The Super Eagles will next Friday complete their campaign in the World Cup qualifiers with a dead-rubber clash against the Desert Foxes of Algeria.
With qualification for their sixth World Cup now in the kitty, many are already looking forward to what the Nigerian national team will do in Russia.
One person with so much enthusiasm about the Super Eagles’ chances in Russia is former Nigeria international, Taribo West.
In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Taribo who is one of the best defenders to ever don the green and white jersey of Nigeria, says he believes the Eagles will soar in Russia.
He also adds his voice to the long debate on whether Vincent Enyeama should return to the national team or not.
PT: Nigeria is set for her sixth participation in the World Cup, you were there on two occasions; 1998 and 2002, how do you see this present team?
Taribo: I think the team is gelling. This new coach (Gernot Rohr), the philosophy he employed, he has coached other African national teams and coming to Nigeria was a good advantage for him and he was able to work through the process.
If you notice, this team did not have a standout individual but they all worked together as a team; the only player with a bit of creativity was Moses.
How far they have come and if there is a bit of consistency by allowing the coach and giving enough time, I think these people will take the Nigerian pride where it used to be.
PT: How did you feel when they secured the World Cup ticket in that game against Zambia?
Taribo: I was happy for them, it is their time and football is a generational thing. I knew beforehand that the game will end up 1-0. The Zambian team, I watched their youth team at the last youth competition and most of them have been transferred to the senior team. They are very energetic, strong and ready to run. Most of them play professional football in European countries, so I knew it was going to be a tough task. We had established players already and some experimental players that could be marked out of the game. You will notice that in the first half we were having issues because they also came all out to win but at the end of the day, our boys were able to take the home advantage. The coach was also very sensitive in reading the match and brought in Iwobi and in 20 minutes he brought changes to the game and at the end of the day he scored for Nigeria. I was happy. Not only will it raise us up in the rankings but it will also bring in a lot of investments. Then scouts may be back in Nigeria to see about picking the best players abroad; the marketing value will also increase. It is a good thing for Nigeria, it is a good thing for most of us and I am especially happy for the lads. I pray they will carry this spirit to the World Cup and make a difference.
PT: What has Rohr done differently to the Super Eagles compared to his predecessors?
Taribo: One of the things Gernot Rohr has been able to overcome that has made him better than his predecessor is keeping the team united.
He also brought the love and the oneness to play for one another. Keshi brought that in the early stage but they lost it later.
It gives a lot of advantage and edge over their opponents. Secondly this team, if you watch them, improves with every game and that kind of team if you are consistent with them, they can become champions.
PT: Is there any similarity in this present Super Eagles set up and the one you played for years back?
Taribo: I think the similarity is coming. On the field I can’t see a similarity because then we had a number of individual players who were outstanding.
The similarity I can see now is the love, the oneness, the unity. When you have a team like that it is will be very difficult to beat.
A sign that a team is united can be seen on the bench. When a goal is scored everyone on the bench rises up to celebrate.
That is a team that epitomizes oneness. Such a team can surprise the world any day, any time. If they can incorporate discipline in their work, they will surprise not only Africa but also the rest of the world.
PT: You were a General in the defense for the Super Eagles in your playing days, what is your assessment of the new-found partnership between William Troost-Ekong and Leon Balogun.
Taribo: I share the same sentiments with you because the chemistry of the “oyinbo oyinbo” in the back four is beginning to work.
Balogun has been outstanding in the last two or three games and I pray he continues with that consistency, he should not be carried away.
A player that was there a few years ago that I was looking at is Kenneth Omeruo. His partnership with Godwin Oboabona was a joy to watch and when they won the Nations’ Cup, I felt “yes”, we had the defence for the future, but all of a sudden they lost it.
So let’s see if they (Ekong and Balogun) can keep that partnership and consistency for the next seven years.
It would be nice to see that people have fit rightly into your shoes and you can boast about them anywhere and we can have confidence that anytime, they can deliver on the field of play. I pray they remain consistent and it doesn’t get into their heads.
PT: What is your take on the planned return of Enyeama to the Super Eagles?
Taribo: I think inviting him back to the national team would not be a bad thing because he was retired prematurely as far as I am concerned.
Secondly, he did not really transfer his place to somebody else to take over from him. So, I think his coming back to the national team will not be a bad thing; I think it is to lay down his experience for the upcoming generation of players to spring up from there and become greater goalkeepers like Enyeama. I think Ikeme has done well, Ezenma has done fantastically well.
So if Enyeama is coming in, it is just to come in so that the young boys will learn from him; they still need to learn from him.
He may not be there as number one but his wealth of experience would be a good advantage for the generation of people that are coming up.
In 1994 we had a similar situation. There was this issue about Stephen Keshi being on the team or not. It was between (Chidi) Nwanu and (Uche) Okechukwu who was on the team that was playing but the good thing was that Keshi was on the team and people like us needed to learn a lot and thank God I was part of that team with him. In the process of our training, he would sit us down and share his experiences with us. Even after training, he would seek us out and basically mentor us. It gave us encouragement and a role model those interactions helped us to realise that if he could make it, we would also make it one day. We learned a lot from his experience. So when his era and his generation moved on, because of the mentoring we had received, there was no vacuum; we were able to fill in for them. It also helped us in our respective careers. So Enyeama coming back would be a very good and perfect gift to the team.
PT: Recommendations going into the world Cup?
Taribo: Early preparations and stay away from distractions. The bane of Nigeria at previous World Cups has been haphazard preparations and then instability in terms of the coaches handling the teams.
I think this time they should just find a nice isolated village for their camp where they can acclimatize before the world Cup begins. The coach should also stretch his tentacles to get the very best in his team and by God’s grace I believe in this team. I am very positive they will set a record in Russia, something no Nigerian team has done in the past five editions we have featured in.