The success story of Nigeria’s Sports cannot be complete if the name of Mr. Christian Chukwuemeka Chukwu is not included. Chukwu, a native of Obe in Nkanu West LGA of Enugu State, bestrode Nigeria’s soccer like a colossus in his playing days which saw him play for Rangers International of Enugu and the national team, the then Green Eagles and later Super Eagles.
Chuwku, born in 2951, would return much later to coach both sides, after which he ventured abroad to coach in Lebanon and Kenya. He also coached Iwuanyanwu Nationale of Owerri
Who/what inspired you to play football?
Back then, every child played football at least for recreation. So, the inspiration came from within. Although there was no money in football then, it was mainly used for recreation. Then no parent allowed their wards to engage in football because they didn’t find it as a creative job. Rather, they saw people who engaged in sports as hooligans. The same perception went with music, master of ceremony (MC) and acting. In those days, our parents wanted us to be doctors and lawyers
I started playing serious football in my secondary school with the Academicals. My football skills made me to even play with Junior and senior teams. I played football, hiding from my parents, until I joined Rangers. That was when my parents decided not to withhold me anymore from playing football and started supporting me.
In those days whenever my mum gave me plantains to sell, I would put them in the field and start playing football. At times, I came back with the plantains unsold and sometimes, my plantains went missing. On returning, I was always flogged by my parents.
Sports is a talent given to me by God. With strength and smartness, it could be developed or it could be killed by your parents who will want to shape one’s life to their taste.
During my secondary school days, when we played street matches, Christian Chukwu was called ‘Skipper’ meaning ‘Captain’. Later on, I was called ‘Chairman’ by the late Ernest Okonkwo which has stuck to me till date.
You have been to so many countries as a player; can you share some of your experiences?
As a player, I played all through in Nigeria; but as a Coach, I went outside the country. There was no opportunity for us to travel outside when I played. I however played continental matches when I was in Rangers, during which time we won the Challenge Cup three times consecutively.
In 1977, we played in the African Cup of Champions and defeated IICC Shooting Stars, now called 3SC and won the cup. I travelled to almost all the African countries when I played for Rangers and also when I represented the National Team.
What were the fulfilling and challenging moments for Christian Chukwu?
As a player, I think my highest achievement was wining the Nations Cup in 1980 as the Captain. I rode on a white horse through the streets of Lagos. That was when we were given houses and cars by the Shagari Government
And my saddest moment was when we failed to qualify for the World Cup in 1977 against Tunisia. Otherwise we would have been the first set of people to qualify for the World Cup. But what I lost as a player, I gained as a coach.
As a coach, we (myself and Westerhof) qualified Nigeria for the World Cup in 1994. As a coach, we won the Nations Cup outside Nigeria in 1994, and many other achievements
I was later invited alongside top coaches in the mid-1990s by the Lebanese Football authorities and was selected to be their coach. I was able to take their club which was in a lower division to the first division before being called back to Nigeria to handle the National Team.
What were your challenging moments in Lebanon?
Initially, I had language problems, although I had an interpreter. Through this interpreter, I was able to pick some few words. Working outside the country was really very interesting because you will be given your full respect and entitlements without going to any tribunal. You will be treated like a professional because they do all what the contract stipulates.
Another challenge I had in Lebanon was their food. I couldn’t eat some of their food because I loved Nigerian local dishes. Pounded yam with Egusi soup is my favorite meal and to eat it, I had to start going into the kitchen to cook by myself.
How about your experiences in Kenya?
After Coaching in Lebanon, I went to Kenya in 1998 to Coach the Kenyan National Football Team. I loved Kenya, especially with their good weather. In fact, Kenya is a wonderful place to be.
I was able to develop the Kenyan Football Team and initiated the U-17, U- 20, junior and senior football teams. I took them to so many competitions, cup finals. Their regional competition is called Council for East and Central African Football Associations (CECAFA), just like West African Football Union (WAFU), comprising Kenya, Uganda and other East and Central African countries like Burundi, Rwanda Ethiopia, South Sudan, Tanzania and others.
