, what was going through your mind when this deal was going on?
Siasia: Well, I’m happy that the deal went through after much delay, it’s a good thing for Nigerian football. If you look at the way he’s been playing before now, you’re sure you’re going to get 110 per cent from him, that is the kind of attitude we need from our players, to be serious-minded.
Osimhen came from a very poor family just like me. Growing up in Ajegunle, life is difficult. So when you’re going out for trials in Europe you have to prepare your mind. You should know you’re not going to come back, rather you should give it your 110 per cent. In Napoli, people will know him (Osimhen) well, and they will see him. Osimhen is a scorer but it all depends; in modern football, you can’t sit back because you’re a striker and wait for the ball, no no, you should go back, get the ball and score goals.
He is just a wonderful boy, cool-headed, and very respectful. I think Napoli is just the beginning for this young boy. A very respectful young boy. When you have someone like that that has a die-hard means of trying to survive, forget about the fact that he has the highest transferred player as a black person in that country, but when you see his attitude on the field of play, you will know that he is going to get you more.
PT: But some school of thought believe going to Italian Serie A can be counter-productive for the young striker who is trying to stabilize his career most especially if you consider how dangerous and brutal Serie A defenders are. What is your thought on this?
Siasia: If you look at Ronaldo, at 33-34 he is still scoring goals. As long as you’re a goal scorer it doesn’t matter where you go, you will still score goals. I don’t think that is going to stop him. I think Napoli is a good team for him to start after leaving Lille. If you’re going to Italy, that is a good job seriously, it’s one of the best leagues in the world, and if he leaves there, where else will you go? It’s either you go to England or Spain. I think he is going to do well because of his die-hard attitude.
PT: As one of the best youth coach in Nigeria, do you think it is advisable for Samuel Chukwueze to embrace a move away from Villarreal given the news surrounding his transfer?
Siasia: I thought he was going to go to England or what, I think there was a team that wanted him
PT: (Cuts in) Yes a lot of team wants him in England
Siasia: Yes, why not? Of course, he can move, he is a very enterprising young boy, good left foot. Sometimes he tends to keep the ball too long but that’s something you can talk to him about, he has prospects. I have never met him before, he played under Amuneke but he never played under me. Osimhen played with me at the Olympics in Brazil so I know Osimhen better than him. Hopefully, as time goes on we will get to meet again if God permits. But he is a revelation; that Chukwueze boy.
PT: Nigeria has been struggling to make a mark in youth football globally lately. What would you identify as the cause of this setback? Is it a coaching problem or a dearth of talents?
Siaisia: (Cuts in) It’s an administration problem. We need to have a structure that will help young players get to the next level. The FA is not doing a good job, they have the U-17, all the time they do trials all the young children in Nigeria will come to Abuja and some of them don’t even have the money to come to Abuja. The best ones are not discovered because they don’t have the money to come down to Abuja. You know what it is to come to Abuja if you live in the village.
We need to break it down to segment without having to tie them in one location. Pick the right players’ in the village or town or whatever. The coaches will do that one, then bring them together in one location where one of the head coaches of the U-17 national team then come around and pick the right one to train with. But if we keep saying my brother gives me money or bribe or something, we’re not going to pick the right players. This has been our biggest problem.
PT: You have been getting numerous supports from friends and families to support your cause as far as the case with FIFA even though the whole process was slowed down by COVID-19 outbreak. What is your next line of action, what should we expect in coming weeks?
Siasia: It’s not CAS, CAS is the body mediating between me and FIFA. No no no I thank Nigerians for all their support, I got lots of support from Nigerians. (Paused) The case is in court and the next and final hearing is coming up on October 6 and we’re getting ready for that. By the grace of God, the case will end up very well so that I can get out of this mess.
PT: Super Eagles gaffer Gernot Rohr had his contract extended by NFF. The team was at the last AFCON where they won bronze. What is your general assessment of the coach and his team?
Siasia: Why would I tell Rohr what to do so that he can pick my brain? No Rohr’ should do what he knows how to do best. I don’t think Nigerians are very impressed with him because at the last Nations Cup and World Cup he did not beat the record he met on the ground. He has to do better than what he has done. We need to work in his support because to be serious we all failed. He has to do better than what he has done.
PT: Are you impressed with what the sports minister is doing now by helping ex-internationals who are down with ailments and other problems. Is he aware of your case with FIFA?
Siasia: The day he arrived I think I was the first person that went to him when I had this problem with FIFA. He is a very nice man and very accommodating, that’s what I love about him. We talked and he said, coach I’ll do whatever I can to help and since then he’s been talking to people to see how they can support. Let’s rally round and support him, he is one best minister of sports.
PT: Thank you, Coach Samson Siasia for talking to us. We wish you all the best sir.
Siasia: Thank You!