Coach Used To Give Us Women A Day Before Matches - Nigerian Legendary Footballer

Bright Omokaro. Remember him? The once dreaded ex-Green Eagles defender nicknamed 10-10 talks about life on retirement, not playing at the W...

Bright Omokaro. Remember him? The once dreaded ex-Green Eagles defender nicknamed 10-10 talks about life on retirement, not playing at the World Cup, his famed tackle on an Algerian opponent, Maroc ’88 and more in this interview with ’TANA AIYEJINA

What have you been doing since you retired from football?

I’ve been into coaching and business as well. I had my coaching certificate in the 1980s when Humphrey Edobor, Wole Odegbami, Wilfred Agbonavbare and I went for professional career in Europe. I have coached clubs here such as Grail FC of Ede in 2009/10, and promoted them consecutively. I also managed Delta Force of Asaba before they were disbanded. These clubs I mentioned as well as Bendel Insurance owe me millions of naira. But I hate to cry. Football is what I know how to do; that’s my passion. I went into car business but it’s not moving as well. Nobody wants to buy cars now ­— they are all thinking about what to eat.

So, would you still want to go into coaching after being owed by previous clubs?

Yes, of course. If I get a club, why not? I want to make a mark. I want to prove to people that I know what I’m doing. I played football to the highest level and should be able to spot a good player. Apart from that, there’s football psychology, which most of the current coaches lack. You must understand all your players. If you have a good player who is a womaniser, you need to know how to make him do his job for you; after that, he can do what he wants. You have to act as a role model to your players. With that, they will get you the results you want.

Why are there problems in paying players and coaches in Nigerian football?

It’s very painful. In our playing days, the stadiums were full before 12pm. Now, you don’t have that any more. What you have now are cubicles all over the places where Nigerians watch the Premier League; they support with pride foreign clubs. People enjoyed our football then, but now, it’s politicised. There is politics all over the world, but if we play it the way others do, we’ll be number one. Football is now the national cake which everyone wants to take a bite from. So, who will pay the players and officials? It’s a big problem. In our days, you must be qualified to play for any of the national teams. But people, who don’t know the basics of football, are national team products nowadays. I went through primary, secondary, academicals and National Sports Festival junior football before I graduated to the senior team. So, if I receive a lofted pass, I know how to trap it and make use of it because I learnt it from the basics. But these players don’t have it? As good as Austin Okocha was, these set of players could have killed his creativity if he were part of them. The glamour isn’t there anymore. Look at this scenario for example: Insurance will beat a team in Benin 6-0 and then lose 7-0 away to the same team. Who’s fooling who? In our time, teams were winning away from home. If you employ a player today, the next day at training, he’s curled his hair with earrings on. But give him the ball, he can’t play. These days, players tell referee on the pitch, ‘We must win this match’. But you need to work and have what it takes to win a match. It’s saddening. I don’t support or watch the foreign leagues because I feel pained.

Where did Nigerian football get it wrong?

At some point, football was tribalised. We had Abiola Babes, Iwuanyanwu Nationale, Flash Flamingos, NBB. These clubs were owned by the private sector but the states have virtually taken over all the teams. The politics they played killed football. At some point, Chief MKO Abiola backed out, (because) they weren’t getting what they should get from the football authorities. Abiola held a meeting with other clubs and they agreed to withdraw from the league and he withdrew but the others didn’t. What about players who are retired? Some are dying with different ailments with no one to help. Peter Fregene is in a terrible situation in Sapele. It took help from outside before Christian Chukwu could be flown abroad for treatment. And some people talk about players’ union?

There’s also your former club and national teammate Sunday Eboigbe, who’s been on the sickbed for several years now…

(Cuts in) I feel very bad. Nothing has been done to assist players who served the country, and some people are somewhere saying they’re managing football. What are they managing? An average Nigerian doesn’t want to hear the truth. If they see this published, they may call me and say ‘Bright, we saw what you said in the papers. Come and take this appointment’. This is for me to shut my mouth. But I won’t do that. If you’re eating salad, I’m okay with my garri. It’s like when I was playing, I hated to lose and I was hard. But off the pitch, I could not hurt a fly but would speak the truth.

You were feared along with Eboigbe in your playing days. Why did you apply the hard style in defending?

There are amendments in football these days. In my case, the passion to win made me hard. I never liked losing. That was the only way I could express myself.  There was a game we played against Cameroon and I went to Roger Milla feebly without protecting myself and he elbowed me. I felt the impact. When next I met him, he was on the floor. And (Stephen) Keshi came to meet me and said, ‘Bright, take it easy’. I told him, ‘This is war, football is war’. When a striker is too hard for me, Eboigbe will say, ‘Push him to my side’. I would do, and that player’s life won’t remain the same again. Whenever the late Rashidi (Yekini) looked at us (Omokaro and Eboigbe) in training, he would say, ‘Which kind of people are these?’ We were just doing it because we didn’t want to lose. In most cases, I was not given cards by the refs because they couldn’t see.

