By Albert Akota with agency report
The recent appointment of Fatai Amoo as the new handler of the Nigeria U-17 team, the Golden Eaglets, was greeted with mixed reactions.
The veteran coach in this exclusive interview. He admits that many people feel he is old-fashioned and just being recycled by the Nigeria Football Federation.
Coach Amoo, however, speaks about what he has been doing and what he also has plans to do on the new job that may have informed his choice as the new handler for the Golden Eaglets.
Congratulations on your new appointment as Nigeria U-17 national team coach.
Most of us that have followed your success stories at club level have been wondering if you’re done with coaching with neither club nor national appointment in sight. What have you been up to before now?
Thank you. I started with Racing but unfortunately, it didn’t go well, of course, that is one of the hazards of the job. I travelled to the U.S. to join my family then came back in April 2018. It was a time when clubs were done with the hiring of managers. But then we have a vibrant academy here in Lagos State known as Smart City. We emerged champions of WGB Lagos State FA Cup, while in the national FA Cup, we defeated top teams like 3SC and Enyimba. I’m the director of Smart Academy.
I enjoy what I enjoy doing, It was like a part-time thing, but I had it at the back of my mind to coach clubs both in Nigeria or outside the country if the opportunity presents itself but nothing came up so far. As you can see, I’ve been busy working for academy training young guys.
Knowing full well that club coaching is miles apart from national team jobs, how do you intend to go about the Nigeria U-17 assignment?
It’s a very difficult job all over the world because you’re dealing with young players. One of my qualities is patience and you must also have eyes to detect talented players. Most of my backroom staff are talented coaches with years of experience in grassroots football. I believe we can achieve our goal as long as we are dedicated. Time might be against us now but we will give it our best shot and ensure we achieve our desired target.
One thing we also have in mind is the fact that NFF already have a standby U-15 team in place from grassroots competitions sponsored by Zenith Bank. The team was in Japan the last time and that will really help us a lot to put our team together. I and the rest of the backroom staff will work together to achieve our goals.
Nobody is giving us any chance because most Nigerians think we’re old fashion coaches and that we were being recycled. But I want to use this medium to let people know that being a good coach is not about age, it’s all about what you can do. I’m a current coach because apart from 2017 that I did not attend any course, 2018-2019 was a busy year for me in the US because I’m a member of the United States Coaching Association (USCA) and I attended all their programmes. Up to 2018, I’ve attended all their coaching training up to date but I and Coach Ladan Bosso need not to go the press to blow our trumpet because I don’t like cheap publicity.
The little I’ve done is ok for me. I’ve received lots of condemnation but I’ve taken those criticisms in good fate because it will only help us to be more determined to do well. The same criticisms have been coming to coach Ladan Bosso too that we’re old. But in England, Roy Hodgson is still in charge of Crystal Palace but probably because their favourite was not given the job. All that Nigeria wants from us is to do a good job and that is what we’re set out to achieve. All I want to say that we need to support whoever gets the job, we don’t need more of that criticism.
The scouting system that pulls all players together in Abuja seems to be counter-productive going by the experience of the immediate U-17 team. Do you intend to send your scouts to the country’s geopolitical zone to comb for players? What have you been thinking?
That must be done but I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag. You know Nigeria is blessed with talented players. There are places I need to go now but we have our logistics in place and our challenges too. Remember I worked with coach Samson Siasia in the U-23 too and we had an open screening at that time with players coming from every part of the country.
Aside from my humble self, coach Siasia, Monday Odige, and David Ngodigha, we added our colleagues who were not appointed by FA to help us with scouting because they’re qualified scouts too and we succeeded. Nigeria is blessed with talents but I can assure you screening won’t take place in Abuja alone.
Immediate U-17 coaches gave opportunities to youngsters playing in the UK, are you looking for to adopt the same method or will it be strictly players based in Nigeria alone?
The FA are yet to specify the limits to our scouting system but all we know is that we shall be picking Nigerian U-17 players alone. Nobody has stopped us from picking players in the diaspora but we will use our common sense and pick the good ones wherever they are.
How do you intend to handle pressures from friends, families, coaches, and most especially football agents who long to see their wards and players selected for U-17 national team?
It has started already even right before the announcement. You know even when it was being rumoured that we will be getting the job, besides, there is no smoke without fire. It’s a general phenomenon, especially in Nigeria. It happens not just in the national team alone but at the club level too but it is a bit higher with U-17. You must not allow the pressure to consume you, don’t go outside your limit and you don’t have to promise anything.
U-17 will resume training, we will follow the programme and if your son or player fits in, all well and good. I’m aware of the pressure, its one thing I’ve experienced as a coach but as you rightly said, the pressure is higher with U-17 but we will do everything humanly possible to achieve our set goals.
Are you under pressure to win Nigeria’s sixth U-17 World Cup or you just want to develop the game at this level?
You just asked a good question and you’re not the first to ask me this and you won’t be the last. If you look at it critically, you go into competition to win it but winning it shouldn’t be the ultimate. FIFA actually set up this competition to help third world countries develop their players from U-8 to U-10 so as to understand the philosophy of the game.
It’s not just to go to championships to win but you want to also discover talented players who will then metamorphose into the national team in the years to come just like Mikel Obi, Udeze, and a lot of them who once played for U-17, then U-21 and then Super Eagles. Look at the young players in the national team now, this is what we stand out to achieve.
What should Nigerian expect from coach Amoo and his backroom staff as you go about your job in the coming weeks?
Just as you rightly said that Nigeria has won this competition over and over again, I see that as a motivation for us, it has not put us under any undue pressure. The pressure is all about what we can do within the short time frame that is available to us to assemble a good team and not be consumed by the pressure. Our vision is clearly spelt out; we want to follow up on the paths of our predecessors who had done well on the job. I have been in close contact with my backroom staff and we have been discussing the way forward because no man has a monopoly of knowledge. That is what we want to do and I believe it is achievable too.