For a player dogged by fitness problems all along his career, Daniel Amokachi is like an oak tree at 45 years of age. He is a much-loved legend in Nigeria. Amokachi was part of the Nigeria’s golden generation that dazzled in the 1994 and 1998 World Cups. More importantly, he scored a goal against Argentina in the final of the 1996 Olympics to help Nigeria pocket a historic gold medal.
Amokachi could well have avoided an Indian reporter, citing his World Cup contract with a TV channel like many English experts here do but he didn’t. What started off as a two-question interview went on for 20 minutes.
Not surprisingly, the proud African is upset at the failure of his continent to survive the first round in Russia. But he is not surprised. “African teams never believe in a process. We start our World Cup preparations only after qualifying for the event. Look what Germany and Belgium have achieved as a result of long-term planning,” he said.
Pele prophesied about an impending African conquest at the World Cup after seeing the way Amokachi and co. played in France 1998 but the Nigerian is under no illusion. “We are nowhere closer to winning the World Cup. Let’s not forget that the whole continent failed to progress to the second round here. Africa needs a complete overhaul of its football system from schools. Despite having so much talent we are not able to perform in the World Cup because success in football is not only about what happens on the field,” he added.
Football administration in Africa is plagued by corruption, cronyism and lack of dynamism, problems its Indian counterpart is eerily familiar with. Amokachi doesn’t want to spend time on a subject that is an open secret. “The less said the better,” he added.
The Nigerian star cannot understand why African teams, especially from the sub-Saharan region, go for foreign coaches for the World Cup. “Nigeria had a German at the helm in Russia. Football administrators in Africa still think the continent doesn’t know much about football. They believe Europeans are the best. It’s a colonial mindset. How would a German know more about a Nigerian boy than a Nigerian coach? The coach must understand the cultural backgrounds of his players to get the maximum out of them,” he added.