Shooting Stars coach, Gbenga Ogunbote, in this interview with JOHNNY EDWARD, opens up on how the Oluyole Warriors redeemed their season after a poor start and what must be done for the Super Eagles to excel again
What lessons did you learn from this season, after Shooting Stars avoided relegation?
With reference to Shooting Stars, it’s quite unfortunate. The dream everyone had when I arrived was that ‘once Ogunbote is there, there must be at worse a continental slot.’ We did our best, we had a good pre-season tournament, but unfortunately, we could not replicate what we had in pre-season, especially in the first stanza of the league. There were lots of challenges that derailed the team. After that, we were lucky to have been able to pick up the pieces just at the beginning of the second stanza, otherwise, it would have been a disaster. And by the time we picked up, it was late, we couldn’t catch up with those ahead of us, hence, we were unable to make the cut-off. But I think we did our best. Let us now see what happens next.
What were the setbacks that affected the team in the first stanza of the season?
That is personal, and it is a relative situation. Sometimes, what I see that could be a derailing factor might not be to some other persons, but as the coach of the team, I know we had a few challenges that really slowed us down, but let us keep that aside. We have taken positives from it, let us hope we don’t fall victim again.
Are you optimistic about better performance next season?
Definitely, because I have standards and from the last decade, to the glory of God, I can say aside from one or two occasions, I qualified my team for CAF competitions six times. So, it tells you that anything less than that is not an achievement to me. We have this issue and it is a big challenge for Nigerian football. You can’t beat your chest to say there is continuity in the teams we parade. If you have it with the club management, you won’t have it with the coaching staff and if you have it with coaches, you won’t have it with players. So, for me, that is a big challenge. Until the new season begins, you can’t say as a coach that you have been able to keep the best players you worked with last term. So, in a situation where there is continuity, we will be talking about just five or six players that need to be added so we can be stronger. As big as Manchester City are, they are still looking for more quality players to bolster their squad, so we hope that the players we keep will remain with the team and with luck on our side, we will be able to say the team can perform better.
You signed a year’s deal with Shooting Stars but ahead of next season, will you leave if a better offer comes?
Let’s leave that till when an offer comes. For now, I’m still the coach of the team.
What will be your target next season, if your plans on improving the squad are met by the club?
For a programmed coach, you must have identified areas of concern, even though you may think they are good. Manchester City felt a few players were surplus to requirements at the start of the season and they are the biggest buys now in other teams, so, you saw who he brought in to replace them. The system in Nigeria, however, is a challenge, the biggest challenge is finance. I want to tell you categorically, the best thing that has happened to 3SC this past season is that the management did not owe the players salary. We have what it takes to play in the NPFL, but we still need that financial power to compete for titles and bring back the glory days again.
In the past, players from the league formed the bedrock of the Super Eagles. What do you think is the reason why NPFL players are no longer considered for the Eagles?
I think as a coach, you choose what you think will make you succeed, but despite that, it’s down to your mentality. For instance, in Nigeria, even if you play badly, just win, that’s our norm. Now, to the NPFL players, I think we have quality players to compete with the overseas-based players. I am convinced about that, but the major issue is when an NPFL player makes a mistake while playing for the Eagles, everyone will condemn him to death all because he plays in the league but if our overseas-based players make the same mistake they do not face such. We have foreign coaches that make costly mistakes, but no one calls for their heads the same way they do when it’s the local coaches. The criticism is clearly different. Imagine that you have a contract with a coach and before he assumes his position his future is already tied to results. It makes such a coach work under fear of failure because he will need results at all cost to win and keep his job. He won’t have a long-term plan or think of the future of the team, which is what we lack. However, we run our indigenous coaches down ourselves, I watched Manchester City play against Arsenal and there was a moment Erling Haaland missed a sitter, when he was one-on-one with the goalkeeper. No one called for his head after the game, not even his coach, but if we are patient, we will reap the rewards.
Have there been contacts from the Eagles coaches to league coaches to scout players for the national team?
When I was privileged to work with the national team, it was a brief spell though, with the late Amodu Shaibu. He told me and some other coaches at that time, ‘you guys are coaches in the domestic league, and you cannot give me players to represent the national team.’ Then we had some quality players in the league and we recommended them to him and they performed creditably well before heading to Europe. I still believe we have quality players in the NPFL but it’s just a case of giving a dog a bad name, now the overseas-based players have disappointed us, can’t we try the NPFL players? The worst (with NPFL players) is that we will miss out on qualifying for tournaments, but there would have been a conscious effort to build a great team. Late Stephen Keshi tried it and he succeeded. Why can’t others follow the template and ensure they succeed?
How would you rate Eagles coach Jose Peseiro since he took charge of the Eagles?
I am a coach, I don’t want to talk about him and he has his contract and his employers. The only thing I can do is if we talk about the issues in the team, but not about a coach in particular.
What do you think must be done to ensure the Eagles soar again?
The players need to be hungry to play, not being begged to do that. It’s an honour to play for your country; it’s an honour to be saddled with the responsibility to represent your country, everybody can never be there.