He is undoubtedly one of the best goalkeepers that have played in Nigerian’s soccer league. From Stationery Stores to Concord FC and Shooting Stars, his saves usually kept the fans screaming “Ike Anobi”. Today, Ike Shorunmu who also manned the posts for Basel FC in Switzerland and Besiktas of Turkey among others trains Nigeria’s national team goalkeepers.
Street Journal’s WOLE ADEJUMO recently caught up with the former Super Eagles’ safe hands and in the ensuing interview, he explained why Chigozie Agbim was invited to vie for a place in the World Cup team despite what many Nigerians perceived as the flaws of the CHAN tournament.
Shorunmu also spoke on his days as the national team goalkeeper, his World Cup experience and why he will never forget Gabriel Batistuta.
As a goalkeepers’ trainer, looking at the choices we have now and the quality of strikers we will be facing at the World Cup, how far do you think we can go?
Firstly, I will say the goalkeepers we have in the team are well experienced when you talk of high level football because they have featured at the World Cup. They were there in 2002 and 2010, talking in terms of Vincent (Enyeama) and (Austin) Ejide. For me, they have grown enough with the kind of experience they have acquired from these two tournaments. What they are doing in their various clubs too and they play more against big players in their league.
I believe they are up to the task for the World Cup that comes up in Brazil.
A lot of people feel Chigozie Agbim doesn’t have any business being on the provisional list of players for the World Cup, considering his performance at the CHAN tournament. What’s your take on this?
I won’t agree with you on this particular player because we have been working with the team for the past three or four years now and we invited a lot of home based goalkeepers to the team. We saw the level of their abilities and again, for us to pick Chigozie, we know he has a lot of qualities that make him better than the ones we didn’t call.
Why am I saying this? After the home based CHAN tournament we went for in South Africa, we did our evaluation of the players and we now found out that the ones he saved were more than the ones he conceded in the tournament.
Secondly, we looked at our own programme to the World Cup and we noted that time is very short for us to bring in any new goalkeeper now. We have made up our mind from the beginning of our tenure with the team that any tournament we are going, we will go along with 2 foreign based goalkeepers and 1 home based goalkeeper. We found out that time was so short and this player we are talking about has been in a tournament. For us now to come back and say we want to bring another fresh goalkeeper, it is very unfair and dangerous because you never know, anything can happen.
You see, club assignment is different from national team assignment. Wearing the jersey alone puts pressure on you. I am saying this because some people don’t understand. So we felt since the time is short, it is better we continue with the one we know and we know that he knows what is ahead of us. That is why we decided to stick on Chigozie Agbim and Daniel Akpeyi, that at the end of the day, one will be dropped before we make the final list.
Looking at the group we are, Argentina has beaten us thrice at the World Cup, what efforts will you be putting in to ensure that the same thing doesn’t repeat itself?
It is very simple. Going to a tournament, you don’t need to think of one team. Think of all the teams you are going to play against. In a way, we are so lucky that we are playing against Argentina in our last game in the group and believe me, between you and I, we are not thinking about Argentina now. We are thinking of the first two games we are going to play. The first two games will determine how its going to be against Argentina.
The odds seem to favour us to qualify as Iran does not have an impressive World Cup history so to speak. Bosnia are debutants but looking back at the fact that we were debutants in 1994 and we pulled strings, what’s your take on the perception of Nigerians that Bosnia and Iran won’t pose threats to the Super Eagles?
Fine, you can be listening to a lot of comments from people but the most important thing is that you need to be focused with your team. When we went to the Nations’ Cup in South Africa in 2013, nobody gave us that chance and at the end of it all, we carried the day. But what we are looking at now is that we want to keep ourselves. We don’t want to be complacent because football of nowadays has gone beyond saying I am the champion, I am going there as champion. Everything stands at zero-zero, so it depends on how you prepare yourself mentally and physically.
Meanwhile, we have been working around with our people, giving us details about the teams, that is Iran and Bosnia Herzegovina. Believe me we will find it more difficult with Iran and Bosnia than Argentina because people feel oh, Argentina, we know them. But what of Bosnia and Iran that we don’t know? And a team that you don’t know is more dangerous than the one you know. We try to concentrate on Iran and Bosnia.
Before the Nations’ Cup in 2013, nobody gave the Eagles and chance. It was even rumoured that the team’s tickets had been booked before the quarter-finals. The World Cup is just some days away now, what message do you have for Nigerians?
