Miffed by Nigeria’s shaky position in the 2012 AFCON qualifiers, former Super Eagle and Chelsea Sporting Director, Michael Emenalo urges the coach Samson Siasia-tutored side to rise to the occasion and offers useful tips on how to avoid pitfalls in Antananarivo in this exclusive interview with DAVID MESHIOYE
The mood must have brightened now at the Bridge, after the announcement of Mikel’s father’s release filtered in. How cheering was the news?
It was a great feeling for us when the news came in that Mikel’s dad had been found, it was a sigh of relief for everyone at the club because we relate with each other as members of one happy family in Chelsea. At Chelsea Football Club anybody’s problem is shared by everyone, I strongly believe that is what kept Mikel from being depressed. Thank God all of that is in the past now, everybody can now get down to serious business. I must commend Mikel for his love and loyalty towards the club during his trying period, he showed that he is a real professional and his teammates must have learnt a lot from his experience.
Words are rife in some quarters that Mikel could be relocating his family to the UK. If true, is Chelsea willing to help him actualize this?
Well, I think it’s up to him (Mikel) to decide that. We just hope something like this doesn’t repeat itself again because it is capable of pulling any player down. That is why Mikel should be commended for his calmness during that difficult point in time
Once again accept my congratulations on your appointment as Chelsea’s Sporting Director. It is a great challenge for you, isn’t it ?
Thank you very much. It feels great getting such a lucrative job at a time the club is restructuring its football programme. I feel great and highly favoured to have become Chelsea sporting director. It is a lofty position though but highly challenging. However, I am equal to the task and with the prayers and support of the club’s president Roman Abrahmovic, I will surely deliver.
Your appointment from assistant coach to sporting director must have come as a surprise . What was going through your mind days before the announcement was made?
To be honest with you, I was not expecting it at that time. The position of a sporting director is not meant for kids on the job, rather it is reserved for people with potential in the area of sports. Well, I was the least person to ever fathom getting such an exalted position in a foreign land. Getting a coaching job in a foreign land is not as easy as you think. Becoming an assistant coach in Chelsea was a miracle in the first place, that was why I suffered neglect from the former manager because he didn’t believe I can deliver as a black coach. It was a tough moment for me but at the end of the day God vindicated me and kept me at Stamford Bridge. I really thank God that Roman did not consider color or race before appointing me Chelsea sporting director. Only God can get you such a job.
Were there initial doubts in your mind before your appointment was made official?
Not at all. I have strong faith in God even when some of my close friends were apprehensive over my future after Carlo Ancelotti left Chelsea. Even though every other available post was occupied but I had strong belief in my capability though Carlo never gave me any chance as an assistant coach. I had no doubt in my mind that Roman wouldn’t throw me out, come what may. There was no plan B had Roman not appointed me into that post, it was obvious I will land the job. I just believe he saw the potential in me and appointed me into that lofty position regardless of my race. That is one good thing about Roman Abrahimovic; he respects your personality and will treat you according to your abilities. He delegates responsibilities to you believing that you can bring about change in whatever office he positions you. It is now left for you to win his confidence and earn his respect or lose his confidence. As for me, I am determined to give my best to Chelsea in any capacity. It’s a lifetime privilege.
How challenging is this new portfolio? What are the things expected of you as the sporting director of one of Europe’s best club sides?
As you may be aware, the role of a sporting director comes with structures aimed at developing all facets of the club. I know I have a lot to do because to whom much is given, much is expected. There is a campaign tagged GUTTERS 2 GLITTERS in which talents across the continents are rescued from the gutters and are made to glitter. I have been telling Nigerians to support this cause and the responses have been great. Talents abound in Africa and other continents, picking out these talents is my immediate job now at Chelsea. I have been mandated to discover these talents and turn them into world beaters. We aim at rescuing these talents and helping them realize their dreams of becoming professional footballers.
The arrival of Andreas Villas Boas raises doubts over Mikel’s future at the Bridge after he was linked to Juventus since the transfer window opened. Do you think he has a future under AVB?
Mikel had become an integral part of Chelsea first team right before the new manager came in, he has been a great asset to the club and most importantly; he has successfully stepped in to replace Michael Essien who was ruled out due to injury. Villas Boas is a great fan of Mikel and has continued to tell everyone who cares to listen that Mikel is not going anywhere. He has said it over and over that Mikel is part of his future plans and would do everything to retain the Nigerian as long as he is in-charge of Chelsea.
Nigeria play Madagascar in a must win encounter. What are your thoughts about Nigeria’s chances?
Football is no longer what it used to be, teams have moved up in the game and no country is a pushover anymore. Nigeria must be armed to the teeth to pick the three maximum points against their host. That game is very important to Nigeria’s qualification for 2012 Nations Cup and should therefore be taken seriously by the players. The team needs our support and I just wish them all the best. Super Eagles must show character and deliver the Nations Cup ticket. Madagascar should not pose a threat to Nigeria’s Nations Cup hopes.