Engineer McTony Taiwo was Team Manager of Julius Berger Football Club otherwise known as “Adewale Bridge Boys” between 1992 and 2000. He guided the team under the chairmanship of Late Chief Daniel Idama to three continental appearances in an era his team produced some of the best players for the national teams at U-20 and senior levels. Taiwo in this interview with Yours Sincerely speaks on why Nigerian clubs crash out early in the continental assignments, the bad state of our league and how it can return to the glorious era….Excerpts
Recently, Nigerian football League, the NPFL was ranked a distant 12th in Africa, how do you react to this development?
Desmond, it is sad and most unfortunate. One begins to wonder where our successes of the 80s, 90s and early 2000 have taken us to. Are we progressing or retrogressing? Is this not the same league ran with lesser resources in those eras that produced top clubs like Iwuanyanwu Nationale, Leventis United, Flash Flamingoes, Abiola Babes and Julius Berger FC, Udoji United, Jasper United, Nigerdock FC not forgetting traditional clubs like Stationary Stores, Enugu Rangers Int’l, Sharks, Shooting Stars, Bendel Insurance and Mighty Jets to mention a few who were high flyers in the continent? This League produced CAF Champions League winners back to back in 2003 and 2004 through the Peoples Eleohant, Enyimba Int’l FC of Aba. Honestly, something is fundamentally wrong. It is either we have abandoned something we were doing right or we have introduced something destructive into our League and football system.
This same league produced players like Uche Okechukwu, Finidi George, Daniel Amokachi, Sunday Oliseh, Mutiu Adepoju, Austin Okocha, Austin Eguavoen, Ben Iroha, Late Rashidi Yekini and Thompson Oliha who qualified Nigeria for her first World Cup in 1994. Did Stephen Keshi, Peter Rufai, Alloy Agu, Taribo West and Ike Shorunmu not play in this same League? Or do we go back to the era of Christian Chukwu, Segun Odegbami, Alloy Atuegbu, Muda Lawal, Henry Nwosu, Adokiye Amiesimaka, Best Ogedegbe, Emmanuel Okala to mention a few? Were they not products of this same League we are talking about? Truth is some of us claim to know it all and they use their limited knowledge of football to run the sport aground. They don’t consult people before them to learn and understand the best way to improve our football in general and the league in particular.
This is one of the reasons our League is where it is today. The ranking is a true reflection of the state of our league. Are our players not the ones making those top leagues in Africa better than ours? Our players seek greener pastures in Sudan, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, South Africa, Cote’d’Ivoire and Ghana. Some even play in Seychelles, yes Seychelles. Find out. Do you blame these boys? When our local clubs here owe salaries, bonuses and allowances for too long, what do you expect from the players especially when they can get better offers and packages out there?
Yes, during the time we were in charge of these clubs, it is not as if players don’t seek greener pastures abroad but it is not on ground or excuse of not getting salaries for months or being owed bonuses and allowances for ages. They go because probably they have a link that could land them in Europe eventually.
Let’s take you back to your journey or days with Julius Berger FC. How did it begin and when did it end?
I was appointed as Secretary of the club sometime in November 1992 to takeover from Emmanuel Ominu who was Team Manager. His contract with club was not renewed after it elapsed. I was in the office of our parent company, Julius Berger Nigeria Limited then. So I proceeded to join the team and acted as Secretary and later elevated to the position of Team Manager. By March 2000, I was recalled to the head office of our parent company in Abuja.
Between November 1992 and March 2000 what was the highpoint of your sojourn with “Adewale Bridge Boys”?
I think the highpoint will be shared or separated into three parts which represented our three appearances in the continent when we represented the country in the Mandela Cup now known as CAF Confederations Cup and in the Champions Cup now known as CAF Champions League.
In 1992, we played in the Champions Cup and lost to a Moroccan side. By 1995, we played in the finals of the Mandela Cup and lost to J’S Kabylie of Algeria and in 1997, we lost in the second round to Al Monsour of Egypt in the Champions Cup.
From your experience what do you think is responsible for the early exits of Nigerian clubs in the continent in recent times?
In all sincerity, I think the clubs don’t plan enough or adequately perhaps due to poor funding. During the period we played in the continent for example, we had budgets for each or any competition we are participating in. This is from the State FA Cup to National FA Cup to Premier League and to the continent if we made the cut.
This budget accomodate bonuses, allowances, kits, trips, publicity, security and logistics. For instance if we play a game against the table-topping side on their ground and secure an away draw the management may decide to pay the players full match bonuses.
This is the point where motivation comes in which is my second point. A team willing and hungry to excel in the continent or even in the domestic scene must adequately motivate the players. There is this saying that if you pay peanuts you get monkeys for staff.
Any team that toys with the welfare of its players is not ready to excel. The players must be well taken care of at all times. They must be happy. When you owe players for six months up to eights months and you say you are running a club, it is absurd and ridiculous.
