*Governor Wike has challenged us to go conquer
Rivers United had a great run in 2016, picking a continental ticket and also ending the year on a high beating League champions, Rangers in the Super 4 organised for Teams that will represent the country in the CAF Champions League and CAF confederation Cup. The team also played series of games in Spain as part of their preparation for the season, the team’s Technical Adviser, Stanley Eguma, also had some upgrading of his technical skills in Spain and Serbia. He spoke with Olayinka Elebute about how ready is his team for the League and the African challenge.
How does it feel to have qualified for the continental again? The last time was with Dolphins and now you have done it with Rivers United
We thank God for the feat. It was a good one. The league last season was very competitive, for me it was the toughest. We thank God we were able to get something in the end. I want to commend my players, the management and sponsors of the team for putting the team in a pedestal of success. It was a collective achievement borne out of a collective effort which helped to achieve the feat. Hoping that we get better.
Will you rate Rangers as worthy champion last season?
Well, I give them kudos for their efforts coming out top. I won’t want to remove anything from them. I think they did well, it showed they were really serious from the start of the last season up till the last game they did very well. I give it to them because I know what we passed through and I know how difficult it was. It wasn’t easy for a team to break all odds and it was very competitive.
I’ll say we also did well, it could have gone the other way either Rivers United or even Wikki Tourists. We all alternated the first position all through the season.
Nigerian teams have faltered in recent years on the continent. With this new drive and support, can Rivers United play in the champions league final?
Well, it’s still a work in progress. We’ve just started preparation, we know that it is a difficult terrain, we know the obstacles we’re going to meet and huddles to cross. It’s not a day’s job. We will keep working and the management is ready, the sponsors of the team, the state government have charged the team to get to the top and promise to support us.
His excellency, the state Governor, Nyesom Wike, already rewarded us for last season and has charged us to go and conquer Africa, still giving us necessary backing needed. We can’t do it alone, its a collective responsibility. It’s possible that a Nigerian team can win it again. Enyimba did it in the past. We’ve worthy representatives this time Enugu Rangers and Rivers United. It’s a trophy that one could expect to come back to Nigeria this term.
Your team went to Spain on training tour, wouldn’t you rather play African teams to test your strength?
Since our Governor has promised to take the team to Spain and we really enjoyed the series of games we played in Spain. The Spanish trip was part of our preparations. We will still play African teams. We already played Nigerian teams in friendlies, with some lower teams and higher teams. We also want to play some test matches. Going to Spain was also part of our preparation, it has exposed the players to better facilities, gives the players needed experience and make them know they can also play outside Nigeria.
What is your target for the league next season?
It’s still work in progress. We’ve not really fine tuned the team, we are trying to annex the players together, to get a strong entity that we can call a perfect team. It’s not something that can be done over night, we still need to keep working, especially now that we have added a bit of experience into the team. We expect the experienced players to lift the team with the youthful players we paraded last season, by the time they get the blending, we would have almost a perfect team.
Last season’s revelation for your team was Bernard Ovoke. You also added Best Yemuan a young boy from Port-Harcourt that you picked into the team. Who will be the next revelation for Rivers United?
Smiles….We’re used to creating revelations. If you remember in the past when I had Efosa Eguakan in 2001 when I won the FA cup with Dolphins. Ever since we’ve been creating lots of revelations. This time we have a Bernard Ovoke and Best Yemuan. We are not done yet, we will still get more of them. We’re looking inwards to grassroots, we’re not only looking at winning trophies, we also want to bring up future stars. And with LMC encouraging teams to give young players a chance Rivers United will stun the League with great rookies this season.
Port-Harcourt fans don’t come out to watch your team. How would you reach out to them now that you’ll be playing continental games?
I think in Nigeria generally people tend to watch the European games more than our domestic league. But I think LMC have done a lot in bringing our league to the grassroots. The last season witnessed improvement in that. Also, for the fact that Rivers United will be playing in the continent, people will come out to watch. The sponsor’s are also running a campaign and sensitisation that will bring fans to the stadium. I am quite sure that if the team keeps doing well, its also going to bring a lot of interest. I think this time around we’re going to have a change for better. I hope our stadium is going to be filled if the team play’s this season.
The last time a team from Rivers State, Dolphins, were involved in the continent they had travelling problems. Hope it will be different this time around with a sport loving Governor?
These things happen once a while. It was a very bad experience that we had in the past concerning sponsorship. Motivation was lacking about two seasons ago, but this time around we have a different government and a new sponsorship, there’s been a huge change. A remarkable change, Infact since the merging of Dolphins and Sharks, the sponsorship has been one of the best in the country now. We’ve a lot of facilities. The welfare has been paramount and a lot of players want to join us. You can see the team embarking on European playing tour. That’s why we are grateful to the Governor as head of the government and sponsor. We also want to reciprocate by doing well and winning laurels. Because this is what we’ve been yearning for and now that we are getting it, we’ve got to make the best use of it.