I really enjoyed my stay in Kenya and even became a Kenyan. I loved one of their dishes called Nyama Choma usually eaten with Ugali and Kachumbari, which looks like our suya here. That however didn’t stop me from preparing Nigerian local dishes.
Sponsorship has been one of the greatest problems in Kenyan Football because the Government doesn’t sponsor competitions, unlike in Nigeria where the government even sponsors clubs. In Kenya, there is a brewery called Tusker Lager which is a flagship brand. The Tusker and some other big companies sponsor their competitions.
The most widely spoken language in Africa is Swahili which is also spoken widely by Kenyans. I also had language barrier when in Kenya. As at then, Kenya was one of the highest countries with people living with AIDS which could be contacted easily there. That was a challenge to me. As a coach who was doing very well, there were so many temptations and challenges.
How about your experience as coach U-17 in Nigeria?
Nigeria participated in the 1985 FIFA KODAK U-17 first edition of the tournament and won the cup after beating West Germany. Nigeria entered the competition for the first time with doubts as to whether we would even reach the quarter finals. This was because people saw the team as underdogs and nobody thought Nigeria would win the cup. When we came back as the winners, we were given stock exchange shares as motivation because the boys were young. They also gave them scholarships and other incentives.
I was with the then Head Coach, Sebastian Broderick Imasuen, a great player and coach. The competition was hosted by China.
I got married in 1981 and I’m blessed with children (2 boys and two girls) who are graduates. At the time I got married, there were lots of activities lined up for me, but I was still able to stay strong to combine family affairs and football. Notwithstanding, I have a wonderful wife who has always understood the nature of my job. I was always in constant communication with my wife and family members. I love my wife so much and I praise her a lot for her bravery in keeping the home whenever I’m away.
It is believed that every child kicks football, stones or plastic material during childhood. Personally, I played football with my sisters and friends in our compound while growing up. Even though football is part and parcel of my life, my children did not find that line interesting to them. They are graduates now working in various fields in different parts of the country.
I didn’t go to the popular National Institute of Sports (NIS). I had most of my coaching training in the Brazil Coaching Academy, 1984. After that, I went to Germany in the 1990s for another coaching training. Presently, I have a FIFA License and can coach in any part of the world. As coach of a team called ASESA Warriors, I was sponsored by Gibson Nwosu (Eze Uzu Awka 11) to Germany for a coaching course after I took the ASESA team from Division 3 to Division 1.
I love Nigeria so much and kept on returning whenever called to serve, irrespective of the fact that I enjoyed so many benefits being a coach outside the country. I take Nigeria’s colours; Green and White as my favorite colours.
We see many Nigerian players sacrificing a lot for the country even when not recognized and appreciated. What could be the reason?
Although, things have changed a lot now. When we were playing, we didn’t play Professional Football. We played Amateur Football. We had where we were working and after work, we trained in the evening. Each time we won a competition, we were given promotion in our offices, in our places of work in the Sports Council. It was a big incentive. When we got to levels 8, 9, we were made to be car owners. But now, we play professional game, even the rule of Professionalism is not being followed. Now, your job completely is football and you negotiate with clubs and at times you are being owed. This is why we are advocating government should not run football. They should leave football for the public and companies to handle. The job of the government is to provide facilities because the government has a lot of things to do. They have to provide roads, water, and electricity. Most times they use football politically. Man U, Chelsea and other clubs are not owned by government. When we reach that level, football then becomes purely business
So what’s your advice to Southeast Governments on Sports?
They should provide facilities. When these facilities are there, people come out to enjoy it. In Nigeria, there are sports clubs that are owned or sponsored by the government. These sports clubs have facilities like Lawn Tennis, Swimming Pool, Badminton, and Squash. Sponsors come to invest because they make use of their money, but if the government is running a club, sponsors cannot come because you cannot take a cup of water and put in the ocean. Also, when individual sponsorship comes into play, people start taking it political by affiliating the club to a political party. If the government can concentrate on providing sports facilities, let them leave the clubs and other sports to the public and companies to run.
