By Onochie Anibeze
I will continue to count on experience and bring it to bear where and when necessary. We all lamented our failure to qualify for the last World Cup. I remember when we led in our group and appeared to be coasting to Germany 2006. The then Sports Minister Musa Mohammed was at loggerheads with the Nigeria Football Association.
Musa never saw eye to eye with Ibrahim Galadima. I warned that the impasse then could jeopardize our World Cup qualification. It came to pass. For the 2010 World Cup, the moment the government read the handwriting on the wall, they mobilized.
Everybody sat up. And in the history of Nigeriaâ€™s World Cup campaigns, no team has enjoyed the kind of support granted to the coach Amodu Shaibu team. The Presidency set up a task force and the football federation intensified their quest for qualification. N800m was raised, Nigeria went to work. World Cup ticket was secured.
As I write today, I see trouble ahead, the type that may make us the whipping team in South Africa if we do not address the problem at hand. Thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m writing. Today, the Nigeria Football Federation will hold an emergency meeting in Abuja to possibly explore ways to make our World Cup team stronger than what Nigerians saw at the Nations Cup.
Thereâ€™s no doubt that they are troubled. They ought to be, going by their observations at the Angola Nations Cup.
These informed the emergency meeting. Today, too, the Presidential Task Force is also meeting in Port Hacourt for the same thing – how to make the Eagles strong for the World Cup. What does that portend? Why are they not putting heads together.
The football federation is the body responsible for football administration in the country. I remain one of their critics for so many reasons Nigerians know. But at this moment World Cup is at stake and we should be all in it together. That is not the signal Iâ€™m getting.
The PTF, if they must continue to exist,Â must liaise with the NFF, agree on areas of interest and jointly come out with a solution. And the job at hand is well known. Agree on few possible coaches for Nigeria, go for them and eventually engage the one to work for us. The next is to agree on a World Cup programme and begin to work, finish. But to me, a 12 man Task Force is too bogus.
They could be a fertile ground for crisis. The sports minister would just been empowered with a four man task force. And winding them up after our qualification for the NFF to work closely with the minister would have been the ideal thing.
But now that they are still there I crave their indulgence for peace and forthrightness. Iâ€™m sure that they noted the problems in our team and have resolved to find solutions.
Let me put what I saw in Angola this way.Â I strongly oppose sentiments in selection of players. I remember the media campaign for the inclusion of Nduka Ugbade in the USA â€˜94 World Cup team. He was, in 1985, captain of U-16 team that won the maiden edition of the championship that was later upped to Under 17.
He was a member of Saudi Arabia Under 20 team that won silver in 1989 and would have been a complete fifa product if he played in the senior World Cup. He was going to be a media delight at the World Cup and the media in Nigeria fought for him.
Dutchman Clemens Westerhof felt sorry for our sentiment and said â€œI understand all the talk on Ugbade but at this moment, Michael Emenalo is fitter in that position, so I go with Emenalo and not sentiment.â€
Amodu could not rule out sentiment in selecting the Nations Cup team. The players who toiled to qualify Nigeria for the World Cup were being compensated. Even those with injuries or those just recuperating were included in the team.
It was unprofessional to do this. Current form should determineÂ the World Cup team, not sentiment. If a thorough job is done, there will be up to four or five changes from the team that played in Angola. And for Amodu to tell the federation board members that he was sticking to the team in Angola meant he was out of touch and just canâ€™t get it.
I feel for this man who should have been encouraged, supported and motivated to lead our team to the World Cup for us to create record. He will be the only black coach leading a team in the World Cup.
What a great history that will be. But is that not sentiment? Is this not betraying my argument? Iâ€™m for the best for Nigeria.
And this leads me to recall another experience. Bonfree Jo set a record in Nigeria. He was the first and the only coach so fat to invite 30 professionals for a match in Lagos when he became the Eaglesâ€™ coach. NFA gnashed their teeth over ticket refunds.
He did so because he never believed in local players, the same posture that Amodu is being rightly vilified. It was Bonfree who led the team that lost to Sierra Leone and Liberia and had to be sacked before we could qualify for the Korea-Japan 2002 World Cup.
He never believed in home players and would field an injured professional than give a local player a chance, a sharp contrast to Westerhof. In Sierra Leone, he went against doctorâ€™s advise and fielded an injured Okocha who did not last up to 15 minutes.
Bonfrere had no solution to our problem and did not conceal his helplessness. Amodu even invites local players to camp but discards them. Bonfrere would not even allow them get close to him. Yes, he won the Atlanta Olympics gold with our team.
He was a fantastic fitness trainer and showed it when Westerhof brought him to help in building the fitness level of his team. Nigerians took him for a manager and engaged him. With already made players, he won Olympic gold. When it was time for him to build another team he failed.
This happened before us here in Nigeria. It is no folk tale. The same Bonfrere was quoted as saying that he would perform wonders with Nigeria if given the chance to lead us to South Africa. He had a great chance to lead us to Korea-Japan and he blew it.
Now that we have qualified he wants to come and lead us well.Â Â I have no doubt he can raise the fitness level of our team but may not change much tactically. I canâ€™t vote for Bonfrere. I cannot also vote for Bora Milotinivic who with Bonfree was among coaches roaming different camps in Angola lobbying countries spoiling to sack their coaches.
There are so many of them around. I want to make a plea. If we are doing away with Amodu and considering a foreign coach, letâ€™s go for the likes of Guus Hiddink and know that we have a foreign coach who will change a lot in our team. With only one free fifa date from now to the World Cup, we should know that any such coach has only the one month of camping to transform the team. Only a few would.
With money from Fifa, and the N800m PTF raised, we can pay the coach for the few months. If we canâ€™t go for such high class coaches,Â letâ€™s engage Stephen Keshi to lead our team. I say this because I know that many of these foreign coaches are not better than some of our coaches.
Modesty permitting, I know something about this game. Injury did not allow me play football to the level I hoped and was ascending to.
But I have managed to follow it and I believe I understand a few things. I repeat with all sense of responsibility that some of our coaches are better than some of the white men who are all paraded as FOREIGN coaches. What is selling many of these coaches in Africa, especially Nigeria,Â is their white skin. Herve Renard, for example, may turn out to be a success in Africa.
But for now, he does not even parade the kind of profile our own Keshi or Samson Siasia can boast of and yet he is being considered before these our heroes. But we all know that some have deserved their ratings. I cannot say that of the likes of Tiko, Otto Gloria or Westerhof.
I urge the NFF to be careful in selecting our World Cup coach and go for the best.Â I have always said that, even if we must engage foreign coaches to help us from time to time, we have greater future with some of our players who played professionally in Europe and Iâ€™ll continue to say it until we embrace the truth. But shall we? Time will tell.