interviewBy David Ngobua
Former Super Eagles striker and vice-chairman of Lobi Stars of Makurdi, Mr. Dominic Iorfa Mtem has assured the team's teeming supporters that the impressive performances of Lobi in the past season would not be a flash in the pan. In this interview with Shot!, the former BCC Lions marksman nick-named 'Human Express' by late commentator, Ernest Okonkwo due to his electrifying speed said Lobi is enjoying the needed support from the government and people of Benue State and would not disappoint in the coming season. He spoke on Lobi's preparations for the CAF Confederation Cup and other topical issues. Excerpts:
I know you must be happy with the performance of Lobi Stars this season? What is the secret behind team's resurgence?
You know when I was a member of the NFF Executive Committee; I did not have time to concentrate fully on my team. When my tenure ended two years ago, I decided to concentrate fully. The first time I contributed in 2011, my team became better. I had employed several coaches but at times when you want to give them one or two advices, they feel you are interfering. So I decided to do it my own way. I have been in this game for so long. I know what to do to motivate the players so as to get the best out of them.
Is it true that before the season commenced, you said you would resign from your position, if Lobi fails to pick a continental ticket?
Yes, I made a press conference with over 20 media houses in attendance. I told them that I was going to get a continental ticket and if I fail, I will step down from my position. I made the pledge because I was going to take full charge of the team. With God on my side I succeeded.
But would you have resigned if in the end you failed to achieve your target of playing on the continent?
I would have resigned because having put so many years into the game, I know that if I am not with Lobi Stares, I can get a job elsewhere. But there is no point being in a place for more than four five years and you cannot have something to talk about. I meant what I said and I wanted to prove a point that whatever you are doing, if you give it hundred percent, you get a result. There is nothing I promised and with the support of God that I have not succeeded. It has been with me over the years. Anything I want to do, God is always on my side. I was not making it for making sake but it was for real. I told the Deputy Governor who is the chairman of the club that I will resign from my post, if my aim is not achieved.
What are you doing to ensure that Lobi Stars performance is not a flash in the pan?
We are not doing anything different from what we did last year. This year we are going to play on the continent. This means we have to work really harder. We started pre-season training about six weeks ago. We are playing friendly matches to get the players in shape. We do not know when the CAF Confederation Cup competition will start but it cannot be earlier than January. We are aware that having achieved good results last season, people are waiting to see whether it was accidental. We cannot lie down and wait. Clubs won't look at Lobi as the club they knew in the past. They will say let us see if what Lobi did was a fluke. We are ready to match our achievement of last season, if not even better. Our performance won't be a fluke. So far we have played five friendly matches. We won three and drew two. This is a good sign. Apart from two key players, David Tyavkase and Jonah Abutu and one central defender who have left the team, our team is still intact and by God's grace when the season starts, we would be up to it.
You played your home matches at the Chief Emmanuel Akume Atongo stadium Katsina-Ala but it cannot host continental games. Is Lobi going to play away from home?
I am hundred percent sure that Lobi will play at the Aper Aku stadium here in Makurdi. You will be surprised that the contractor who is working on the Aper Aku pitch is in town now and the Benue State government is waiting eagerly for the job to be completed. According to the contractor, the job will be completed before the end of the year. He said everything for the job is in Lagos, ready to be moved to Makurdi. Hopefully our continental games will not be played in December but January. Government is ready to make sure that the job is completed in time for us to play the CAF Confederation Cup at home. Already about 80 % of the money has been released. What is left now is probably like 20%. So hopefully everything will be done before the end of the year.
Aside its commitment to the completion of the Aper Aku stadium playing pitch, what other support is the government giving to ensure that Lobi performs well in the continent?
I am very fortunate that my Governor, Rt. Hon. Gabriel Suswam is a sport loving personality. He doesn't only know football, apart from Lobi Stars, his team is Arsenal. It may also interest you to know that the chairman of Lobi Stars and Deputy Governor of Benue State, Chief Stephen Lawani is an avid supporter of Manchester United. Like I said, I am very happy that I am in the midst of my bosses who know what it takes to sponsor a football team. I remember when we were to play WAFU competition, I brought a bill of N60m and the chairman of the club, Chief Lawani felt it was high and the governor might not approve but when I met him with it, he said no no! no!! no!!! that's if that's the only thing that can make the people of Benue state happy, give them the money, let them go and play. That tells you that he is deeply concerned about the happiness of the people of Benue State. Even when NFF wrote a letter seeking for commitment from the government in respect of our continental competition, the governor quickly approved that we should participate. He said that what is needed, he is going to make sure that money is released for us to prosecute the competition. Now the ball is in our court, it is now left for us to play it well. I am happy to have such bosses.
Nigeria Premier League clubs are constantly in the news for the wrong reasons like indebtedness to players and protests but Lobi is never associated with such. How do you make this possible?
There is no secret to this other than the commitment from our governor. Lobi Stars is among the best motivated clubs in the country. Our salaries and match bonuses are kept aside and paid as and when due. So you cannot ask for more. Our achievement is a big publicity for the state. If you compare us with clubs from the oil rich states, they are not even as successful and as popular as Lobi Stars. We are happy that we have a governor who is young and dynamic. He knows what he is doing for sports development. He has just released N10m for us to share to the players and officials. You will begin to imagine what would have been our reward, if we had won something.
It is also an open secret that you had to re-locate to Katsina-ala due to the hostile behaviour of Makurdi fans towards you and Lobi Stars. Don't you think coming back to Aper Aku stadium will be counter-productive?
You see football is result oriented. Since I took over, we have been getting results. Consequently, most of the fans that were against Lobi are now on our side. Most of them are eager to watch Lobi play again. Now that Lobi is playing well, I don't think there will be problems again. If you don't like ones face you try to get away with him, you try again, you couldn't, you try more than five to six times and you couldn't, at the end of the day, if you can't beat them, you join them and this is exactly what the fans have decided to do. Following Lobi's achievement last season, everybody is waiting to see the team play again. Once you are getting results, whether somebody likes you or not he or she will be your friend. So when we come back, the results will do the talking for us.
Despite the fact that you emerged the NPL manager of the year, your critics still say you are not a trained coach and shouldn't have taken over the bench of Lobi Stars. What do you have to say about this?
Let me tell you something, with all their certificates and academic qualifications, most coaches have failed. We tried most of them and they failed. Whether I am a trained coach or not, what matters in football is result. If I am given the national team to coach and I am getting the result, what do you need again from me?. Is it everybody in this country that is qualified to hold the position he or she is holding?. There are some ministers of sports, if you ask them how many players make up a football team, they don't know, how many players make up a volleyball team, they don't know, ask them about American football or Baseball, they do not know but they are ministers of sports. Some of them don't know the rules and regulations of the games but they are there as ministers. It is not about certificates.
The only thing is that when you are good you are good. On my part, I have been a football man all my life for over 30 years so I don't know the kind of degrees or certificates I need to coach football. If I were in the military by now I would have retired as a general, if I were in the police, I would have retired as Inspector-General of Police. I am waiting to be appointed coach of the national U-23 team so that I can take team to the next Olympics.