It took a lot of pressure to inject Kelechi Iheanacho into our national team. It is these young players that will provide longevity; that is how to build a team. It is not all about winning all the time.
“Because I and some of my colleagues started playing early for the national team, we are able to play from the ‘70’s up to the ‘80’s before the set of Stephen Keshi took over the mantle to the ‘90’s. With that, there was continuity and the national team was not only able to record considerable success, but was respected across the globe. By the time the team qualified for its first World Cup in 1994, it was ranked fifth in the world by FIFA,” Chukwu stated.
“Even before the ’94 Mundial, players such as Kanu Nwankwo, Taribo West and some few others were already prepared to break into the team and some of them were even involved in series of friendly matches by the team.
“Today, the reverse is the case. If a player scores a goal in London or in Sweden he is quickly invited to the national team. After a game, he is back to his clubs until Eagles have another match and as a result there is no bond in the team. With such an arrangement, how can there be continuity and longevity.”
Asked what he would have been if he had not taken to football, he said by virtue of the fact that he was very good at science subjects he would have been an engineer, which was a very popular profession while he was growing up in Enugu.
“In those days in Enugu, engineering and medicine were the two most popular profession and every parents derived pleasure in being addressed as the father or mother of an engineer or doctor. I really wanted to be an engineer before football discovered me as a child. I started playing right from primary school. But I’m very happy I took to the latter because the goodwill I enjoyed as a footballer and still enjoying today I might not have enjoyed it any other profession,” Chukwu said.
On whether he made money in football, “Chairman”, as he was fondly called in his playing days, said: “When you measure it in terms of Naira and Kobo I may not be referred to as a rich man, but the goodwill that I enjoyed while playing football was unquantifiable; money cannot buy it. Everywhere I go today people recognise me and treat me with love and respect, which to me is more valuable than money.”
One moment in his career he would never forget in a hurry was in 1980 when he lifted the AFCON trophy before the full glare of President Shehu Shagari and thousands of spectators at the National Stadium.
“Before that deserved victory in 1980, the team had won bronze in 1976 and ’78 in Adiss Ababa and Ghana respectively. Playing on home ground was therefore one great opportunity we were not ready to let go. It was a great feeling lifting the cup before the President and over sixty thousand spectators, not to talk of millions of television viewers. It would ever remain an unforgettable moment in my life,” Chukwu recalled with nostalgia.
After his playing career, he went on to coach Enugu Rangers. He was part of the coaching crew that qualified Nigeria to her first World Cup and won the 1994 AFCON in Tunisia. Ten years later, he led Nigeria to winning the bronze. He failed to book a place to the 2006 World Cup in Germany. He had coaching stints in Lebanon and with the Kenyan national team in 1998.