Former Super Falcons star and assistant coach of Heartland Queens, Stella Mbachu, in this interview with ANTHONY NLEBEM, talks about her first call-up to the national team, the disparity in male and female wages and more
How has life been since you retired from football?
When I see people play football, I feel like I want to play football again, but not to return to the national team. I have left that for the younger ones coming up. But the urge to play football again is still in me.
What efforts have you made, since you retired, to ensure that Nigeria produces more stars like you?
Presently, I am the assistant coach of Heartland Queens Football of Owerri, where we train up-and-coming stars for the national teams.
Can you remember your debut for the Super Falcons?
That was many years back. I can’t remember the match now, but it was in 1997 when we were preparing for the African Women’s Championship in Kaduna.
What was the feeling like when you got your first call-up to Falcons?
It was great, I was so happy the day I made the team; they called the list and my name was included. They asked us which jersey number we preferred and I told them I wanted to wear jersey No. 7. I was very happy the day I went to pick my jersey, I couldn’t believe it. I entered my room and placed the jersey on top of the chair, and I started jumping up and down on the jersey.
What is your opinion about Super Falcons’ preparation for the Women’s World Cup?
I will advise Falcons head coach, Randy Waldrum, not to rely on overseas-based players alone to fill the team. He should mix the team with local players so that they can do well at the World Cup. Inviting only the players abroad and leaving the ones here will not be the best. I remember the 1998 African Women’s Championship, it was a blend of both players abroad and players from the local league. Nigeria hosted the tournament and won it after beating Ghana 2–0 in the final.
Looking at Falcons poor outing at the 2022 Women’s AFCON, do you think the team needs a foreigner as coach?
Whether foreign or local coaches, the person must be competent for the job. I don’t have any preferred choice on who coaches the Falcons.
The Nigeria Football Federation can hire any coach based on merit, one who they feel is good enough for the national team. But I will urge the coach to do the right thing. He should choose the best players that will represent the country well at international tournaments. Selection for the national team should be based on merit and if the coach does that, I am sure the team will do well.
What’s your view about 39-year-old Onome Ebi’s inclusion in the Falcons squad for the ongoing Revelation Cup tournament in Mexico?
That decision is left for the coaches. If they feel that Onome is too old to play for the Falcons, then they should drop her and bring in another player to replace her. Not playing regularly for your club does not mean that she is not good enough. It’s when the team trains and the coach observes her level of fitness that he can decide if she is still good enough for the team. Let us use the Mexico tournament to access her before we know if she is still fit to play for the Falcons.
What’s your opinion on racism in football?
FIFA should sanction or ban any team that is involved in racist activities. See the racist abuse the young Brazil international Vinicius Junior is suffering in Spain. The fans involved in these racist acts will not be punished and they will keep encouraging the evil act to continue. I urge any player that has suffered any racial abuse to ignore the fans and focus on their football because FIFA and UEFA are not serious about ending racism in football and it will not end soon because the whites believe they are ahead of the blacks.
Did you suffer any racist abuse when you played abroad?
I won’t say I did not suffer racial abuse because I played in China and didn’t understand their language. So, if the fans said anything against me I wouldn’t know, it was only my interpreter that told me what they said. But they (fans) appreciated me and after matches, some of them would book to take me out for dinner.
Falcons play co-hosts Australia, Olympic champions Canada and the Republic of Ireland at the Women’s World Cup. What are their chances of qualifying from the group?
On Canada, I don’t have any fears. Falcons have never lost to Canada at the World Cup and I am confident that they will not beat us at the upcoming World Cup. If the coach knows what he is doing, I expect Nigeria to qualify from that group and progress to the next round.
32 nations will compete at the Women’s World Cup for the first time in Australia and New Zealand, what does this mean for women’s football?
This shows that women’s football is growing globally and will continue to grow. Having more teams play at the World Cup is to allow other nations to play at the biggest football tournament. FIFA is expanding teams to make women’s football more popular and interesting.
What’s your assessment of the Nigerian women’s league when you played and now?
The women’s league is fine, but the organisers still need to make it better than it used to be during my playing days. During our days, the difference is that we played with passion and we wanted to play football. But these days, a player in the league is aiming to travel abroad after scoring five goals; things aren’t done that way. Many of these players are after the money and are not ready to improve. Once a player can control the ball and pass, the next thing is you see them aiming to go to another club in Europe to play. But in my time, we were always together playing for different clubs in the local league. The league was hot and the players had a passion to play football.
What was your most challenging moment?
I remember when we were preparing for the World Cup, it was very challenging because I needed to train very well and I wanted to play well and make Nigeria, my family and myself proud. But at the end of the day, we would go for the event and would not get it right. These were some of the challenging moments I had while playing.
What is your opinion about old legs in Super Falcons?
That is why I have always advised the coach to mix the team with young and mature players. Falcons head coach needs to focus more on the Nigeria Women’s Football League, pick good players and join them with the ones that play in Europe to build a formidable squad for the country. The coach needs to come home and watch our league matches so he can spot good players.
Can you recall your best goal ever?
My best goal was at the 1998 African Women’s Championship final, Nigeria against Ghana. We won the game 2-0 and I scored one goal, a beautiful goal. I will never forget that goal. Another goal that I will always live to remember was in 2003 when we went for a friendly match in China against the Chinese women’s team, I scored a goal that made me sign my contract in China. That goal was instrumental to my move to the Chinese league.
How do you see the disparity in male and female footballers’ wages?
We are not earning as much as the men because they feel that we are women. Personally, I believe that Africans don’t take women’s football seriously. The whites value their women footballers better than we do. Over there, they place their women first ahead of their men, but in Africa, it’s men first before women, and that is the reason why male footballers earn more wages than female ones.