By Onochie Anibeze
I want to start by congratulating the Nigeria Football Federation for Nigeriaâ€™s qualification for the 2010 World Cup, the first World Cup in Africa.
I also congratulate all those who made it possible for Nigeria to qualify. They know themselves.
They know how it happened. My take is that we should take pains to avoid the situation that we found ourselves before the last matches that saw us going the extra mile to ensure our qualification. As a follower of the game, the last thing I would do is to condemn a team that has been overwhelmed by their superiors. If you are beaten by a better team you take it in the spirit of sportsmanship.
Iâ€™m only pained when my team loses a match it deserves to win. Thatâ€™s why Iâ€™ll never forget that USA â€™94 World Cup second round match with Italy when crisis took greater part of us and we blew the chance to make history in the World Cup.
When Kenya led 1-0 and our play was lackluster, I didnâ€™t feel anything. I said, â€œwell, if we donâ€™t deserve to be at the World Cup finals and the team is confirming it why should I crack my head?â€ Then the equalizer came. My heart started beating higher with hope.
Moments later, another excitement came. Yakubu Aiyegbeni looked more than five meters behind the last line of the Kenyan defence. I thanked God the referee didnâ€™t see it. He scored. Many things worked for us. What with the action that fouled a goal-bound Kenyan. Many referees would award a penalty against us.
God kept the referees eyes away from it. We escaped that. And after they leveled the game at 2-2 Obafemi Martins, the guy that equalized Kenyaâ€™s earlier lead, scored a brilliant goal and we were coasting to the World Cup especially when Tunisia faced a tireless Mozambique who are almost invincible on their ground. I heard that Tunisia did a lot to get Kenyans beat us and for them to have a ride on Mozambique.
But they met masters of the game and today they now know better. Congratulations, Nigeria Football Federation. Congratulations, the Presidential Task Force and most importantly, congratulations to the team. Congratulations to those who had sleepless nights and made sure Tunisia did not beat us in the politics of the game. They take huge credit.
But nothing should be taking away from the players. They fought for the hard earned victory. However, you donâ€™t always win when you fight hard. It is a story for another day.
While the team was still on flight back to Nigeria, many started calling for changes, especially on the technical crew. The talk now in town is for a â€œworld class coach.â€
The country once longed for a World Class coach after Phillip Troussier qualified Nigeria for Franceâ€™98 World Cup. The FA got one in Bora Milliutinovic whose status as a World Class coach was hyped by the number of World Cups (three) he had attended and not necessarily his achievements in terms of results.
After closely watching him work, I wrote a lot about how the man reduced our potential during the World Cup. Let me just say that signing him was a great mistake and we paid for it otherwise Nigeria would have done better in France. At the 2002 World Cup, Nigeria also sacked the coaches that qualified us for the Mundial.
Amodu Shuaibu, Stephen Keshi and Joseph Erico were sacked. What happened in Japan proved that decision a major mistake. Now, the same setting is playing out. I am never against positive changes. Iâ€™m not making a case for Amodu to continue. Iâ€™m only saying that the circumstances that led to our past failure in the World Cup finals are playing out again and we seem determined to plunge into them again. It is clear that the authorities have decided to hire a foreign coach or somebody who will boss Amodu.
That is the true position.Â Amodu himself must begin to appreciate this today. Even those dining and wining with him, telling him that he would remain the head coach, come around to say how badly Nigeria needs a better coach. Among them are those in the football federation and also in the Presidential Task Force. Many Nigerians share same view.
Their call for a foreign coach was informed by what they saw of the team throughout the qualification series. You may not fault them even as it’s on record Amodu never lost a match.
Eagles consistently played in a manner that gave the average Nigerian the impression that they could do better.Â Amodu kept pleading for time, arguing that it would take a minimum of five years to build a solid team. Nigerians know this. But they are hungry for immediate results. And anyone who is not ready to produce them may not last here.
And that is why Amodu may not last be different from those who were recently there before him.
He doesnâ€™t appear to have the capacity to transform a team in a short while. And that is why Nigeria may be opting for another coach before the World Cup. It may not be fair to him but that is the true situation.Â But will they do it the right way? Who is the world class coach that they hope to sign.
Nigeria is good in dropping names. And they are already talking about Guus Hiddink, the Dutch who won the FA Cup for Chelsea in a short while, took Korea to the semifinal of the Korea-Japan World Cup and was attempting to qualify with Russia after taking Australia to the last World Cup. They were hoping that Russia would not qualify so that they could go for him. And they were trailing 1-0 as I write.
Is that the right way to plan?Â Guus Hiddink is a great coach, no doubt. But why drop his name even before approaching him? Why even wish him bad luck with Russia? Will be nice if they get him through. We have two months to the Nations Cup in Angola. It is certainly too short a time to go for a foreign coach who may need time to know the players, their attitude, character on and off the field and his work environment.
I strongly feel that it will be unfair to entirely do away with Amodu, the second time. First, was after leading Nigeria to qualify for the Korea-Japan World Cup. He was stopped from going to the World Cup. And now, the same thing is about to happen, although the scenarios are different.
Bonfrere Jo had clearly shown that he lacked what it took to qualify Nigeria for the World Cup, losing to Sierra-Leone and Liberia in very unprofessional circumstances. He was sacked and Keshi and Amodu went to work.
Nigeria did not only win their next matches in Sudan and Porthacourt but also showed strong character in the field. They displayed qualities that were lacking in Bonfrereâ€™s team and everybody hailed them. In the current case, everybody is complaining about Eaglesâ€™ game even in victory. It is the fear of an impending doom at the World Cup that has propelled the campaign for a foreign coach. You canâ€™t blame Nigerians for such fears. They want the best.
However, I will feel for Amodu if he doesnâ€™t lead the team to South Africa. But that is sentiment, especially going by what happened to him before. He deserves to be in South Africa. Let him go with Nigeria. He has served this country to the best of his ability.
He has been national coach three times and cannot continue to end on sad notes.
He means well for Nigeria.Â Amodu can be promoted to the post of team manager of the Eagles andÂ Stephen Keshi quickly appointed to lead the technical crew to the World Cup. It took me a long time, weighing many options, before arriving at this decision.
We need somebody who knows our players, somebody who can step on our soil today and start work. We need somebody with experience. Keshi has the experience. He is immensely qualified.
Only last Sunday, he led Mali to a 2-2 draw in Kumasi, Ghana. He was there with his team B and led Ghana on two occasions before the home team equalized. He probably would have gone to the World Cup ahead of Ghana but for the injuries that hit his team when they played in Mali. Ghana beat Mali but Malians marveled at the way their team played without eight of their top players.
The same Keshi qualified Togo for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. He is a great ambassador of the game.
When he worked with Amodu those close to the team could attest to his inputs. And they worked well. I am sure Amodu will be happy to be the team manager of the Eagles with Keshi as head coach. He will offer ideas where necessary. Let Keshi be assisted by Samson Siasia, Daniel Amokachi and Sylvanus Okpala.
This way, we will introduce fresh ideas, different character, discipline and at the same time maintain reasonable continuity. Okpala is one coach Nigeria is missing. Some day, they will realize this. I hope it wonâ€™t be too late.Â This is my humble position on the World Cup that is months away. Letâ€™s not make the mistake of the past.
The likes of Guus Hiddink may be great but the time to make the necessary adjustments is simply not there.
Mark my words and note this day. The kind of transformation we need in Eagles is not what one can achieve in few months. But some impact can be made. Keshi can do it.
Reactions are welcome.