By Amaechi Agbo
Former Flying Eagles assistant coach, Abimbola Samuel has explained why Nigeria club sides are not doing well in CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup. The coach who spoke in an exclusive interview with our correspondent identified age and motivation as reasons behind Nigeria clubs’ poor performances in continental competitions.
How would you rate NPFL standard and in which areas do you think you can help any of the clubs when called?
NPFL standard is very high but we are not there yet. In as much as I want to appreciate the efforts of my colleagues and the club owners so far, I believe that with my philosophy of believing in the youth, I am of the view that we need to introduce more youthful players into the premiership so that the pace of the game will be more faster than what it is now.
What do you think is responsible for NPFL clubs not doing well in the continent?
When you look at the CAF Champions League and the Confederation Cup, I understood the challenges of the teams that represented us and one thing was clear, you cannot do more than your capacity. It is not the fault of the technical crew but what I noticed is that the age factor among the players and motivation factor between us and the North African clubs are far apart.
When you watch them, you can only see ageing players at the defence but when you check their midfield, it has youthful and fire brand players that can run around and defend very well. The ageing once at the defence line will use experience to teleguide the younger ones and that is given them real advantage over us.
When you talk about motivation factor, you will notice that immediately after each match and they are scheduled to play us here in Nigeria, they will leave their country and go to the same country that has same climatic condition with Nigeria and camp. They did not come directly from Tunis, they hid somewhere in west African country to acclimatise with the Nigeria weather.
That is why when we are playing them at the hot sun by 2 pm, they will be laughing at us because they have acclimatised themselves with the weather condition, so hot sun is no longer strange to them. Funny enough, when we play against them at home, we hardly even train at the 2 o’clock hour we are playing the matches. All these factors affected our performances in the continent.
You don’t say because Nigeria weather is hot, then you train in the morning and evening and decided to play a club coming from cold climate by 2 o’clock. It will have the same disadvantage with your own players because the hour you are training is not the same thing with the hour of the match.
So the number one thing that is affecting our performance in the continent is age. I don’t want to mention names, but in one of the NPFL clubs that played in the continent, I saw a central defender that could not match up with the pace of the opposing attacker and the only thing he could do was to bring him down. The position of the ball before the defender, was not dangerous to the team but because the defender had to labour he went for the tackle, what the defender would have don, was to turn back and look for support but because the pace was not the same, he yanked him down.
We need the pace of the NPFL to be faster as we see in the other leagues. When we use players at their diminishing ages, they cannot do more than their capacity.
The two clubs that topped the groups in the first half of the league, Ifeanyi Ubah FC and MFM FC spent the least money. What do you think is responsible for their strides?
That is what we are saying. When Ifeanyi Ubah threw his camp open and had open screening, people were laughing at him thinking that it was because he does not have money to recruit players. But that was far from it. The man just did his home work very well and I believe he might have gotten some consultants who really advised him to go for open screening.
If you watch their team now, it is not only just paying millions of naira to sign a player that will come in and become god in your team, the youthfulness of Ifeanyi Ubah FC and that of MFM FC is what is doing the magic. The coach Ilechukwu I know, has always been like that. What is rally working for the young man is that he developed the youths, you cannot run them down; they will only run you down. They are ready to play even if for 120 minutes because they are young and ambitious.
Just watch the league, whatever anybody might believe, do not be surprised to see either of them emerge champions of the league in June.
If you get a team in the premier league, what would you be bringing to the table?
What I will bring to the table when I get the club that believe in my philosophy, is that the money used in buying ready made stars should be used to buy younger players. Aside that, let’s look at some of the NLO and NNL players. Let all the NPFL clubs have vibrant feeder teams where they develop players to come up to the big stage. The younger ones with more understanding and good coaching will go places. Part of our problem is that every year, the players are moving, so how can a club have culture and style of play?
A player should be able to spend two to three years before he could effectively implement the philosophy of the coach. They need to stay together. What I am saying here is that when you have young players, you can take a decision and say, ‘this season, we are not targeting the league, but we must be at the middle because you just finished recruiting.’ Then in the second season you go for the kill and target the crown but your ultimate target would be to end second if you could not make the top spot.
Then from the third season if care is not taking, nobody would drag the league with you because you built philosophy, you have built unity and above all, you will not be shouting on the side-line again because the players know what you want at each time and what to do.
Now the impact of having youthful players who stay longer together is that whenever any of them is going on transfer, you will not be talking about trials, he will just go for the medical because even before anybody calls them, they knew the players have arrived. They will also know that the players are young because no European club will want to sign old players. That is part of our problems; year in and out, our players are going on trials. How can you be in NPFL and you are going on trial? When you are done and good, the next thing you can go for is medical. Such philosophy is what I want to bring on board when I get a job in NPFL Club.
What would your advice be to the management if you are engaged to coach one of the NPFL clubs, are you going to chase away the aged players or will you blend the youthful players and the ageing ones?
That is it, you said it all. It is better to blend. What I am saying is that we have to blend the ageing players and the youthful ones together because the youthful ones need to have someone they look up to, to help them build their confidence and motivate them.
I am not saying I will phase out the ageing players, no. what I am saying is that we need to give the younger ones opportunity in the NPFL.