interviewBy Orkula Shaagee
Uche Okechukwu was a key member of the Super Eagles team that won the Nations Cup in Tunisia 94 and was voted the most entertaining team at the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the USA. The former Iwuanyanwu Nationale defender, who was popularly called Gentle Giant by soccer fans, was at the Warri City Stadium for the novelty match between ex-Super Eagles players and Warri All Stars, from where he spoke to reporters on a number of issue, including the Westerholf era and the need to give Keshi enough time to build a strong team for the country. Excerpts:
Most of your teammates in the national team then are now coaches, handling the various national teams. Do you look forward to handling one of the national teams in future?
We have a lot of people who try to develop football from the grassroots without being a coach. So there are a lot of stages in football where we can contribute without necessarily being a coach.
Do you genuinely think we have the kind of players that will do this nation proud, at the 2013 AFCON in South Africa?
You have to remember one thing that when Westerholf first came, only one or two players were playing abroad then, most of us were playing in Nigeria; I for instance I was playing for Iwuanyanwu Nationale, and Amokachie was playing for Ranchers Bees. It was only two players or four from outside the country that went to the African Cup of Nations.
So, it is not about playing abroad. Like I told you, we have very quality players but you have to remember Stephen Keshi needs time to build that team, because Westerholf did not build his team in one day. Before we became a strong team, we played ECOWAS Cup, we played Nations Cup in 90 and 92.
If you are talking of individual players, yes, we have and what is needed now is to build a team, which is more important to do than to have individual players. So that is what we need to do.
At the stadium today, while each of you were being introduced, there was a standing ovation; why is it difficult for your set to take over the running of football in Nigeria?
The thing is we don't make that decision, we are not in position to do that; there are people in position who make that decision. There is a procedure to choose the NFF chairman or whoever is there. I cannot just come out and say I want to be in this position.
So, those who are there, any time they call on us and say come I want you to be here, everybody here will be willing to do so. But like I said earlier, we are not in position to make that decision.
What is that thing that Keshi is bringing into the national team that Siasia did not do during his time?
That I cannot answer because the NFF is the one that made that decision, you can see that not only in the national teams, clubs and everywhere, when you play as a coach and you don't get results you go.
But that is what I call consistency, if it doesn't happen today, it doesn't mean it will not happen another day; but they will say we want it immediately now and out another person comes, and it becomes a problem. So at the end of the day, you will find out that all the coach, Siasia, Eguavoen, Keshi and all others want the same thing, and that is success.
So, you have to remember that all of them past and present want the same thing and they try to work towards that target in their own way, but may be the NFF officials may not see it that way.
Which of the Nigerian players will you say you are highly impressed with for now?
Well, this is a new team and they are just starting.
I mean in Europe, those playing in Europe.
Of course we have a lot of good players in Europe, I like Odemwingie, Mikel. I want you to understand that every player has a quality and those qualities are different from each other player. If you are looking from outside, you might be looking from a different angle.
Others may ask, why is this guy playing, but the coach knows why he is playing. There is a reason why he is there every game, so they have their own qualities; it is left for the coach to decide I want this player because he is my best player in what I want to do.
Our (Nigeria) best department in the past used to be in defence, what in your opinion do you think is the reason we have been battling to get a formidable back four now in the past five of six years?
You need time and patience to build a team, and I just gave you an example that when Westerholf came we were all playing for local clubs and it took time for him to raise a team. I remember we played ECOWAS Cup in Bauchi, we played African Cup of Nations and so many friendly games, a lot of them talk about the 94 team, but that team did not emerge in 94, we started 89, 90, 92 with the same coach and almost the same crop of players, with few coming in, even after Westerholf, it was almost the same team that went to the 98 World Cup and Olympics; but people just talk about 94, but that team was there long before 94.
We played ECOWAS in Bauchi, went to Algiers 90, Senegal 92 before we went to Tunisia 94 Nations Cup. So we have to build a team.
Even as we have retired, when we play, you will see that these people have been together. So you need patience, the result might not be coming in as you want it, but building a team is building for the future, though the results might not come as expected.