Charles Okafor: Rohr’s comments and actions aren’t encouraging to home-based players (Interview)
Charles Okafor doesn’t seek to patronise Gernot Rohr. “I disagree with Gernot Rohr on that statement,” The FC Ifeanyi Ubah defender begins, opposing the recent statement of the Super Eagles’ technical director that the persistent urge of home-based players to elope abroad is the reason his attention on the flock of locally based players has been scant. “I disagree. A player’s dreams are simple: to play abroad, with better facilities to improve your ability as a player to achieve your career goals; and to also play for your country, serve your fatherland,” he counters further, explaining that the ambitiousness of a player – leaping on an available train that promises to convey him to more lush terrains – should not be an acceptable excuse for ignoring his talent.
Rohr has often been criticised for his unapologetic neglect of local players. Except for the fixed position of Katsina United goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa, it seems hard for any other NPFL player to break into the ice-crafted mould of the Super Eagles. “Picking just a couple of NPFL players in a 23-man squad isn’t encouraging at all,” the former Zamfara United stalwart says, emitting the frustration of his colleagues in the NPFL.
The battle-hardened defencee leader digs into the nostalgic bag of history to further corroborate his argument, “During the days of (Steven) Keshi, home-based players were given chance to express themselves, and the team achieved by winning the Nation’s Cup.” Citing the 2013 Africa Nation’s Cup winning team which included six home-based players was literally won by a locally-based Sunday Mba. “I believe giving the home-based players more slots in the team will make Eagles more competitive. It’ll spur the foreign-based to step up and not feel indispensable because they have talented guys threatening to take their places.” He reckons that the hunger of home-based players will force the Europe-based guys to be less complacent.
Okafor understands that life is in turns, and so is playing for the Super Eagles. He is, however, confident about his chances with the Eagles once his hour clings. “With hard work and dedication, I believe I can make it to the Super Eagles. I have the self-belief and self-confidence that when the time comes, I’ll play for my country.”
Growing up in the emirate ambience of Kano, Charles, who remembers playing football from a young age, talks about footballers he admired during those days of kick-abouts in the scourging sun, desiccating heat and billowing dust on the streets of the ancient city. While other kids imitated dribbling manoeuvres of well-known attackers like Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo (of Brazil); Okafor was attracted to the less star-gripping names. “Players like: Rio Ferdinand, which friends nicknamed me after in school; (Alessandro) Nesta, former AC Milan defender,” he mentions. “Watching players who played the Libero position motivated me while I was growing up. Defenders that play more with the brain than brawl and who had anticipation and calculation.”
“The Minister”, as he is fondly called by his teammates, is currently marshalling the stingiest defence in the league, which has trickled in just seven goals in 12 games, including an impressive run of consecutive clean sheets in the opening five games of the season. He cites cohesion and tactical discipline as the foundation of the team’s rigidness at the back. “Every game we psych up ourselves to forget the big names on the opponent’s team because names won’t play the football. The team is a tactically disciplined unit,” he says. “It’s the hard work of the team. The whole team takes the credit; the management, technical crew and the players.”
Until last Wednesday, FC Ifeanyi Ubah had conceded just 4 goals from in 11 games, and had shipped in more than one goal on just one occasion – against Abia Warriors. But when they visited Kano, they let in three goals, with a couple of those drawing complaints from the FC Ifeanyi Ubah camp. “The game against Kano Pillars, we felt very bad that we concede such amount of goals. The first goal was good but second and third were crooked: an offside goal and a manufactured penalty. We felt really bad’.
Refereeing standards don’t look the best in the league, and Okafor doesn’t disagree. “The referees need to step up. We still have a lot of officiating that makes you feel ashamed for Nigerian football. The LMC should have people monitoring all games to access these referees.” he says, charging the League Management Company to employ a more hands-on approach to help the refereeing in the league.
However, he expresses that the team has shrugged off the bad taste that the game at Sani Abacha Stadium and concentration is now fixated on the next match. “That’s football: you win some, lose some and draw a few. But we’re past that, we (are) looking at the game against Plateau United.”
Coached by Uche Okagbue, Ifeanyi Ubah host Okafor’s former side Plateau United this Sunday on home soil (the Ifeanyi Ubah International stadium) in Nnewi, and they will be hoping to replicate the resolute defending they showed in the reverse fixture at Ryang Pam stadium, where they got their first away point of the season and ignited the aforementioned run of five consecutive clean sheets. Just one point adrift of joint leaders Akwa United and El Kanemi Warriors, FC Ifeanyi Ubah are looking upwards. Good defences win titles, they say, and, marshalled by Okafor, if they continue their strict defensive form, they’ll have high hopes of staying in the group’s top three, and eventually progressing to the Super Six.
**This interview was conducted before Ifeanyi Ubah’s win against Plateau United
Shehu Idris Tẹjumọla4 Posts
Shehu Idris Tẹjumọla is a football fanatic, a voracious reader of football contents and an Indefatigable football writing junkie. Author of future Man Booker-winning, best-selling books.