Lately, more players from the diaspora are pledging their allegiance to the Nigerian national team.
While some see it as a welcomed development, others argue it is killing the game locally.
In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the Super Eagles’ chief scout, Tunde Adelakun, explains the extra efforts being put in to get the very best legs across the world to play for Nigeria.
He also bares his mind on the journey so far with Gernot Rohr and his bumpy ride to make Nigeria’s senior national team great again.
PT: How would you describe Rohr’s tenure as Super Eagles gaffer so far?
Adelakun: I think the tenure of Gernot Rohr has been good, it has been satisfactory, of course you expect me to say that because I work with him. But honestly, it has been good, there have been more ups than downs. It has been very difficult where we started from and to have come this far has been remarkable very good. I will say it’s been better than satisfactory.
PT: Do you think the rigours of being a national team scout are the same as what is applicable at club level?
Adelakun: The rigours of being a national team scout is going to be different from how it is at the club level. I learned my trade (from) and follow some of the best coaches in the world. I didn’t work as a scout under Mourinho but, I followed his philosophy because I worked and did some internship at Chelsea academy.
Very different because the national team throws up a lot of players, a lot of potentials out there and you’ve got to be on the ball overtime to look for and find the talent that is needed for the national team.
At club sides’ level, most times, they send a scout out with specific details; go and look at a specific player or the opposition. This is very different from the national team, which is all like a blank cheque: go out there and find the best players that can represent the nation. Rigours are very different. National team if you miss out on any, journalists and some of our colleagues will have us for dinner. So we have to be on the ball all the time to make sure we get the right mix of players the country needs.
PT: What are the factors to be considered before a player is considered for the national team?
Adelakun: As far as the work that I do is concerned, the player has to be Nigerian. Be it from anywhere whether he was born in Germany, England, born in Nigeria, Malta or Vietnam. Most importantly, he has to be Nigerian, has to identify with the Nigerian course and be willing to play for Nigeria. It’s not enough for him to have all the talents in the world, if he doesn’t show the desire to want to play for Nigeria, we can’t be ‘scouting’ him.
Then he has to have the talent. He has to have a good football skill and ability to play technically very very well, but also to be able to fit in with the philosophy of the national team and the gaffer, the manager; how he wants his football to be played. A lot of players out there who play very well but when it comes going to a particular club or nation, they probably don’t fit into their manager’s style and it looks as though they’re bad whereas they’re not. The manager knows how to deploy his players the best and any player who shows the desire and ability to be deployed properly will be considered.
PT: Cynics believe Rohr’s experimentation is taking too long. What your take on this?
Adelakun: Those who say that the head coach is experimenting are making a big mistake because we are not experimenting at all. We have a playing philosophy on how we want to play. We have our core players but then again think about it this way: if we have only core players like people said we need to have a starting eleven and that they must be our starting eleven at all times. Please tell me what will be the motivation for the hundreds of players who are playing football all over the world if they know that no matter how hard they try, they will never get to the national team because Gernot Rohr has a standing eleven? It doesn’t work like that!
At the end of the day, we have a philosophy, we know what we want to be doing and the players must be there. We have to create competition out there for all the players who want to play for Nigeria, give them an open battlefield for them to compete for a place in the team. And if that’s what people are calling experimentation, then it’s wrong. Players are out there and their motivation is to play for our national team. If we say that you can’t get into our national team because we already have our core eleven then we are constantly ruining and damaging the morale of hundreds of players with those aspirations. We’ve got to create that open field.
And at the end of the day, don’t forget, if we have our standing eleven and two of them got injured like Ndidi, Aribo, Etebo, Osimhen and none of our top goalkeepers were there, do we go out to Austria with six players because our core eleven are not available? No, we need to find that competition for them as alternatives for the core players so as they come in they know there is competition for their places. Nobody should be assured of a steady and permanent starting shirt for Nigeria.
All we can do is try very hard to actually extend the dragnet to every corner of the world and let them know that the field is open, if they want to play for Nigeria, there are shirts available. Core players or not, we have our standing philosophy, outstanding playing pattern and that cannot change. The personnel deployed into it can change. When we played Tunisia last time, we didn’t have Osimhen, we didn’t have Onuachu but we need to be able to rotate, it’s not experimenting, it is actually trying to find the best from players’ we have available. We cannot say we have an eleven and anybody breaking into that eleven means experimenting.
PT: Have you ever consider extending your scouting dragnet to Nigeria local league like Westerhof did during his reign?
Adelakun: We’re always scouting everywhere in and outside Nigeria. The head coach had many assistants: Salisu Yusuf, Imama Amakapabor, now Joseph Yobo and Alloy Agu based in Nigeria who do a lot of work for us on the scouting team and send me reports periodically on the player we need to be looking at in Nigeria.
The dragnet has always involved Nigeria but Nigeria has not played football since March. Let me call your attention to what you said on Westerhof. I give kudos to him, he did so well for Nigerian football but let’s not forget that the dynamic of local football in Westerhof time is very different from how it is now in Rohr’s time. There are a lot of players, when you extend your dragnet into Nigeria, by the time you invite that player for just one game, before you know it, he is on his way to Europe. It wasn’t that easy to go to Europe in the 1990s, Westerhof could actually live in Nigeria and consistently monitor players’ who are consistently playing in the Nigerian league. It’s fast-moving these days. We’re extending the dragnet, the dragnet is always inclusive of Nigerian players and we cannot discount the presence of Nigerian players. We have used quite a few in the past and we intend to continue to use them. When the Nigerian league starts again you will see our presence in Nigeria.
PT: Finally, between winning a major trophy or having a good football structure in place, which do you think should be Rohr’s focus?
Adelakun: I’ll tell you what; Germany, they did both. They won the football World Cup and they have a good football structure in place. It is not impossible to have both in place. Our desire, my personal desire is yes I would love to win trophies with the Super Eagles under Gernot Rohr. But more importantly, to leave a legacy of a good football-playing pattern even when we are done with coaching Nigeria. It’s great to win trophy, silverware is fantastic, we don’t like losing, which is why we had a backlash when we didn’t win of them in friendly.
We want to win but also we want to have a good football structure in place, a structure and pattern that anytime that you see players go out on to the pitch, you know that’s Nigeria playing because of the way we play. That is the structure we need to put in place. That’s why we’re working harder and with the support of the federation that we’ve have had so far, I feel is not impossible to achieve. Yes, we like to win the honours but also we’ll like to develop the game in Nigeria, for Nigerians and by Nigerians.
PT: Thank you for your time.