Jo Bonfrere: If Eagles Play as a Team Will Go Far in Russia


Dutchman, Jo Bonfrere who led Nigeria’s Under-23 Dream Team to win the men’s football event gold medal of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, USA, was live on Arise Television’s Global Sports yesterday. DURO IKHAZUAGBE monitored the interview…

*In the Beginning

Before the Olympic Games, I have been with Nigeria in the 1990 for the Africa Cup of Nations in Algiers. I was also here for the AFCON in Senegal in 1992. After that I was with the team for the 1994 AFCON in Tunisia which we won. We then qualified and went to the World  Cup in USA which was Nigeria’s first time. It was after that I  led the Under-23 Dream Team to the Olympic Games in Atlanta where we won the gold. The football authorities asked me back again where I led the team to the Nations Cup .

*Life Outside Coaching Super Eagles

When I left Nigeria I went to Qatar, I went to many other countries. I joined a club in the Emirate as well as in Egypt. I was in China and the last one was in Oman. I went back to China to join another club. In the last 20 years that I left Nigeria, I have been very busy.

*Winning the Olympic Gold in Atlanta in 1996

Winning the Olympic gold gave me special feeling, most especially for Nigeria. It was a very good experience. Winning in the final for me was beating all the South American teams. It means we have beaten Mexico, Brazil and Argentina- all football power-houses in that region. These were not easy teams. They were very difficult. We played very good football in that competition to deserve winning the gold.

*The opportunities that followed winning the gold medal at the Olympic Games

Yes, winning the Olympic gold gave me opportunities. Qatar desperately wanted me, Before then, I didn’t know where Qatar was in the Arab world. They invited me and went there to coach. I led them to playing in the final of the Arab league Cup final against Kuwait.

*Unforgettable Memories of Atlanta ‘96

We, I mean the coaching crew and my players were one team. We had a bond. The players played for each other, they had power and were never afraid. After training for month going to the Olympic, I told them that they were very good and capable of taking on any team in the world and get result. My players loved our training and were very proud of our work rate and all that we were doing before the Olympic. We knew we had the mentality to enable us win any game.

*Super Eagles versus Czech Republic in Vienna, Austria on Wednesday

I was in the traffic in Lagos so missed then first 20 minutes of the game. From what I have seen of the team against England and Czech Republic again on Wednesday, Eagles are not playing as a team. Too much individuality play in the team. The players have speed and tactically sound but if you are not playing as a unit, getting the desired result will be difficult. And secondly, they appears as if they are not playing to instruction or tactics from the handlers of the team. It is like having a problem in your house and you have the tools to solving the problem but if you don’t know the right tool to use, all the bunch of tools you have may appear useless. That is the problem I see with the current Super Eagles.

*Chances of Super Eagles at the World Cup

Nigeria still has up to nine days till when the Super Eagles will play their first game against Croatia. Now is the time to let the players know the opposition they are going to face and the quality in each of the players of the Croatian team. From the losses in the friendlies, the coaches should be able to tell each player what the problem was in the areas they covered and amendments made. Let me tell, from what I have seen of Nigerian players, they are all faster than nearly all the players from Europe coming to this World Cup. They have more technic than most other players. However, I want to say that I really don’t know most of the current players so it will be difficult for me to hazard a guess. If they pay as a team, they can go far beyond the second Round that has become Nigeria’s benchmark. In Europe, when a player has the ball, he has five players opening up for him to choose where to send the ball but in the present Nigerian situation  from the friendlies that I have seen, when a Super Eagles player has the ball, he wants to do things of five people all alone and there is no support around him and things don’t work like that.

*Which countries are you looking at as favourites?

Normally during the World Cup, attention is on Germany, Italy, France and may be England but the Italians are not in Russia. I have seen some games from Brazil, they are very good. I tip Brazil to get to the last four. I saw Germany against Austria but I didn’t see the usual German flair. I didn’t see the usual things associated with Germany. The French have renewed their game after the Nicolas Anelka era and crisis. Brazil as host thought the cup was their to take but were taught bitter lesson. Now I see great games coming from these rejuvenated teams. Brazil has the technique, Germany the mentality and England the fighting spirit. Unfortunately the Dutch team (Holland) that have the technique too are not at this World Cup.

*Getting the house promised him by the FG 24 years after

It was a surprise to me when I got a call from Nigeria that I should come and get the house that I was promised in 1994 after winning the AFCON 1994 in Tunisia. It was promise fulfilled by the Federal Government of Nigeria and I am very grateful for the gesture. What I am going to do with the house? I have not decided yet. Now I know I have a house in Nigeria and whenever I come here, I have a house I can call my own and stay. No, I am not thinking about selling it now, I have not decided.

*Training programme for coaches under way

We would like to teach the Nigerian coaches how to coach young players or even senior players on how to make them better football players. It is necessary for coaches to have target in training and if you don’t do that, it means you are going to achieve little with your training effort. However, we have not decided yet where the training of the coaches will take place whether in Lagos or Abuja or any other Nigerian city.