La Liga Nigeria Will Add Value To NPFL – Adepoju
Mutiu ‘Headmaster’ Adepoju is a former Nigerian international. He represented the country at three editions of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCONs) and three World cups. In this exclusive interview with TAOFEEK LAWAL, the country’s manager of relationships with the Spanish League in Nigeria, La Liga Nigeria counsels on how a Nigerian can win the CAF APOTY award again and what the Super Eagles should do to qualify for the Russia 2018 World Cup.
Your career began while you were very young. What do you think was one of the factors which influenced that?
True, I started at a relatively young age, by representing my primary school at various competitions and, also, while in secondary school. After that, I started playing for club sides, before I turned professional few years later. My career took a different turn in 1989, after our feat at the U-20 World Cup in Saudi Arabia and this has greatly shaped my life and made me what I am today. I represented Oyo State at the Kwara ’85 National Sport Festival, where I was spotted by scouts of Femo Scorpions of Eruwa but, before then, I had played for Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN) in Ibadan, during my secondary school days. I moved on to Ogun-Osun River Basin Authority and, from there, I joined Femo Scorpions, where I played for over two years, before I was invited to the U-20 national team. We went through the qualifiers before we eventually qualified for the tournament proper in Saudi Arabia in 1989.
After the tournament in Saudi, I joined Shooting Stars Sports Club (3SC) of Ibadan and I was part one of those who helped 3SC gain promotion from Division 2 back to the elite league. I will never forget our feat in Saudi Arabia, which came to be called the ‘Damman Miracle’, after we came from four goals down to equalize against Russia. We went on to silver at that tournament.
Also, I played for Julius Berger FC of Lagos and, after six months with them, I travelled to Spain to sign for Real Madrid’s ‘B’ team, Castilla, where I was for three years, before joining Racing Santander in 1992. After Santander, I signed for Real Sociedad in 1996 and was there for four years. In 2000, I was in Saudi Arabia briefly to play for Al Ittihad in Jeddah. I spent six months in Saudi, before returning to Spain, where I signed for Salamanca. After Salamanca, I played in Turkey before I moved to Cyprus and, in 2005, I called it quits with football. Meanwhile, all those years, I was playing for Nigerian senior national team, the Super Eagles. I featured at three AFCONs (Senegal ’92, Tunisia ’94 and Ghana-Nigeria 2000), I represented Nigeria at the World Cup (USA ‘94, France ‘98 and Korea-Japan 2002).
Having retired, you are now the country manager of La Liga Nigeria and, with your experience in Spanish football, how will Nigeria benefit from this arrangement and what has been the gain, so far, for our football?
La Liga is in Nigeria, because they believe they can contribute a lot to the development of football in the country, especially the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL). Kudos to the League Management Company (LMC) for the partnership with La Liga, because they (LMC) believe that the La Liga is the best in the world and Nigeria stands to benefit a lot from it, technically and commercially. Since that arrangement, it is clear that things have begun to move positively for our league. Remember, last August, selected players from the Nigerian league and some managers were in Spain on a tour which has helped our league in no small way. We will make sure the Nigerian league becomes one of the best in the world.
Just last year December, Rivers United was also in Spain for a training tour and even played against some clubs over there, courtesy of La Liga Nigeria. In February, hopefully, we would be bringing coaches from Spain to come put through some coaches who would be handling the U-15 teams of the 20 NPFL clubs, in conjunction with the LMC. A lot of positives will surely be derived from this partnership which will help develop our football in no small measure.
The Glo-CAF award was held in Nigeria last week and we missed out again. Since Kanu Nwankwo, in 1999, no Nigerian player has won the award. Is something wrong? What can be done if the nation hopes to win the coveted award the next time?
Well, it is just a matter of time. In the ‘90s that you talked about, we dominated the awards, our players not only played in the big leagues but for big clubs. It really paid off for us, because our players were always in the limelight and painted Europe with goals. It was during this period that we were rated as the fifth best footballing nation and most entertaining in the world. I want to tell you that a lot of things are going on now, especially with the partnership between La Liga Nigeria and the LMC. Soon, most of our players will benefit from this developmental programme and they (the players) will be playing in the big leagues again. It is high time we started doing things rightly and, soon, we are going to return to the pinnacle of African football again.
Nigeria is on top of her group in the qualifiers for Russia 2018 World Cup. How do we sustain and maintain the lead, so that we don’t give room to complacency and, possibly, qualify for the World Cup before our last game, especially, with the double-header against Cameroon in August?
The players are fully aware of what is on ground. Having missed two consecutive AFCONs in 2015 and 2017, the players know they must placate Nigerians by qualifying for the World Cup in Russia. Missing two AFCONs is too much for Nigeria and with this at the back of their minds, the players have started very well and, I believe, they wouldn’t want to disappoint Nigerians as the qualifiers progress. We lead our group with six maximum points from two games. What we need to do is to win our remaining matches and prepare very well for the double-header against the Cameroonians, because that game would go a long way in determining the leader and eventual winner of the group.