Russia World Cup 2018: 'Nigerians will cage Lionel Messi during Argentina encounter' , says Former Nigeria sports Minister, Senator Jim Nwobodo brings you this interview with the Former Minister of Youth and Sports under late General Sani Abacha, Senator Jim Nwobodo. He spoke to an Editor ODOGWU EMEKA ODOGWU on the Russia 2018 World Cup, Nigeria’s chances at the World Cup.
Senator Nwobodo, a for Old Anambra state Governor who represented Enugu East Federal Constituency in the Senate as well spoke about the English Premier League among other issues including how he saved Nwankwo Kanu from Coach Westerhof in Atlanta Olympic  ’96. Excerpts:

In this interview with select Editors, the elder statesman predicts Liverpool win in the today's Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid and also reveals what Nigeria Technical Adviser should do to stop Mercy in Nigeria Argentina Clash in June 26.

World cup will soon start, but there is low patronage of the Russian ticket. What do you think is the reason? And what is your impression about the Russia 2018?
The tension is because of the political tension between America, Europe and Russia. That’s just that and nothing else.
For my impression,  the World cup this year will be very interesting, interesting in the sense that it created a lot of controversy following Russia’s intent to host the world cup and from all that I have heard so far, Russia is taking it very seriously. They want to handle the world cup that will be one of the best in terms of security, freedom of people around, in terms of producing a very good team, but in spite of that, many people are not buying the ticket as expected. In fact, from the report available to me, only 25 percent of the tickets have been sold and it’s unfortunate.

What do you think will be the outcome of Nigeria/Argentina on June 26?

It is going to be a very chasing game. Argentina will want to win because Lionel Andres Messi Cuccitittini aka Lionel Messi will like to win again but if Nigerians will be able to cage Mercy, then they will reduce the tension or draw the match.

Where do you think the Technical Adviser needs a build-up in the team?

I think Nigeria has a lot of good players but they need to strengthen the mid field and then the forward, but they need a lot of work in the mid field.

In the world football, Spain seems to be domineering, what do you think they have that others lack in terms of pattern of play?

First, let me tell you this, English Premier League (EPL) is the best in the world and there is no argument about that. They invite many foreigners to come and play. It is only in English league that players get publicity for playing.

Secondly, they have the publicity which others don’t have. Another good League is Laliga, the Spanish League followed by Italian league and German league. If you look at them, the Spanish League possesses the best in the world in terms of their ability to play. That is why they have big Clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona and others.

Luckily this time, they are going to play an English team, Liverpool at the Champions League final. But, when it comes to the world cup, Spain does not do well as a team. The way I look at it is that unless the Spain is able to parade a good team, they may not come out the top of the least. Even when the two most important players are not Spanish, Mercy is Argentine and Christiano Ronaldo is a Portuguese. The third player coming up now is Sallah who is an African. They will now go back to their various countries to lead their team and Jose Mourinho who is one of the best well known coaches and who has featured in EPL very much is saying that without Mercy, there is no Argentina team and he also said that with Ronaldo, Portugal could spring surprises. So you see the point. Therefore, what we lack is that we don’t have such players in Nigeria.

When I was there as the Sports Minister, we had a dream team who were all over the country.

Nigeria won the Atlanta Olympic in 1996 when you were the Sports Minister, can you share with us what happened then?

They beat Japan and beat Brazil and also beat other big teams. That was the time we had wonderful players. You can only know the best team when they go out of the country and play the best club in the world. Mikel Obi is playing in China, there are other young boys like Alex  Iwobi, Amed Musa, Kelechi Iheanacho and many others. But their March with England will tell us how strong they are.

There is one thing I like about Nigeria football. Nigerians are football lovers, there is no doubt about that and football has ability to unite Nigerians.

I remember very well in 1996 when we played Atlanta Olympics. Nigeria was a pariah nation. The day we reached the climax was the day Nigeria met Brazil. We had a very strong team. Those who were determined to do their best to make Nigeria proud.

Two things happened that day, I was the minister of Youth and Sports. We got into the field and in the first half, they were leading Nigeria with 3-1 and I sat together with the then FIFA President, Joao Havelange, a Brazilian lawyer, businessman and athlete who served as 7th FIFA President from 1974 to 1998 and I told him we will beat Brazil and he started laughing because we were three goals down.

