The man recently entrusted with the task of reviving an out-of-sorts Nigerian national team is none other than Shaibu Amodu. Back for his third stint in charge of the Super Eagles, the 50-year-old coach speaks out on the task ahead for the West Africans and his hopes of reaching the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
With some of the finest players in African football at his disposal, Amodu is keen to put Nigeria where many believe they belong since launching themselves on to the world scene in the mid-90s. Taking over from Berti Vogts, who could only guide the side to the last eight at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations Ghana 2008, Amodu is in positive mood as Nigeria aim for a return to the world stage.
FIFA.com: Is the Nigerian national team in need of an overhaul? Does the older generation need to make way for young stars like Jon Obi Mikel, Taye Taiwo, Victor Anichebe and Co?
Shaibu Amodu: You don't throw away your old shoes just because you get a new pair! (laughs) The ultimate goal for us is to keep hold of some of the older, more experienced players and combine and compliment them with the younger, extremely talented players we have coming up through the youth teams.
What is the biggest difference between now and your previous times in charge of the team?
The biggest difference from the last time I had hold of the team and now is that now we now have youth teams (U-17 and U-20) qualifying regularly for the World Cups in their age categories. This was not always the case and it is hugely important for us as we move forward.
How has this change in locating and nurturing young talent come about?
Nigeria is a huge and vast country and it is full of very talented young players. And naturally, they all want to play in the senior national team. So, as the Nigerian youth teams qualify for their World Cups, it makes our jobs (in the senior team) much easier as it creates an arena for them to be tested at the highest level and for us to see them in that arena. It used to be a matter of luck and hope that we would see the right players at the right time. The trick in Nigeria has always been getting the young players and the older, experienced players into a state of balance in the senior team. Sometimes we have achieved this goal better than other times.
Is this the target as Nigeria look to wash away the disappointment of missing out on Germany 2006, and look ahead to reaching South Africa 2010?
Yes, this is the first order of business, to get the team working properly and in the right state of mind for the qualifying rounds.
How important is it to you, the players, and all of Nigeria that the Super Eagles reach the first FIFA World Cup hosted on the African continent?
The finals in South Africa will be a tournament for all Africans. The South Africans may be hosting, but we will all be playing for the honour of the continent. The first order is to put a team together that is good enough and prepared enough to take up the challenge. The Nigerian people will be desperate for us to make a mark in 2010 and that is our aim.
It must be a difficult job coaching in Nigeria. How do you handle the pressure and criticism of supporters and reporters alike?
It's OK, really. There is not just pressure in Nigeria for a top coach. There is pressure on a national team coach anywhere you go in the world. You have to find a way to take the valid criticism and use it and disregard the less helpful comments. The most important thing for a coach is to stay focussed and keep an eye on the final goals - the end justifies the means in most cases in football.
Will it take some time to get to know the new players in the team as your old standbys like Jay-Jay Okocha, Sunday Oliseh and Finidi George have hung up their boots?
There are still some players left from last time I was in charge, and I am so excited to have a reunion with these old friends as I have nothing but fond memories of working with them. But also, I look forward to moulding some of the new talent in the team, helping players I have yet to work with.
How closely will you be watching the U-23 players during this year's Men's Olympic Football Tournament in Beijing? There must be a good number of senior prospects in Samson Siasia's side?
For sure, there is no doubt that we will be watching them very closely. We will be keeping an eye on them and following their progress. When they return, it will be my goal to put some of these players together with the older boys and make a more powerful Nigerian team than anyone has ever seen before.
That's a lofty goal. Do you think it's realistic?
This Nigerian team, and the one that I foresee, has plenty of potential, and I can't wait to get started with them.
Courtesy of African Football Media