Former Super Eagles skipper and captain, Austin Jay Jay Okocha has spoken on what led to the tag ‘Mafia’ in the Super Eagles as well as the overbearing excesses of NFF officials.
He revealed how the dwindling fortunes of the Nigeria’s senior national football team, the Super Eagles started.
The former PSG legend traced the disbandment of the Super Eagles after the floppy performance of the team at the Mali 2002 African Cup of Nations as the beginning of the misfortunes for the national team.
Okocha, who is in Morocco at the ongoing CAF symposium on African football, said regrettably, that decision to disband the team caused the ‘death of the team’.
He said, “Everytime I remember that decision to disband the Eagles, my heart bleeds because it set back the hands of the clock in the growth of the team. It shattered the succession plan of the team and that has affected the growth of the team up to now”, Okocha, who is the toast of many Moroccans here, said.
“The Super Eagles third place finish at the 2002 African Cup of Nations forced Government to disband the team to assuage the anger of fans after the Semi- final loss to Senegal.
“A second string team of the Super Eagles managed to beat Mali by a lone goal to grab the bronze medal. Coaches Shaibu Amodu, Stephen Keshi and Joe Erico who handled the team, then, were also sacked. Okocha feels strongly that the decision to sack the team turned around to destroy the growth of the team.
‘’When you disband a team, you start from zero. It upsets all the progress you have made”, he insisted. Okocha who dazzled with his amazing skills was to be made captain of the team, taking over from Sunday Oliseh and their relationship waned.
“Those who disbanded the team pegged their relationship on curtailing the excesses of the so-called mafia in the team. They believed that some players were instrumental to fomenting trouble and holding officials to the jugular because of bonuses.
“That is not true. We were just like any other worker. We wanted our wages to be paid, our bonuses and ticket allowances refunded. We know our officials too well. If you listen to their sweet talk and don’t get your dues, that automatically disappears.
“What they call mafia was the love and understanding we had in the team. All the players were one and agreed in getting what was owed us from them. They didn’t like that and gave us a bad name. Mafia. It was like giving a dog a bad name.
“We also knew that they got more allowances than us and still wanted to deprive us our own. It was inhuman. We closed ranks to fight for our rights. Imagine flying on economy class without leg room.
“And they expect you to do magic on the pitch. Some players ended up getting injuries before the match or not giving their optimal best.”