Former Super Eagles striker Jonathan Akpoborie has always been a vocal supporter of a European to handle the Super Eagles and he feels that the current run of the team under Gernot Rohr bears him out.
“My experience of playing for Nigeria taught me that only a European can overcome the political pressures that come with some decisions”. In what ways? “On and off the pitch there are so many decisions that have to be made especially in the areas of players to be invited that many Nigerians are unaware of. A European is best placed to ignore the outside influences”.
The Super Eagles are a win away from qualifying for the world cup, in 1997, Akpoborie was part of the team that was also a win away from making it to the France ’98 World Cup. How do teams prepare for situations/matches like this? “They have done the hard work already” Akpoborie says. I believe that the coach’s main job is to tell and instil into the players that the ticket is not already won and that the win must be secured now”.
Zambia have shown by winning in Algeria and getting a point in Cameroon that they are no push overs. “That is why we have to be very careful and clever in our approach to the match. We must play bits of it on the counter and bits on the high press with the coach being very careful with his changes during the game. What we must not do is give Zambia the initiative at all”.
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On Rohr himself, Akpoborie says “I think his appointment by the NFF was dodgy but he has somehow stumbled on a formation and tactics that I even believe will help us even at the World Cup proper”.
Speaking of the World Cup, Akpoborie missed out on the France ’98 edition even though he was in hot form for his then German club VFB Stuttgart. Does it still hurt? “I have no hurts nor any regrets. My not being in France was a loss for Nigeria not me as I was in great form and I would have brought goals to the table for the team in France”.
Akpoborie and Stuttgart got to the 1998 European Cup Winners cup final where they lost to Chelsea. “I was the joint top scorer with my team mate Fredi Bobic in that competition and I scored a key goal against Kenya during the qualifiers. Bobic went with Germany but I was made to understand that I needed to beg for a spot in the Nigerian squad. I refused and went on my holiday”.
For a player with a decent scoring record it has always been puzzling he never had a decent run for the Super Eagles. “Well, the major reason I will always say was that I was never ready to beg or bribe anyone to play for Nigeria”. Jonny, bribe? How? “bribe is bribe” he replied emphatically. Maybe that is part of what he felt only a European coach will be immune from.