CRITICISMS FORCED ME OUT OF FOOTBALL - ENEGWEA
Union Bank coach, Taiwo Enegwea, represented Nigeria at various levels as a player. He tells KAZEEM BUSARI he still feels the pain of not winning silverware at the world level
How have you coped so far with managing Union Bank in the lower division?
I've been coping with the help of the experience garnered as a player and as a coach in the Bankers Cup. My team finished second after losing the final to First Bank via penalty shoot out in the last Bankers Cup. Union Bank may be in the lower division this season, but we are confident of gaining promotion to the Nigeria Premier League next season.
Is it compulsory for ex-internationals to go into coaching?
It is not, but I believe being an ex-international who was good in the game, I have an edge in managing teams and relating with players. Besides, the players will respect and trust the ex-international because they know he played the game to the highest level and knows where the shoe pinches. But that doesn't mean every ex-international must go into coaching. There's so much more involved than just teaching football.
You played in the league and now you're back managing a team. What has changed between these periods?
Indiscipline is rampant in the league these days. Sometime matches don't start as scheduled, and in the clubs, players' commitments are dwindling. At some clubs, the management boards call the shots, they decide which player joins the team and who plays, but this doesn't happen at Union Bank. At some clubs, the management would tell the coaches that they are not the ones winning matches. If that's the case, why were the coaches employed at all. This was not the case in the past because decisions at club level were based on professionalism.
What is the problem of our league?
The major problem with our league is that we've not been able to get the right people to manage the affairs. It is one thing to have the right people at the right place; it is another thing for the people to do the right thing.
Another problem is the issue of contract between players and their clubs. Some of these clubs no longer honour contracts with the players hence we don't see players at their best. Some clubs still owe their players signing-on fees and bonuses of past seasons; some others don't even pay salaries. Officiating is another problem because at some point, you could almost predict who would win a league game. We must, however, praise the Nigeria Premier League for making sure most of the clubs now play on good pitches, unlike in the past.
These problems are the main reasons our players go to less-fancied leagues in Asia and other African countries. Every player wants to make money in his football career but when they can't achieve their dream in the Nigerian league, they'll seek for a greener pasture. We have Nigerian players in Kenya, Sudan, South Africa, Singapore, Vietnam and some other countries because the leagues are more organised and the clubs respect the contracts; the players' welfare is a priority.
You played until recently. What made you quit?
I started football with YSFON in 1982 before joining the Lagos State soccer team. Before I was invited to the Golden Eaglets, I had played for Eagle Oil and also featured in the National Sports Festival and the Principals Cup, representing St Finbarr's College. I had an interesting time playing until 2009 when I stopped but I could still have continued if not for the undue criticisms from fans about my longevity on the pitch. I understand when people criticise players for falsifying ages just to feature in junior teams but I don't know why they criticised me for being too old to play football. Nigerians make reference to Raul, Figo and some other ageing players still active, saying they are evidence of football development in Europe. But when it comes to our football, you hear a different story. People always ask where are the Flying Eagles that played in 1989, arguing that some of us were older than the age we claimed, but the same people say we're too old whenever we want to play club football. I felt bad each time fans criticised me for playing instead of appreciating my efforts. For instance, there was a match where I featured for Union Bank against Shooting Stars in Ibadan in 2009 where everyone, including Mutiu Adepoju, was surprised I could still play. While a few appreciated that I could still play, others kept saying I should have given way to younger players. I planned to play for another season or two but the pressure contributed to why I hung my boots in 2009.
How did your parents encourage you in football?
They only gave me their blessing. I didn't have any problem convincing them that I preferred football to other things. It was easy for anyone to see the talent I had. In fact, my first boots were given to me by one of the coaches at Flamingoes, a youth team I played for in Ijora, Lagos. Before then, I played with bare foot, and that was when YSSFON spotted me. I remember playing in one of the matches against a team which had Andrew Uweh. I was so small and Uweh was joking I looked out of place with the boots and shin guard. Then, we played for nothing. The only joy we had was playing the game and meeting new people at new places; that was the fun. Since then, I've featured in all the competitions ever organised by Lagos State.
You featured in the Golden Eaglets, Flying Eagles and the Super Eagles.
Yes, but I don't feel fulfilled because I didn't win gold with any of them. The most interesting part, which is also a sad one, was losing the final to Portugal after experiencing the Darman Miracle at the U-20 World Cup in Saudi Arabia. We believed we should have won the tournament because we had everything going for us. Another highpoint was playing in the Eagles at the US Gold Cup in 1995. I didn't make the final cut to the 1994 World Cup after playing in some of the qualifiers, but when I returned to the team in 1995 and I had the opportunity play against Colombia and Mexico, I knew how my teammates must have felt during the World Cup at the same venue.
Were you downcast when you missed out on the World Cup?
Naturally. But the bad mood didn't last long. I knew Clemens Westerhof didn't drop me on personal reasons; he must have seen someone better or it could be I didn't fit into his plans at that time. He was the one that identified me during my time with First Bank and he gave me a chance during the qualifiers. It would have been a source of pride for me to have played at three World Cup finals but I thank God I got my chance. Many players ended their careers without being at any World Cup final. Maybe playing at the World Cup would have helped me in getting a bigger club in Europe, maybe not.
It's unfortunate that some of your teammates who played in Europe and made money currently have nothing to show for their years in football.
It takes great wisdom to manage money of that nature. Sometimes, footballers think the money will keep coming in as long as they live; they forget there is a time to quit. Some other players are victims of bad marriages where their wives and families mismanaged their finances. There are several examples of that but the way to check this trend is to continue to counsel the players right from the moment they begin to earn money from football.