During the half time break, I went to our boys and called them one by one starting from Sunday Olisa, Daniel Omokachi, Kanu Nwankwo, Jay Jay Okocha, Victor Ikpeba, Celestine Babayaro and others. I urged them not to disgrace me and Nigerians and they assured me that they will beat Brazil. I then called the coach, Clemens Westerhof who complained that Kanu was not playing very well and that he would remove him. I ordered him not to remove the young man. I threatened to sack him if he removes Kanu. He adhered to my order and allowed Kanu to play the second half. In the second half, Okocha scored the second goal, making it 2-3, another goal was scored by Kanu, that is 3-3 and second half ended. In the extra time, we had what is called the golden goal then and five minutes after, Kanu scored the golden goal and the match ended. Everyone was surprised but God was at work and I heard him when I said Kanu should not be removed. Kanu became the man of the match.
We were excited and many whites and many Africans who did not know about the dream team started painting themselves green white green. I was also told that the families that were not in talking terms for ten years reconciled because of that match.

The then President, General Sani Abacha who does not answer calls called almost all of us including my wife. He did not stop there, he had to wait for us with other governors for two days under the rain at the City Gate, Abuja and that was what that victory did to Nigeria. What a sweet victory!

The second thing that happened was that Chioma Ajunwa told me that she and other Nigerian Athletes were yet to be paid their 300 dollars per day on the day she would compete. I saw reasons with her but I told her it’s a very small amount.  I promised her there and then that I will give her 10,000 dollars if she wins a gold and she was shocked. I advised her to go for the long jump if she is good at that. Her first jump was gold for Nigeria and I gave her 10,000 dollars. This thing is about leadership and encouraging people around you.
So, sports in itself is something if properly developed, will bring the country together. Look at what sports is doing in the world today. If you are a sports administrator, you are known all over the world. FIFA president is bigger that any president in the world. My worry is that Nigeria has not given proper attention for sports.

Do you have advice to Coach Rhor?

He has to do his best and be careful. Let him give every player an opportunity to play. He has done well so far, he has been able to inspire our players, but we have a very formidable NFA.

On that note sir, what is your prediction for the Champions league final between Salah and Ronaldo?

I don’t make predictions because I manage football and football is not something you sit down and predict. But one thing I know is that each time Liverpool manages to reach final, they win. Remember that Salah who is their best player today was taken from Rome. He was just an ordinary player there. In fact, they bench him but look at what he is doing in Liverpool today.

In line with World Communications day celebration, what is your rating of journalists in Nigeria?

Nigeria has the freest press in the world. Because they write anything and get away with it and they hold people to be accountable and nobody can fight the press. In Nigeria, I can say that we have a very free and strong press. I really don’t see anything wrong with what they are doing, except that they should always get their facts rights.

Your take on owing of Media workers?

Any person that owns his workers should not expect them to be loyal to them. Such could expose workers to temptation because they have to take care of themselves and that of their family. It is not good to owe your workers, whether they are journalists, footballers, civil servants, you don’t need to owe them. Workers deserve their wages. So it is not good at all. You should do everything possible not to owe your workers.

What of states that owe their workers?

I mean it’s unfair. It is ungodly and unchristian.  If you don’t pay workers, what do you want them to do. In fact, when I was the governor, I don’t have anything in my salary arrears. Throughout my stay in government house, I never owned anybody for one month because one thing you do as a leader is to bring out the salary of your workers before any other thing. That is the first charge and from there, you motivate them to work harder. 

So, any governor that owes workers for months is not feet to be a governor. Although, some governors have said that the problem about payment of salaries was hinged on the many problems confronting them, the populace and their state problems. But to me, that argument does not hold water because you can still sit down and tilt your budget to make the current less than the capital. You give capital budget priority over current.

Finally, Nigeria is in group D, where we have Argentina, Croatia and Iceland; do you think there is any hope for the Super Eagles?

I am impressed any way. The Technical Adviser, Gernot Rohr is making a lot of changes in the team in terms of the team’s list but just like in other world cup appearances where we had a very good team from first Class players in Europe, we don’t have them this year. But if the technical Adviser is able to create a team out of those boys, they will surely make some impact.  There are two matches I wish to watch them play. I want to see them play England and Atletico Real Madrid. With that, I will be able to know if they will make impact in the world cup level or not. (Nigeria has played Atletico Real Madrid)

Russia World Cup 2018: 'Nigerians will cage Lionel Messi during Argentina encounter' , says Former Nigeria sports Minister, Senator Jim Nwobodo Russia World Cup 2018: 'Nigerians will cage Lionel Messi during Argentina encounter' , says  Former Nigeria sports Minister, Senator Jim Nwobodo Reviewed by Unknown on Saturday, May 26, 2018 Rating: 5

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