ur Match-Day Selection Will Be The Key In Russia – Garba Lawal
Former Super Eagles midfielder and utility player, Garba Lawal, in this exclusive interview with AljazirahNigeria Sport call on the Super Eagles players to play for one another at the World Cup and advised Coach Gernot Rohr to check his tactics and work on the fitness level of his players as Nigeria battle Croatia in her opening game on Saturday. He speaks with Assistant Editor and Head of Sports, TAOFEEK LAWAL in Kaduna.
What is your assessment of the Super Eagles’ friendlies especially the last game against the Czech Republic?
The friendlies are good for us but the only problem we have had is that people always say the second half is better. The question to ask is why the slow start? The game we lost are big games. We were lucky to come back against Argentina and beat them 4-2. It is the same scenario with other games. This is World Cup and we must improve our game. God forbid, if a big football country beat us 4-0 or 5-0 due to our slow start, what are will going to do in the second half? What magic will you pull because you have already left the game to the opponents. I think Coach Gernot Rohr need to go back and tackle the slow start. Where is the problem from? Is the training before the game, is it the warm-up? Are the players heavy? As a coach, you must know this. Rohr knows better than me because has been a manager before me. He has to take all these into considerations and tackle them headlong. The World Cup starts on Thursday and our first game is on Saturday against Croatia and where is the time? There is no time for experimentation again, the big game is here. Iceland that nobody is talking about are no pushover.
See the exploit during Euro 2016 in France. They are a small country and want to excel and show the world that their qualification was not a fluke. Remember they bundled England out of the Euro and nobody expected it and that is football for you. The players should understand that this is the World Cup; the biggest football tournament in the world watched by billions worldwide and put all their energy into it. Any costly mistake or error brings you back home immediately. The advantage we have is that a lot of the players are young but this is a World Cup and we must play as a team. Individual play is not meant for World Cup.
What are your expectations from the Super Eagles despite all these shortcomings?
They should take the first game very serious. The first game is very key in any competition, especially football. The first two games are very important because when you will your first two games then you take a breather because already the second round is sure. But if you don’t, you have already put yourself in a very tight corner and on the brink of being eliminated. The players must give 120 percent for the first two games for them to move to the next round. It is not going to be easy but they can do it if they want.
What exactly should the players do to excel in Russia?
They should play as a team. Tactical discipline is very key in a game of football. Play your primary assignment before you do another one. If your teammate cannot run you can do that for him, it will go a long way covering 5 or 10 metres for your teammate. But if you don’t do that and you say everybody should do his job, all of you will be coming back home the same time. It is a teamwork and that is why it is called football which involves 11 players. Football is not tennis that you play your own game. Success in football is a collective responsibility and efforts which propels victory for the team as a whole. If you remember our game in France ’98 against Spain, the coach, Bora Milutinovic wanted us to play 4-5-1 but we switched to 4-4-2 on the pitch we because that is our traditional game and we came out victorious against the Spaniards. In essence, the players too can decide on the pitch what suits them when they read their opponents, it is all about winning. The players must help one another on the pitch and not the coach alone. That is called Dutch philosophy. When you are on the pitch you are also a coach and you have to communicate and make sure there is effective coordination with other players.
We will be playing against Croatia on Saturday which is our opening game. Croatia parades world class players like Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and other top players. What do you think we should do to win our game against the Croatians?
Modric and Perisic are the ones we can mention now what about others that we don’t know but play in top leagues in Europe. Our MatchDay squad will be very important against the Croatians, I mean the eleven players that will start the match, if we get it right, the game will be easy. But if we don’t get it right, it might be difficult. I hope that day Rohr will pick the right squad and if he does that, we are good to go. He is human and is expected to make mistakes in terms of team selection. He must, however, be positive in his selection and make consultations with his assistant to get things done. Tell them this is what you want to do and ask for their input and I’m sure they will give him the best of advice. They can advise him to put player A instead of B because of some certain qualities and that single contribution can be the joker on that day.
What formation do you think is most suitable for Nigeria?
I think Rohr is playing 4-3-3 but we can still try 4-4-2 which is our traditional formation right from time as I said earlier.
What formation should we employ against Croatian to give us the edge? Are you comfortable with 4-3-3 or we should revert to 4-4-2?
Our traditional style is 4-4-2 . Some play 4-5-1, others 4-2-3-1. It depends on the ones Rohr want to use and I think I am comfortable with Rohr’s tactics. We have wing players that have speed like Victor Moses but unfortunately, Moses Simon is not there but Ahmed Musa is in the team. The speed from the wing is very important and we must convert any opportunity that comes our way.
This is our sixth appearance at the World since our debut in 1994. But the highest we have reached is the round of 16. Do you see Nigeria break the second round jinx and for the first time play in the quarterfinals?
Why not? We have had the best of preparations and our friendly games have prepared the players for the task ahead. I believe we prepare very well and anything can happen. Things change within 15 minutes in a game of football. Our players must be at their best at every match day and they will be good to go.
Do you believe in luck in football apart from hard work and determination?
Of course, there is always that element of luck. You may not have that luck to hit the ball to go into the net. The ball may be hitting the bar and come back even if you have 50 Messis. However, if you prepare well the luck will definitely come in but if you don’t, you should not expect any luck because you are just deceiving yourself.
If you look at the English national team going to the World Cup, all the 23 players play in the home league which is the English Premier League (EPL). Do you see Nigeria coming to that level in the future?
Well, it depends because you cannot stop players from going abroad. But check the English players, how many of them play outside England. The EPL is the best in the world and that is where the money is, everybody wants to go there. That is why the English guys did not want to any other league. If I am playing for Manchester United, what club again? You still have Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham, so tell me where else except you don’t want to play for Aston Villa or any other mid-table clubs. If you are playing in these clubs, you will want to remain there and end your career instead of going to any league at all. For us, we have good players that are coming up and they want to go outside Nigeria and we cannot stop them. The money over there is good with world-class facilities. We need to make our league more attractive and look for sponsors who will have confidence in their investment and then we are good to go. But it will be difficult to have wholly home-based players in the national team because the offer outsider is mouth-watering and difficult to resist. But we can always combine the two and invite them but everything still depends on what the coach wants. We also start from home.
You were the favourite of every coach during your time in the Super Eagles. All the coaches loved you because you played to instructions, what is the secret.
When I started talking, I said something about tactical discipline. It is what made me excel and I learnt that in Holland. Dutch football is all about tactics. A Dutch coach will want you to play to instructions and you must listen to whatever he tells you. If you do that, you don’t have any problem with him even if you make mistake, he will encourage you and give you a pat on the back. I think it is good for players to listen to coaches’ instructions. The coach knows better than you and that is why he is the boss. A child who takes instructions and listens to his parents will be well liked and will excel in life. All these boil down to tactical discipline on the part of the players and you will always be in the good books of the coach, any day anytime