Former Super eagles Assistant Coach, Joseph Erico, has been through a lot in his career, both as a player and coach, but one incident that still haunts him is the manner he was relieved of his duties after the Mali 2002 African Nations Cup.
Nigeria won a bronze medal at the competition, but the technical crew, headed by the late Amodu Shaibu, was sacked shortly after the championship. Also among the coaches of the team was the late Stephen Keshi.
The dismissal ensured that the trio, who had earlier qualified the Super eagles for the Korea/Japan 2002 World Cup, did not lead the team to the competition. Erico, who described their dismissal by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and the Sports Ministry, which then had Ishaya Mark Aku as minister, as a scar that needs to heal, adding that he was yet to get his dues serving his fatherland.
Erico said although the coaching crew later moved on with their lives, the incident has lived with him till date.
“I miss Amodu and Keshi dearly, they were too dear to me,” Erico said. “It was a big family that was dislodged by God. Recently, when I saw Amodu’s picture I burst into tears. I am still emotional moved.
“We worked together and qualified the country for the Nations Cup, World Cup and even the Olympics. I miss all of them; but I miss Stephen more because he was like a son to me. A child who grew up in my hands in Apapa Road and we went on to play and coach,” he added. Erico dismissed the reasons given then by those in authority for their sack, saying some people had an agenda that had nothing to do with competence.
“Do you know what it means to go to the World Cup as a coach? We worked so hard for it where there was no hope; we called on God. Do you know that up till date I have not been paid? I don’t know if they (Amodu and Keshi) collected their own money.
“Having done a good job where people did not expect us to come out successful… that means we must have put in everything. People talked about blackmailing and sabotage and all stuffs and I kept laughing.
“Who said that we could not control the boys (as the reason for our sack)? Which boy played the way I played? Which boy played the way Keshi played and even Amodu? Is it because he (Amodu) did not play for the national team? Amodu was a top player. I had good exploits with clubs in Nigeria.
“So, what do they mean by control? It is unfortunate that we cannot start to bring back all those old stuffs again. We have to bury them and to forge ahead. But for you to forge ahead, you have to scrutinise the past.”
On the NFF’s insistence on a foreign coach handling the Super eagles, Erico said he has nothing against the nationality of the handler so long as the person knows his onions.
He added, however, “you cannot force players down the throat of any coach. Remember the bulk ends on his desk. If the coach is not performing, he is going to pay for it and the players will remain.
“Talking about home-based players, yes we have players here, but it depends on what the coach wants because the coach wants result. And the good thing is that he (Gernot Rohr) is not the first coach that will take us to the World Cup. Indigenous coaches have done it at one time or the other. Even though some won the World Cup on the lower level.”
“I am not saying that a foreign coach should not come and work here, but we have a lot of Nigerian coaches working outside. In America, we have many of them coaching clubs; there is even John Utaka, who recently got a coaching job in France. They’re all coaching, we can do it,” he stated.