What about your continental matches?
All over Africa, Rangers is known
Apart from you being the Chairman of Ex-Rangers, what other things do you do?
I am into Football Business. I am a consultant. I do assist players who have the talent.
How difficult is this job?
If you are into it, it is lucrative and successful just like any other business. It is tedious and it is also paying.
How would you advise a novice who wants to become a Coach 0n the benefits he will gain?
How much do you enjoy your sports life?
From my childhood till now, I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly. It didn’t give me too much money but it gave me name and that is the name that is carrying me on. There is a place people find it difficult to enter that I enter easily
How well do you tolerate the attitude of players?
It is a normal thing for players to exhibit various kinds of crazy character but because I was a player, I became used to that
Where do you see yourself in the next few years to come?
I am not chasing any other thing again. I am fulfilled and I have seen so many other things. It is time to give space to the younger ones to rule and explore. I think I have achieved all I can achieve and this is the time to enjoy myself.
What are the secrets of success?
The secret of success is concentration, hard work and sincerity. When you concentrate to do something, people will try to distract you.
As an experienced hand in Football, how do you think Nigerian Football can improve from where it is to stardom?
Well, I think Nigerian football will increase when we start looking at the grassroots because what we are doing now is only competition and not grassroots development. After the competition, no development. We need to go into grassroots sports development, just the way I started. There are no more schools sports, there are no more Academicals. These are grassroots where you discover talents because when we go into grassroots development, we will get the real talent and our football will grow to a greater height.
I feel being a coach requires a lot of eye movements, how well are your communication skills?
Football is what everybody sees generally. It is easy for a spectator to even identify a good player on the field and a bad one. In Football, we have formation and it is the players that determine the formation you play. In coaching, you have to know the kind of players and the wings they play. There are lot of things in coaching and a lot of things to discover in coaching.
When you were a player, what wing did you play?
I was a central defender. Although I was a utility player, but my number one position was as a central defender. It is from that position I look at all the players, maybe that was why I was nicked named ‘Chairman’.
As a coach and player, have there been any difficult decisions you have taken in life?
That is why we are humans, we make mistakes and if I make mistake, I correct myself in the next game. There are players who are good in training but in the match, they may not be fantastic. A player must confide in you as a coach. Sometimes he may have one or two problems which could be psychological. And if these problems are not being handled by the coach, the player loses concentration in the game and it is the duty of the coach to call him aside and get him together to perform well for you. If they don’t perform well, you lose your job as their coach. If a team is winning, they praise the coach, if a team is losing, they sack the coach. A coach must keep in constant communication with the players
You have worked in so many other countries, how well is the pay?
It depends on what you negotiate with them and your capabilities. All coaches are not equal nor are they the same. As a coach I can’t take 5 naira and at the same time I can ask for ten million a month. It also depends on the capability of the club.
At 66, you still look young, strong and handsome, and that is commendable. What’s the secret?
I train every day, even walking is an exercise. As the age comes, you have to watch what you eat and what you do.
What’s your word of advice for people into sports and doping?
At times I wonder when I hear about doping. I tell myself, if everyone will start doping, let’s see who will be the first or the winner in the field. Doping is not good for the health and doctors and scientist have proven that. These substances make the heart pump so fast more than required. As a Coach, you may not know if your players are into doping because they don’t do it when you are around. What players do is to smoke Indian hemp. Doping comes most times from people who are into individual sports like shot put, Javelin and many others.
Apart from football, do you also have other sports you love so much?
I play tennis, drought, and table tennis. I like boxing but I don’t box. I love listening to music and making friends
What course would you have studied in the University?
I love Civil Engineering
What’s your advice to upcoming players?
If they want to take sports as a profession, they must be serious, dedicated to what they are doing and they must put extra efforts and discipline. With these, they can achieve their aim.
From the interview, you did mention so many times you were always called by your country and you responded immediately. Why?
Well, I see it as my country first. If my country makes any request from me, I can’t say no because I place my country first in everything I do.
Thank you for this interview.