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Nigeria paying for ignoring experienced coaches – Izilein, ex-Eaglets coach

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From playing for the Super Eagles to managing the Super Falcons and the Golden Eaglets, coaching domestic league clubs to nurturing talents at grassroots sides, he has seen it all.

Godwin Izilein became a household name when he managed the defunct Asabatex in the late seventies and early eighties. With players such as Bright Omokaro, Francis Ossai, Uyimwmen Okungbowa and Amos Edoseghe, Asabatex won the state FA cup in 1980 and were the domestic runners-up the following year.

They were labelled by the media as giant killers of the league and the FA Cup, after they demystified domestic league greats – Enugu Rangers, Bendel Insurance and Shooting Stars.

Prior to his secondment to Asabatex , Izilein was the defunct Bendel State intermediate coach and won titles with the great Thompson Usiyen and Samuel Okpodu.

Izilein replaced Willy Bazuaye at the defunct New Nigeria Bank after the deceased left the Benin side for Calabar Rovers in 1986.

Izilein, who will be 70 next year, has also managed Bendel Insurance, Bendel United, NPA, Flash Flamingoes, Dolphins and Sharks.

He was the Edo State Sports Council football head coach for years. At present, Izilein is part of the Edo State Football Development Programme headed by former Super Eagles coach Amodu Shaibu.

Izilien, who guided the Super Falcons to their fourth African Women’s Championship glory in South Africa in 2004, is not happy with the state of Nigerian football and has voiced his frustration about the fall in the standard of the sport in thecountry.

The former Nigeria winger boasts players he helped shape the careers and he says he is very proud of the likes of Omokaro, Augustine Eguavoen, Edema Fuludu, Julius Aghahowa and Yakubu Aiyegbeni, who played for the junior and senior national teams.

Izilein says he is also proud of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations hero Sunday Mba and Monaco left-back Elderson Echiejile, who launched their international careers after he invited them to the Under-17 national team in 2005.

The Golden Eaglets failed to qualify for the Peru 2005 FIFA Under-17 World Cup after they crashed out at the Gambia 2005 African Under-17 Championship group stages and Izilein was asked to step aside.

Ghana, Ivory and Gambia represented Africa at the world youth showpiece won by Mexico.

Izilien has fond memories of his games in national youth tournaments and in the domestic league.

“We produced good players because there were countless grassroots competitions in the country,” the former Bendel United manager told our correspondent on the telephone during the week.

The veteran coach   has been left seething at the quality of players available for selection by the Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi.

He laments Nigerian players no longer attract interest from big European clubs – and he is unhappy that promising young Nigerian footballers   keep leaving the country for less fancied   leagues in European and Asian leagues.

Countries such as India, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Romania, Albania, Yemen, Vietnam , Thailand, Singapore, Bulgaria, Iran, Malta, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, China and the United Arab Emirates are becoming popular destinations for Nigerian players.

Izilein laments many Nigerian players have failed trials even at mid-table sides in Portugal and France.

He placed the blame for this mess at the doorstep of the administrators of the sport in the country.

He said, “The majority of our players these days lack the basic rudiments of the game. Many league players struggle to control the ball.

“They are not good enough to play for the big European clubs because they lack the basic rudiments of the game. I’m not surprised that our players are only good enough to play for smaller European clubs or for clubs in Asia.

“We are paying for abandoning experienced coaches. Most of the clubs are not playing well because seasoned coaches are not there.

“Auxiliary coaches   have taken over our clubs, because they are cheaper to pay. The administrators are very comfortable working with them, because they (coaches) are ready to dance to the tune of the chairman of the club or the commissioner.

“I have decided to stay away from the league because it’s not properly organised. Salaries are unpaid for months and there are no training facilities.

“I had a bad experience at Bendel Insurance recently. I worked for two years and got only two months’ salary.

“If any of the clubs is ready to pay me and the players regularly, and I’m guaranteed a free hand in managing the team,   I will return to the league.”

Izilein added, “In Europe coaches are given a free hand. A coach is only assessed by people who are trained coaches. But in Nigeria trained coaches are assessed by administrators or politicians who know next to nothing about the game.

“I can get annoyed and abandon coaching to become an administrator, but it’s not easy for an administrator to become a coach.”

The former Bendel Insurance attacker says Keshi should not be blamed for the country’s failure to qualify for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea, maintaining the Eagles missed on a place in the tournament due to lack of quality players and administrative interference.

Izilien added, “The Eagles have not been playing well for a long time. We don’t have a stable team. Many Nigerians didn’t know that there were problems (in the national team) because we were winning games.

“We need a technical department made up of people with experience and knowledge of the game in the Nigeria Football Federation. Amodu is highly experienced in the game and he can help if the NFF gives him a letter to resume work.

“We need viable football academies across the country to produce quality players for the national teams. Only experienced coaches should be allowed to train players at such academies. Other states should emulate Edo State.”

He insists Nigerian footballers have not done enough to improve themselves in recent times, urging them to emulate their European and South American counterparts.

Izilein said, “Our players can help themselves. They should be creative. Some of the things Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo do on the field were not taught them by their coaches.

“We (Nigerian coaches) can produce players who are as good as Messi or Ronaldo if we are encouraged by the administrators.

“The players should also help themselves by being disciplined and dedicated to the game.

“The problem here is that many of our players are not disciplined. Many of them are ‘private old men’. This is why they fizzle out three years after playing in world youth competitions. We have players who started with Messi who have either quit the game or are struggling today.”

Izilien backed the NFF’s decision to renew Nigeria coach Keshi’s contract after months of protracted negotiations.

However, he called for support for the former Eagles captain – and expressed confidence that Nigeria will qualify for the Gabon 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.

Izilein also says homegrown coaches are not inferior to their foreign counterparts.

He said, “Those who say we are outdated are wrong. Some of us are current. Living in Nigeria doesn’t mean we are not current. On my laptop, I know what is happening in Europe and South America. I follow the game on a daily basis.

“I trained alongside white coaches in Germany and I distinguished myself. Many of my colleagues also trained in Europe.”

“Some of us are in the class of Jose Mourinho, Pep Guadiorla and Alex Ferguson. The problem is that we are not allowed to express ourselves. And Nigerians are not patient with us.”

The coach added, “The main difference (between Nigerian coaches and European coaches) is that they have better facilities and exposure.

“In Europe coaches are allowed to learn from their mistakes. The football associations support them and give them a free hand to operate.   But in Nigeria we always come under pressure from the FA, the media and fans.

“If a team is not playing well in Europe, the FA and the media will find out why the players are not performing.

“Many Nigerians criticised Keshi   when we failed to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations (Equatorial Guinea 2015) without bothering to find out the problems of the team.

“Every Nigerian is a coach. Yes, we make mistakes sometimes. Lawyers and doctors also make mistakes, but they are allowed to remain. We should be allowed to learn from our mistakes.”

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