Very simple, one, we will let it go. We want go there and do our best and leave the rest. We don’t want to get there and put ourselves under unnecessary pressure but we are going there to make Nigerians proud. Fine, we know what we want from our hearts and the hearts of Nigerians. What we want to speak out for us is our game and insha Allah, things will work the way we want them to work and with your own support too.
You once manned the posts for Shooting Stars Football Club. Now the club’s fortunes seem to be going down. How do you feel seeing the 3SC you once played for going down from the Premier League to the Division 1 championship?
I feel so bad but what can we do? When Mutiu (Adepoju) was there as GM of the team, we tried our best to make the team better but the way it is, he brought them back from Division 1 to the premiership.
Well, the way things are running in this country make a lot of things difficult because I watched some matches home and away, believe me, it is not encouraging. This is why most of the clubs that represent Nigeria in continental competitions find it difficult to scale through.
The organization, officiating, talk of welfare of the coaches, all these are not encouraging at all. Two weeks ago, I was at Adamasingba here to watch a Shooting Stars’ game and the kind of penalty they gave, wasn’t worth it. When we were all playing, some individuals came around and supported the team, apart from the government’s purse, so the team was bubbling then. But right now, when you look at the situation of the country, if the country is not standing well, it will be difficult. As an individual, you cannot say your business is doing well, you put your money into a club and it is not giving you anything. You will say no, no let me leave the club.
You can see my friends, they are ex Shooting Stars players. Lateef Yusuf is there, he was telling me that on Wednesday, they were in Uyo to watch Akwa United versus Warri Wolves. He said I needed to see the kind of penalty the referee gave to Akwa United, they didn’t believe it was a penalty. It is also very difficult for a coach to coach a club in Nigeria.
For Shooting, the way they are going, it may be difficult for them to come back to the premiership. It will be nice if we can have something to support but it is difficult.
Is it that the quality of football we play here is low? When you compare our style of play to that of clubs in North Africa you see a big difference. Maybe that is why players play for one season at home and want to go abroad the next season but don’t you think that is one of the things affecting the quality of our league?
I don’t think so. North African weather is different from our own weather in a way. Years back, when we were playing, most of the fields in Nigeria were grass pitches but right now, people are saying it is better we use synthetic. And for a professional player, you will prefer grass because believe me, sometimes when you control, the kind of movement you want to do, you cannot do it on artificial. If you mis-kick, you can still get yourself back but on artificial, it is difficult. Some players don’t like to play on artificial because their arch tendon or ankle and knee problems.
And when you talk of standard, North Africa, they may have their own issues but their countries are more comfortable than our own. Before, here everybody was comfortable, nobody cared to travel to Europe to play until around 1999 or 2000, people said oh, I got to travel out of this country because the country is no longer conducive.
It is not only about government, as individuals we can do something because if you wait for government to do some things, you may wait forever.
Looking back at your career as a goalkeeper, which match would you say was most memorable to you and why?
The match I would describe as most memorable was at the World Cup, you know in the international colours everybody sees you. Our match against Argentina, after the match, I got lots of calls, appreciation and till today, that’s the match. At club level, there were lots of matches.
Which opponent do you look back and say “oh it was playing against this guy or saving his shots?”
There are lots of players but the only player I will say gave me a really tough time was Gabriel Batistuta because before the World Cup, we met in 1999 in Italy. They called us for FIFA team against the Italian national team and we were together at the training because we trained a day before the game. So that was the first time we had body contact. The guy is not like an oyinbo man. He is like an African, really tough.
And the second time when we met at the World Cup, in the first half, we had contact and my boot got torn. I had to change it. I changed my boot with Vincent Enyeama. I still have it as a souvenir at home. He is very tough. Anybody that once played against Batistuta will tell you that you need to work extra hard. He is like a rock and he never gives up. At the end of the day, he was the one that scored against us. He is a very tough guy.
What does it take to make a good goalkeeper?
You have to be really stable. Reflexes can come, depending also on the kind of coach you have but the confidence, you’ve got to have it, your ball handling must be good and you’ve got to be a person that can receive pressure because if you cannot receive pressure, believe me, you can’t get anywhere.
You can see what happened to Chigozie Agbim. We need to give kudos to this guy. The goal they scored him, from a distance, about 45 metres. It happens to a lot of great goalkeepers; Peter Schmiechel, Jens Lehman, Oliver Kahn, David Seaman but for him to continue in that tournament, if as a goalkeeper, you don’t have confidence, after the match, believe me, its over for him and that can end his football career. So as a goalkeeper, if you have great charisma and a lot of confidence, you can stay long on the game.