Julius Berger FC was number one in the area of motivation of players and that was why we had the best crop of players then.
Thirdly, we pay serious attention on recruitment of players. We had even league writers, unattached coaches among others who we engage to watch games, monitor players and recommend to us for recruitment by the end of the season or during the transfer window.
We invite these recommended players so to say and conduct open screening for them where every player will display his talent before the public and in the presence of the club management coaches, senior players and sports journalists especially writers of the League. The players who are unanimously selected are signed on. Note when inviting these players for these trial we pay their transport fares, accomodate them in the best hotels and feed them within the period of trial. Those who we couldn’t sign we give token of appreciation for honouring our invitation for trial.
Truth is until we see football as big business coupled with seeing the players as professionals who must be thoroughly motivated we may not go beyond what we are experiencing now.
I must mention here that during our continental appearance, we also write the NFF to assist us with national team coaches to help us with technical inputs abd support which help our club coaches a lot. They work together during the period for the good of the nation and just Julius Berger FC.
During your period as Team Manager of “Adewale Bridge Boys” you were known as TM Quality on account of the quality of players you recruit. Looking back, can you mention some of the names of your high profile players whom you recruited?
Hmmm…. I doubt if I can really remember them all. I met Bawa Abdullahi in the team. I also met Mba Agbai, Bethel Orji, Cyracus Ndukwu, Dosu Joseph, Christian Obi, Peter Obanor and Late Omale among others.
I recruited the likes of Hilary Azodo, Shobayo Adeshina, Ndanusa Abubakar, Roland Ewere, Arthur Madueme, Taribo West, Taiwo Oloyode, Late Amir Angwe, Chidi Ordia, Emola Aiyejuyomi, Momodu Mutairu, Yakubu Aiyegbeni Wilson Oboh, Ishola Shuaibu, Sunday Ilevbare, Ganiyu Bakare, Ambrose Duru, Alhassan Mohammed, Monday Agbontean, Ikpowonsa Omoregie, Edema Fuludu, Moussa Ladtounji, Nosa Osagie, Innocent Ozurumba, Echendu Adiele, Samuel Taubman, Peter Ijeh, Shakiru Giwa, Murphy Akanji, Ganiyu Ajide, Etim Esin, Sunday Babayaro, Nasri Jubrin, James Enuagwuna, Clement Osahon, Anitie Ukoh, Gbenga Moses, Baldwin, Chijioke Ejiogu, Amaechi Nwanze, Sani Sarduana Bazuaye, Shola Akinwale and loads of others.
Talking about recruitment, what other method do you apply aside commissioning journalists and unattached coaches to watch league games and pick players for your team?
Thank you for that question. We the members of management, our coaches and of course senior players do take note good players who put our team under pressure during games. Again, we ensure that we make out time to visit, watch and monitor grassroots competitions across the country. Where we cannot get to for sake of distance, we commission people to assists us and we pay them for this. This is where the unattached coaches and journalists come in.
Talking about grassroots tournaments, I must say we encourage a lot of them like the Mock Nations Cup in Ajegunle from where we discovered and recruited the likes Alfred Omoefe.
Most of these players made it to the national team and some has glorious careers overseas but, the same cannot be said of today’s players, what is responsible for this trend?
It hurts to note that we are preparing for the World Cup in Russia and our local clubs about 20 NPFL teams and all the NNL clubs including grassroots teams cannot produce upto five key players in the 23-man squad that will play in the mundial. I remember most times then, we had to write the then NFA requesting that our league games be postpone on account of our players who were on national team assignments. At some points, we had five players in the senior national team and another five in the Flying Eagles. I think one of the major causes of this situation is the urge and rush of our local players to Europe. That mentality has to be broken or defeated if you like, for us to have good domestic League players who could hold their own and represent the country well.
Now, we you cannot keep these players in a league whereby clubs owe months of salaries, backlog of bonuses and allowances. That is number one problem. Number two is you have to motivate the players in the domestic League. If a player has the mindset that he is merely a training material in camp when the national team is assembled with the foreign legion present then, he may not put in his best knowing that he is just being invited to make up the number of players in camp. Thirdly, you must treat the local boys the same way you treat their foreign-based colleagues you will have a depleted team especially with players that will be perceived as average.
What is the way forward to better our League?
If what we are doing presently cannot fetch us results or bring meaningful change and progress, I don’t think there is anything wrong in going back to how it was done before. Some of those who handled our clubs gloriously are still around, available, hale and hearty. There is nothing wrong in engaging them as consultants in the LMC, NPFL and clubs. You don’t divorce your beautiful wife who assisted you in laying your foundation for and of success just because she is probably old or you want a new one.
Thanks for your time
You’re welcome Desmond.
By Desmond Ekwueme