Calabar — A former international and national U-23 goalkeeper coach, Etta Egbe has declared that Nigeria is suffering from lack of talented goaltenders. In this exclusive interview with Trust Sports, the technical director of Calabar Rovers said in his days, they were so talented that it required little efforts and time by coaches to take them to the peak. He also spoke on life in the Green Eagles and Nigerian football in general.
What have you been doing since you retired from club and international football?
Since 2014, I have been an assistant coach with the national Under 15 team. I am also with the U-23 team. I am also the technical director of Cross River State owned Rovers FC of Calabar. I am the immediate past chairman of Cross River State Football Coaches Association. I served for eight years. I am also in my second term as the national Public Relations Officer of Football Coaches of Nigeria.
As a former international goalkeeper, what is your assessment of goalkeepers your days and now?
Today, we have very serious problems in the goalkeeping department of organized football in Nigeria. This is because a lot of goalkeepers today are trading on borrowed profession. They are not naturally gifted. In our time, the coaches only built on our talents. It did not take them time to take us to our peak. But presently, what we have are goal protectors, goal-stoppers, not goalkeepers. It is a tight and difficult situation.
How were you discovered and nurtured for the Green Eagles?
The authorities brought in six foreign coaches to scout for talented goalkeepers. They were distributed to different states or geo-political zones of the country. They went to prominent schools in search of talented footballers and goalkeepers. That was how I emerged from the south-south. Peter Rufai emerged from Rivers State. Wahab Haruna emerged from Kano State. Moses Effiong emerged from Edo State while Raymond King emerged from Oyo State. We had quality goalkeepers. We converged in Lagos for the final screening. In the end three of us were picked. The coaches saw us as very good, so that when it was time for any match (whether local or international), they would only say any of you can start the match. At times, Rufai will tell me O'Boy you start, or I will urge him to start.
You just said that Nigeria lacks natural goalkeepers. As a goalkeeper coach, how are you handling the situation?
Now that we have the opportunity to be in the national teams, we are doing our best to encourage the few that are making better progress. I am delving deep with the U-23 team. The three goalkeepers we have there are indigenous. If I had gone for foreign goalkeepers, it would have meant that I did not merit holding the appointment. My duty is to build players from the grassroots. Why should I look for foreign goalkeepers when I can groom better ones from home? The three keepers I travelled with to Egypt did creditably well. The one from Gombe United, Adamu, is very good and ripe even for the Super Eagles.
Why is it difficult for African goalkeepers to be signed by some of the big clubs in Europe?
Foreign teams and coaches don't usually like to spend on goalkeepers. They like keepers to spend longer time. They prefer to spend frequently on midfielders, attackers etc since the essence is to score goals for their clubs. Goalkeeping is a special position. No white coach will want to toy with his goalkeeper.
Presently we over depend on foreign based players for the Super Eagles. Isn't this discouraging home-based coaches like you?
Of course! The proper thing to do is to have a standard home based team that will serve as a reservoir for the national team. Inviting too many foreign based players is not helping our local league, even local players themselves.
Which were your most memorable matches as Super Eagles goalkeeper?
I remember the match we played against Italy in 1982. It ended 2-2. We played in Seoul, capital of South Korea. Remember Italy had just won the World Cup. Our match with them was a test run for the Seoul Olympic Games. It was a very tough match.
Would you say the Super Eagles of your time enjoyed better attention?
I don't think so! Then our camp allowance was only N1 per day. Today, it is $100 per day. Then, even if we were able to save the N1 for 10 years, it would still not amount to anything. And people would blame us that we did not save money for the rainy day. Today's Eagles are better taken care of than we were.
How long did you play for the Green Eagles?
I played 12 years for both Flying Eagles and the Green Eagles. I also played 12 years for the Rovers FC of Calabar both as captain and keeper. Before these times, I had played informal games.
How do you feel seeing some of your team-mates like Kadiri Ikhana, Christian Chukwu, for instance, being plagued by terrible ailments without ready help?
I disagree that help did not come readily to the two former internationals you mentioned. We have to commend the NFF for the assistance they gave to them. In both cases, NFF intervened with some money. I am happy that both have recuperated. The NFF can still do more by organizing welfare packages for ex-internationals as done in other countries, so that we can take care of all these old-age associated ailments before they escalate.
How would you compare Nigerian football league with other African leagues?.
Nigerian league is far better. It is only that the equipment and maintenance of pitches are problematic. We have quality footballers but no good pitches. Another problem is the timing of our league. It should be in line with other global leagues, so that we rest when others are resting; kick off the season when others are doing so. This is why our teams are not doing well in continental matches.
Your team, Rovers FC have not made remarkable national impact as they did in the 80s. What is the problem?
It is very difficult to come out from this level we are now. Football is capital intensive. Governor Ben Ayade is doing his best to finance the team but more needs to be done. We appeal to the private sector to come to our aid. We belong to the elite division, not the National League.
Do you have any regret playing for Nigeria?
Absolutely none! I enjoyed it all when it lasted. I glorify God. It was a big honour to wear the number 1 jersey for upward of 12 years without injury or issues.