In the semi-final of Maroc ’88 AFCON against Algeria, the Eagles were leading 1-0 with a man down after the expulsion of Ademola Adeshina. You then tackled an Algerian, who was taken out and both sides ended the match with 10 men apiece. Was it a decision you took alone or the entire team resolved to do that?

It was after the match I was nicknamed 10-10. We were leading by a lone goal and Ademola was given a red card. The Algerians were tormenting us and they equalised. I told myself, ‘What do I do?’ Manfred Hoener (then Eagles coach) gave me a sign, ‘Bright, hard football’. When I looked up, I saw the Algerian player coming at me and I hit him hard with the ball. And he couldn’t come back again. I was very happy because it reduced the tension against us. They went into penalties and we won and got to the final.

Do you think the Eagles were robbed when referee Idrissa Sarr disallowed Henry Nwosu’s goal in the final of Maroc ’88 and Cameroon won the AFCON?

They ruined African football at that moment. It was during that period that Issa Hayatou was elected CAF president. Nwosu scored a clean goal in that final. Take a look at the final clip again. It was saddening. We felt very bad; it was daylight robbery. Everyone knew Nigeria should have won the trophy. The Cameroonians were awarded a penalty and they gave them the cup.

Do you regret not playing at the World Cup after getting close in 1990?

No. I was the Eagles captain to Seoul ’88 Olympics; that’s the biggest global sports competition. The World Cup is just football alone. I’ve got no regrets at all.

Your ex-club Bendel Insurance are back in the second division after just one season in the topflight…

(Cuts in) I’m not happy because I want Insurance to be one of the biggest teams in Africa. That was what they were alongside Enugu Rangers, Shooting Stars, Mighty Jets in the past. I want to coach the club without being paid salaries. It’s just a matter of psychology.

Are you saying the present coaching crew of Insurance isn’t good enough?

No, that’s not what I mean. It’s not about putting the ball on the pitch for the players to play or taking them through fitness training. If they are fit but don’t know where to put the ball, what do you do? You need to be a model to them, lecture them and get the best out of them.

Defunct New Nigeria Bank had great players like you, Keshi, Eboigbe, Edobor, Nwosu, Agbonavbare and others. How was the bank able to put together some of the best players of your generation?

NNB were giving car loans to players and I was at Insurance, who were not doing that. They were one of the first clubs to give car loans, a Volkswagen. When we heard they were giving car loans, I told Humphrey, “I’m going.” But Humphrey was afraid to go with me. The fans were troubling him and threatening to fight him at home if he moved to NNB but whenever they (fans) saw me, they would run away because my grandmother then was very close to the Oba palace. That’s the reason we left for NBB. They gave me Volkswagen 1500 on loan. That’s when other clubs started doing same. Insurance then gave Leotis Boateng a 504, because he was angry the club didn’t give players car loans. When we joined NBB was when they (NNB) started beating Insurance, and the fans would hurl stones at us and curse us.

NNB was seen as a model club, with players like one family…

(Cuts in) Yes, NNB was a kind of family. At that time, we were all drunks and womanisers. Keshi would meet us drinking, take a bottle and go and tell Bazuaye to come and see us drinking. And we had about 15 cars parked. Bazuaye would say, ‘I will tell the GM of the bank that alcohol has a different impact on your lives. Madam give them two more cartons.’ When they bring the cartons, Nwosu would say, ‘Make una drink jor, make una forget this man (Bazuaye).’ (Let’s drink and forget this man). From that drinking spot, we would head for training and make sure we burn out everything. So, when we played well on match days, the coach was always surprised how we did it. That’s why I talked about a coach understanding his players earlier. If Bazuaye knew you had a girlfriend, he would invite the girl to come and see you a day to the match. He would ask your roommate to quit the room and instruct the girl to sleep with you. He will tell the girl, ‘Don’t allow this man sleep, make sure you fire him well.’ But you know that you have an important game the next day, you could punch the woman if she touched you because you wanted to prove to the coach that even if you met a woman, it won’t have any effect on you. It’s the psychology I’m talking about. It works in football.

What’s your advice to young footballers?

Football is just like any other profession. If a child says he wants to become a lawyer, he has to work towards becoming one of the greatest lawyers. Football is big business and they need to know. Can you compare fraud money to what footballers earn? Football is within a youthful age; at that age, you must put in all your energy to get what you want and secure your future.

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