Al- Adalah midfielder Ogenyi Onazi has opened up on his return to the Super Eagles as one of the players on standby for the World Cup play-off versus Ghana and more in an interview with Nigerian News Paper The Punch.
How do you feel on your return to the Super Eagles after almost four years out?
It’s a good feeling returning to the national team. Many people know me as an individual who never gives up. I still have a lot to offer, so, it’s always a pleasure to be back. Only when I hang my boots will I give up the dreams of playing for my fatherland, but as far as I’m still playing well where I am and in good condition, I will be ready to represent my country.
How do you think your return can help the Eagles?
It will in so many ways. Experience is one major boost ahead of the crucial game against Ghana. In football you do not play games with only experienced players or only young players. There should always be a blend of both the experienced players and the young and talented ones, so you can have a perfect balance. Look at the Italian national team that won the European Championship last summer. In defence they had the likes of Leonardo Bonucci, Andreas Barezagli and Giorgio Chiellini, who have been with the Azzuri for a long time and are there because they are active. These players share knowledge with their younger teammates and help them integrate well into the team. I’m not saying this because I fall into this category now, but because I started out as a young player and was drafted in when the likes of Joseph Yobo was captain, Vincent Enyeama, Austin Ejide, Emmanuel Emenike, Ike Uche were some of the leaders in the Eagles then. I want to help the team achieve its goal, which is to qualify for the World Cup. It does not matter who is in charge, we must support the coach and his ideas.
Did you miss the squad while you were out?
Wearing the Eagles jersey has always been a pride for me whether I’m not playing or I’m on the bench, I have missed that. I cherish every moment I spent with the Eagles. Each time I’m on the pitch, the fact that I know that over 180 million Nigerians are watching drives me to give my best and all I have and it’s there for everyone to see. The togetherness in camp with the other players is always memorable for me.
What sort of challenge do you think Ghana will pose to Nigeria?
They are a very good side with lots of experienced players with a lot of young and quality players. They have been together for a while now and let’s not think that they are pushovers because they failed to win a game at the last AFCON. They have appointed a new coach, so that makes them unpredictable at the moment. The game will be tough. We have to be careful and come out with a plan to beat them. With a bit of luck, qualities and experience in the team, we can surely beat Ghana.
Lack of experience at crucial moments in games has been one of the major problems of the Eagles lately. Do you think we have enough in the squad currently?
When we won the AFCON (in 2013) we had lots of experienced players, such players are needed for crucial games like this. This is our own job. I cannot tell a bricklayer how to do his job, likewise those who source for news on the internet. In life, to correct someone who has failed is the easiest thing to do because you already know why he failed, the steps he took to that caused his failure. In essence, the experienced players at this level – myself, Ahmed Musa, Kenneth Omeruo, Odion Ighalo and Leon Balogun coming into the team are not many and this will help guide the team in the right directions to beat Ghana.
It’s nine years since Nigeria last won the AFCON. What do you think is responsible for this despite?
For me there are lots of factors because we have a very good squad. At the last AFCON we did well, started well winning all our games, but at some point fell short in terms of experience. Look at Egypt, we defeated them in the opening group game but they played in the final of the tournament. They grew into the tournament with the calibre of players they had. On our part, the coach did very well and he needs some more experience.
Having played in top European teams, could you share with us what it is like playing in Saudi Arabia?
The kind of training regime I’ve been receiving since I came to Saudi Arabia, I never had that kind of training while in Europe. The kind of training regime I have been receiving since I joined Al-Aladah in January cannot be compared at all. Teams here are very physical and they run a lot. The Saudi Arabian league is very competitive. Many believe the Saudi league is low, but I must tell you it is not. The league is quite different from what people think it is. There are some talented players here and the most important thing for a football player is to be fit and playing regularly.
A lot of people have criticised your inclusion in the squad for the playoffs, what are your views on this?
I don’t care what people say about my recall to the national team. Even if they ask the coach to cancel this list and announce another one, they will still criticise his selection. The reason why they are complaining and saying all sorts is because of their selfish reasons. I don’t understand why people who don’t know football will question a professional about his job. If you are not playing you will not get an invitation and if the coach invites a player and he fails, then they can talk. You cannot play for the national team forever, it will get to a stage that you must give way for others to step in and carry on with the job. So, when the time comes, I will step aside. All these criticisms don’t move me because they are not the ones that will coach me.
Looking back, when would you say was your best moment with the Eagles?
There are so many moments I cherish with the Eagles. I can mention a few, like when we won the AFCON in 2013, when I made my debut for the team and my first appearance at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Those were some of the memorable moments for me, but above all, like I said earlier, donning the green and white will always be the biggest of them all.
What about your worst?
That was when I got injured against Seychelles in 2018. It was so tough. We played on a synthetic pitch and the heat from the pitch was so hot that I hurt my Achilles heel during the encounter. That was the beginning of my injury problems, but thank God I’m very fit now and I can give my best to the team again. It was certainly one of the worst moments of my career.