KUNLE ADEWALE speaks with Joe Erico whose over-arching emphasis on appealing football brought him huge popularity as a coach in the late '80s
One of the fiercest rivalries in the history of Nigerian football was the one involving the then Stationery Stores and Electricity Corporation of Nigeria both of Lagos and one name was always conspicuous in the derby - Joseph Erico.
Asked to compare the Federation Cup with the Challenge Cup of his days, the jogo bonito exponent said: "You cannot compare the two. This generation is quite different from ours. Our own generation is a passionate one while this one is a material generation; the difference is very obvious," he said.
Erico is however happy that some members of his generation were honoured by the Lagos State government during the Federation Cup.
"I feel real good and very happy to see such a thing happening. They don't have to die before they are being honoured. I'm really excited and I believe another set would be considered during next year's competition. From what I have witnessed today it means there is hope and future for the upcoming sports men and women and not only for footballers, because it's a good incentive for them," the former assistant Super Eagles coach explained.
Erico however did not feel left out of the party despite being a veteran of the Challenge Cup. It will come to my turn; it's never too late as long as I'm living I will one day be inducted into the Challenge Cup Hall of Fame."
One Challenge Cup finals that will remain memorable for Erico was the 1970 edition in which he broke his right leg.
"It was a game involving ECN and Plateau Highlanders. It was in my attempt to stop Ismaila Mabo from scoring. I went up for the ball and landed wrongly and I injured my right leg and that was how I got a knocked knee to this day. But I didn't mind as I was still doing good with myself. The match ended goalless and was postponed till the next day and in spite of the injury I was still in goal for my team and won. Mabo and I are still very good friends up till today and we had a lot to talk about when we saw at the finals of the Federation Cup," he said.
"During my day virtually all the attackers were dreaded and they all wanted to score against me."
Many ex-footballers tend to nurse some regret over the notion that what they had in their active days is not commensurate to what they got in return. Not so for the former NEPA coach. "I don't regret a bit for all the sacrifices I made for Nigeria. I don't have any other country and I appreciate the fact that some still value some of the things I did for this great nation."
Recalling the rivalry between Stationery Stores and ECN, Erico said: "It was a local derby as it exists today everywhere else in the world. It was very tough then but it is unfortunate that we no longer have such rivalry again. At a stage I was enticed to join the opposite team but Stores was owned by one person while ECN was a corporate organization and I had my focus and a vision which I wanted to accomplish," he recalled.
He praised Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi for giving home-based players an opportunity to play in the national team. "It was exactly what we initiated when we came on board in 2002 and we qualified for the World Cup and the Olympics with the initiative. It's good to see the team gradually getting its bearing and confidence back again. It is a matter of time before the team get back to their full potential.
Erico also hailed the decision of Vincent Enyeama to dump French Ligue 1 Lille after having sat on the bench for most of the season. After the memorable performances for Nigeria at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the goal keeper moved to France to join Lille but a year on it seems it had been a hasty decision.
"He took a right decision after a wrong one. I do not know why he went to Lille in the first place as Mickael Landreau is France's second keeper. That move was wrong from the beginning. He realised that his place in the national team is not so secure now with the home-based putting up good showings so the thought will be to move to a club where he will be more active," Erico said.
The former national goalkeeper trainer is sceptical about the proposed FIFA goal-line technology.
"A lot of people have clamoured for the goal-line technology to be implemented but I think it will affect the excitement of the game. But we just have to live with the change because there is the need to see its effectiveness in determining the outcome of a match. It will be strange however for a game to be stopped to determine if a ball had crossed the line or not. The problem is that the referee has to stop the game and wait for confirmation from a computer and that is strange to football," he said.
Sports has however not been an infectious bug in the Erico household.
Barring one of his children, Michael, none is involved in sports. Michael recently joined the Cleveland Cavaliers for the 2012/13 NBA season for a three-year contract with the first year partially guaranteed and the last two years non guaranteed. Eric, who went undrafted in the NBA Drafts this year averaged 9 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 52.1 percent from the field in his final year at Temple University.