Nigerians are unanimous in their belief that the USA 1994 squad remains the country’s best-assembled team till date.
One player many also agree was controversially omitted from that squad was Nduka Ugbade.
Several years down the line, the former Golden Eaglets coach says he has forgiven the Dutch manager that denied him the chance at playing at the biggest stage.
He, however, admitted he took him a while before forgiving Westerhof.
Ugbade also tells PREMIUM TIMES how his famous goal at Saudi 1989 against the then Soviet Union almost ended his career before the late Rashidi Yekini gave him a lifeline.
PT: Looking back on how you and your teammates were discovered by coach Sebastian Broderick in 1985, would you say a lot has changed with Nigeria scouting system at the grassroots?
Ugbade: Yes, there are a lot of differences. We had Principal Cup from school to school and I was playing for St. Finbars College then. We also had other school sports and YSFON, which was organised by Tony Eke and we normally travelled to play outside the country. The YSFON Cup was being played all over Nigeria and the best ones were picked from U-10, U-17 and U-18 for those that will be representing the country in the U-20 then. You will be discovered then that we were highly experienced because we started travelling abroad at the age of 10 either for the Umbro Cup, Gothia Cup and several other competitions.
PT: Would you say these changes had a negative impact on your smooth and bumpy sojourn as youth coach?
Ugbade: The issue is that you have to change with times too. You must understand certain specifics in life in that you must be in place to be able to change things. I’m not an administrator but a professional in the field of football. The issue here is that I can only make changes on the pitch while our administrators are saddled with the responsibility of making positive changes based on policies they chose to adopt just like what the honourable minister is doing now. He is trying to bring back other competitions like the Principal Cup, Sports Festivals and other competitions that can benefit the youths.
PT: Down memory lane, where are some of your teammates that ruled the world in 1985?
Ugbade: There is certain psychology that comes with success in every field of life and football is not left out too. People want to know how far you can go. And when things fail to move in your direction, you have no other option than to try something else. This is exactly what happened to some of our guys back then. Some got scholarships abroad while others went there to work. Bella Momoh joined the US Marine. Some are in Greece, London, Australia while others are in Canada.
PT: Your late equaliser against Russia in the ‘Dammam Miracle’ of 1989 FIFA U-20 World Cup didn’t come without a price; how did that injury affect your football career?
Ugbade: It affected me negatively because I stayed away for almost two and a half years to nurse it until late Rashidi Yekini came to my rescue and helped me out because the authorities didn’t help. I signed a contract in Spain and had to use my money for that year to further treat myself. It’s just the irony of what is happening in Nigeria.
PT: You once went for trials at Maccabi Haifa where you opted to sign as a striker and not a defender. What actually happened and why the change of position?
Ugbade: No it wasn’t Maccabi Haifa, it was Bnei Yehuda FC. I actually trained up as a striker but unfortunately, there was no position for a striker when I got to Yehuda. I can play up to four or five positions and do effectively well in those roles. Like it used to happen in Nigeria while we were growing, a lot of development was brought into our game.
PT: Where did it all go wrong between you and Westerhof? Many felt you were treated unfairly after being dropped from the USA 94 World Cup squad by the ‘Dutchgerian’.
Ugbade: Those things are in the past now and it can never come back. I have put that behind me. God has offered me lots of other opportunities in life; I was the captain of the World Cup-winning U-17 side in 1985, I worked with Amuneke and Manu to win the U-17 World Cup twice. We also qualified for the U-20 World Cup while working alongside Manu. I was also in Brazil for the last U-17. That past is never going to come back but my pains must be turned to joy at a time. I don’t know why God gave me this knowledge of football; there is nothing about football you want to tell me that I don’t know about. From fitness to psychology and I’m still improving.
PT: You mean you had no grudges against Westerhof for the way you were dropped from USA 94 bound Super Eagles?
Ugbade: ( Cuts in) I used to have, I cannot tell you lies because it took me many years to be able to forgive and forget. I learnt how to move on beyond my pains.
PT: Looking at your coaching pedigree, when do you intend to take your coaching challenge outside the shores of Nigeria?
Ugbade: When the offer comes but, I will be ready to work for any club in Nigeria that is ready to pay me.
PT: Which player did you really model your football alongside? Which player whether local or International actually inspired your style of football?
Ugbade: I watched lots of Brazilian football and we all love Pele a lot. But in Nigeria, I really like Christian Chukwu because he was the reigning defender then and we all wanted to model our football around him but later on, I dropped out from central position and played either as a right or left full-back. Something I was pushed forward because of my pace and power to strike.
PT: How did you come up with your nickname Sao Paulo?
Ugbade: Yeah Sao Paulo is the name of a city in Brazil. When I was very young, we watched Brazilian soccer a lot and I love Sao Paulo a lot. The name just seems good to me. It becomes a problem if you don’t allow me to watch Sao Paulo’s game. I make sure I do my chores so that I can watch them play. People started calling me Sao Paulo when I started growing up.
PT: What do you think you and Manu should have done right to help the last set of the U-17 national team that failed to shine at the World Cup?
Ugbade: Football is improving every day and preparations are not always just about playing but other factors that come into play like the exposure and allowances. It started in the Niger Republic where we struggled to win the competition. Then it happened again in Tanzania where we struggled to make the fourth qualifier. The situation worsened at the World Cup and the team dropped out due to lack of allowances and incentives. That is one thing I have learned because it is important you give the right incentives to youth if you really want to get the best from them.
PT: What is your take on opinions in some quarters that the Golden Eaglets coach, Fatai Amoo belongs to the old school managers?
Ugbade: There is no old school coach but what you have is an experienced coach and the older coaches are always better on the job. He is not someone who doesn’t know what to do because he has been on the job for long. Remember he is known as Arsenal and it is his turn to handle the junior national team. My only advice to him is to, first of all, pay serious attention to the youth and make sure they pay attention to what they’re told to do. The youth need balancing because you tell them something and they do different things. I wish him the best of luck even though he has a little time to put the team together, which makes the task even more difficult.
PT: Readers will like to know the name of your first car?
Ugbade: Shagari style was my first car in Spain. That was Mercedes Benz and that is what I still ride today in Nigeria. I’m not too crazy about cars.
PT: Do you see yourself handling the Super Eagles in the nearest future?
Ugbade: If the NFF called me to handle the Super Eagles I’ll gladly accept the challenge. This was why I came home to develop lots of youths on the advance knowledge of football and a whole lot of them are playing abroad now. I can read the numbers of players in the national team now that I Ugbade has handled alongside Manu Garba and Amuneke. Someday it will surely come, and when it does, we will do very very well, the team will be much more advanced and the performance will bring forth a lot of positive talks around the world.
PT: What is your advice to Super Eagles gaffer Gernot Rohr?
Ugbade: At the moment, he has a different mindset while I also have my philosophy which is not the same. I don’t think I need to advise him because he’s been on the job for a long time. He is older than I do and he is much more tactical. I’m not going to blame him because he is giving opportunities to younger players.
PT: Thank you, sir, for your time.
Ugbade: God bless you.