EXCLUSIVE: Tactics don’t really matter – Finidi George

Finidi George is the new coach of the Nigeria national football team, the Super Eagles. As a player, he was with Calabar Rovers, Iwuanyanwu Nationale, and Sharks of Port Harcourt before landing at Ajax Amsterdam, winning eight major titles with the Eredivisie outfit, including the famous 1995 Champions League.

Finidi later moved to Real Betis and Mallorca, and then had a brief stint in England with Ipswich. He was a member of the Super Eagles team that featured in Nigeria's first World Cup in 1994. The Super Eagles head coach spoke exclusively with Afrik Foot for the second time in four weeks to share his thoughts on his new job.

Your first official games are against South Africa and Benin Republic. These are two teams that would stretch themselves just to beat Nigeria (Nigeria’s former coach Gernot Rohr is in charge of Benin). Would you have loved a more neutral team like Kenya or Namibia to start with?

Nigeria is a tough football nation; Nigeria is a big nation, we can’t be asking for less. For us to qualify for the World Cup, we definitely have to play tough opponents along the line, and so I don’t think it’s a problem with the caliber of players we have in the squad now.

So, I think that we just need to work hard and prepare well for those two matches. Do I have a preference? In any case, my preference doesn’t matter; we just have to face those two teams—South Africa and Benin Republic—on those dates with a good mindset and focused mentality so that we can achieve the set target, which is all about winning. So, I’m not worried. All I am waiting for is camp to resume so we can work with the players.

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Photo by NFF Media

You made some very remarkable promises during the unveiling ceremony, like taking full six points from South Africa, qualifying for the World Cup etc. Have you not put yourself under pressure with those promises?

Even if I didn’t say so, those two games are matches we are playing with the mindset to get nothing less than outright wins. So what I say or what I don’t say does not count, because the plan and expectation is to win those games, so it doesn’t make any difference to me.

I will tell you the truth; there’s definitely pressure, so what I say or what I don’t say will not change anything. We all know that we need to take the full points from those two games, so saying or keeping quiet won’t make any difference. There is pressure, and so nobody will sit at home and say the pressure has gone down because he did not say anything.

I know the task ahead, and I know what Nigerians are expecting, so it will not be nice for me to keep quiet like I don’t know. It is only right for me to be bold and talk about our expectations, and that is what I did.

Nigerians react to Finidi George’s appointment as Super Eagles head coach
Photo by NFF Media

The NFF President said you chose your assistants by yourself. Do we take this as the whole truth, or it’s like a middle-of-the-table agreement?

For my assistants, I think that I picked them. And as the NFF has said, they would do separate negotiations with the assistants. I pick, and they pay; that’s what has been agreed upon. That is what has been agreed to, and they are not changing. These are people that I have known for years, and they are working and would definitely add value to what we are doing.

And what is it that we want to do? We want to build well. And so I am not going to bother myself about what was said or what I said. The good thing that would happen is that we will get these people to come on board and see how they can add value to what we are doing. That is it.

There has been some speculation that it’s a one-year contract for a start. Is that okay with you, or you would have preferred more years?

The thing about a one-year contract or a five-year contract is that, in the first place, there is this rumor or whatever it is called that has crept into social media, and I will not be a part of that. I cannot be debunking anything that is on social media. So, if it is there, let it be there. If it is a one-year contract that is circulating, let it continue to be that way. I will not be here to say it is true or not true; let it be there.

Those who got that information and put it out there without verifying should be the ones to do the verification and say, “No, we are wrong” if they want to. But as a coach, I will not join the social media thing to say, “Oh, this one is not true, but the other one is true.” No, I will not do that unless I have been personally accused, and I know it is not true. In that circumstance, I may react and take other actions as well. But for a story, let it just be there for the public to read and see for themselves.

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Photo by NFF Media

Enyimba…Did you opt out as the coach, or did the NFF want you with the Super Eagles full-time?

I don’t think it is wise to continue with Enyimba, knowing the level of work needed for them to retain the league title, and at the same time, carry on with the strenuous job of running a quality Super Eagles team. I don’t think it will be wise for me handling Enyimba and the Super Eagles at the same time. I am not a superman.

As you rightly said, this is a difficult job, and running Enyimba is also very difficult. I am only human. I can’t be stressing myself trying to win the league again and then battling with the Eagles to qualify for the World Cup; I can’t do both. So it’s wise that I follow the Super Eagles, which is a bigger challenge with a bigger commitment, which makes it a bigger job.

We are talking about the entire country, Nigeria’s team, with over 200 million watching. I didn’t need the NFF to prompt me because I know the kind of load on the ground, and that’s why I spoke with the Chairman of Enyimba Football Club about the situation, which he understood very well. So that is not a problem at all.

You have played and coached in the Nigerian league. Does this mean anything to you in terms of possibly giving more players in the NPFL opportunities with the Super Eagles?

Like I said in an interview on that day of my unveiling, I will definitely go around and watch games, and see who and who that can come in to add value; that can come in to play.

If we can see those that are willing, that have commitment and are ready to play and I know that they can help us, they will definitely be invited. No sentiment in this; there’s no sentiment.

So if I go around and see players, players that are good enough to perform, they will definitely come to the camp.

Who is Nigeria coach: Finidi George
Photo by NFF Media

What can you say is new or special that you are introducing to the Super Eagles?

You know, these players of ours are playing top-flight football in Europe. When they come back to Nigeria to play, we don’t have to change anything that they are not used to. If you want to talk about the tactical part of it, these players have played under different coaches at different times. And so, formation in football doesn’t really change from what we know. How many formations do we have?

Every formation has to do with the players and what they can bring in every given game. Our job is to motivate the players, make sure they are physically okay, and then the tactics don’t really matter because in football, no matter the tactics you come up with, you have to attack and defend. If you can do that properly, you have a big chance of winning games.

If you attack properly and have that balance to defend properly, you have every chance to win games. It doesn’t matter what formation you put up for players. At the end of the day, you can't attack and not defend. So once you have that balance of attacking and defending, then you are good to go.

So our job is to motivate these players, make them realize what is at stake, what they are playing for, and ensure they are very committed to it. In the end, we will all be smiling. So we are not changing anything they are not used to or inventing a new formation for them. It is the same formation that, in one way or another, they are used to in Europe that we would let them play.

Is it 4-4-2? The players are used to it. 4-3-3? They are used to it in Europe. We will not do anything that is strange or new to them, but rather what they are used to. Let them understand what you are trying to do and ask for commitment from the players, and nothing else. The rest would be the players performing well on the field of play, and we will have the result.

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Pius Ayinor

Pius Ayinor started his football writing with Complete Sports/Complete Football. He has served as the Sports Editor of The Comet newspaper; Deputy Sports Editor of Thisday/Editor Global Soccer and Sports Editor of The Punch.
The World Cup and Olympics are familiar terrains having covered the Korea/Japan World Cup; Brazil 2014 and Russia 2018 as well as the Athens 2004 Olympics, London 2012 and the Rio 2016 Games.