Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tenger: No Club Has Foisted Players On Me

Niger Tornadoes’ head coach, Justin Tenger, may not be a popular name to soccer followers in Nigeria, but he is known in the Premier League for being an astute coach, who combines discipline and hard work to achieve results. The coach, who has handled five Premier League clubs in the country speaks on the immediate past season, the sudden climb of Tornadoes from a relegation-threatened side to one of the contenders for a continental club competition place. The Benue State-born handler also spoke on the hazards of coaching at Nigerian clubs. Tenger in this interview with naijaligue.blogspot.com briefly dissected the 2008/2009 season Excerpts:

Your club missed out on the continent last season, are you disappointed about that?
I am not disappointed at all because I took charge of the club when they were in the 19th position on the league table and at that point, I think it was about 10 weeks or 11 into the season. So, it was a difficult time to take over a club when they are not doing well at all. To say I am disappointed that we did not win a ticket to one of the continental club competitions, then those clubs that escaped relegation would celebrate as if they won the league. Remember we finished fifth ahead of some of the clubs that were even leading the league table as at same Week 10 that we were in the 19th position. So I am happy with what we did last season and I only believe that we can improve on that performance next season.

You’re talking about next season, does this mean you will still be with Niger Tornadoes in spite of the fact that most coaches move on to another club after one season?
At the moment I am still with Niger Tornadoes and I don’t think it will be out of place to stick with them. I enjoyed doing my work with the support of the management, players and other officials of the club as well as the supporters. So I do not mind staying back to work with them again next season. In my career as a coach, which is more than 20 years, I don’t jump about except the management of such team interfere by trying to force players on me.

How were you able to turn things around at the club that made the same players to start winning?
Football has gone beyond just coaching players on the field of play. You can have the best players and yet if they are not confident enough to face hostile crowds even playing against the worst teams they would fail. When I came to Niger Tornadoes, the players had little or self-belief in themselves and that was the first thing I had to work on before I started concentrating on the technical aspect of the game. Again, I also told them that they will have to obey camp rules by remaining focused and discipline so that we can do well during the season. At the same time, God had a hand in our sudden improvement.

You were under pressure at all when you took the job at Niger Tornadoes, considering its position on the Premier League table then?
As a man and a coach, life is full of risks. So when I took the job with Niger Tornadoes I wasn’t under pressure because I met them in a precarious position already. So putting myself under pressure would only destroy everything at that time. When I took the job, I decided not to make any commitment but I was confident that we can save the club from relegation with the cooperation of the people of Niger State especially the state governor, the supporters, the players and the management of the club. Thank God we were able to do this together. I have worked under this kind of situation before and that is why I did not feel any pressure.

On the last day of the season, your team had a hand in determining which club won the title between Bayelsa United and Heartland Football Club.
If many people had thought that we would play an arranged match with anybody then they got it wrong. Football remains football to me and there are supporters, who paid their way into the stadium to watch and they would not be happy to watch their club lose. I was happy that we gave our best in that game (against Heartland FC). I respect them because they are a very good side and that is why they finished in the top three again for another season. I believe that they can do better next season if they retain the same players.

Is Niger Tornadoes going to retain its players or recruit in the 2009/2010 season?
Like I said at the outset that I do not like anyone forcing players on me because if you I will leave. So I am going to retain the players I met here because they have shown that they are ready to work with me and also to improve their game. May be we can bring in one or two players to beef up our squad in areas that we feel are our weak points. But overall I don’t want to disrupt the flow of the team, because the players are now close to everyone.

In your own opinion, how do you rate the entire season of 2008/2009?
Well, overall it was a good season. It is an improvement from the past seasons because when you look at it, the number of away matches won and drawn has increased a lot. May be that is as a result of the television coverage and insistence on improved officiating by the Premier League board. But we are not there yet because there are still so much work to be done as it concerns welfare of players and officials as well as the facilities. May be if the issue of welfare packages for the players and officials are tackled headlong, may be we will not have a situation where our players would run to some small countries to do trials when in actual fact they are our best players in the local league.
Apart from that, the season ended on a terrible note with that (9-0) score-line between Zamfara United and Kaduna United. No one can say for sure that the match was fixed but claims by other affected clubs that the match was fixed does not augur well for our league. This is where the Premier League board has a loot of work to do and I hope that we do not witness such in our league again.

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