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The questions Acting President should ask

By Onochie Anibeze
May I, this morning, start by informing our Acting President, Goodluck Jonathan, that his people are courting failure and at the same time ridiculing Nigeria.

And in the face of impending failure one is compelled to call on the highest authority to try to rescue the situation. It may be late. But let it be on record that one raised alarm now although one had repeatedly done so long before now.
By his people I mean the Nigeria Football Federation, the National Sports Commission and the Presidential Task Force.

These are all government bodies even as the NFF may claim some independence. But they are still under the supervision of National Sports Commission and they receive government grants.

Let me continue my story in this message to the Acting President as suggested by amiable Yomi Jones, the former MD of Nigeria Airways and former Deputy General Manager of Lufthansa who now runs Six Continents, his own travel agency that is daily gaining international reputation. I begin this way:

Your Excellency,
I’m aware of your interest in Nigeria’s campaign for the 2010 World Cup. To ensure our qualification, the government even set up a Presidential Task Force. This followed the genuine fears that Nigeria might not qualify for the World Cup.

We all criticised NFF, the football body, for our shaky position then. The PTF was, therefore, expected to bring a touch of class to bear in our programme for the World Cup. Unfortunately, they appear to be doing the opposite. I decided to ask for your intervention when I saw the crowd that interviewed the coaches for the national team job.

They were on television and the world saw them ridicule Nigerian people and the government which you head for now. I saw members of PTF and NSC and I decided to call your attention to it because those we would have reported NFF to are now the masters of this blunder.

They are even louder than the NFF and leading the way. If we fail in South Africa, I hope that they will be honourable enough to admit that we all failed and not blame it on NFF alone.

Before I write on the coaches, let me briefly express my disappointment on the way those we thought knew better ridiculed and embarrassed Nigeria. Their approach was shameful. They invited coaches for interviews where the coaches were said to have been drilled. It is absolutely wrong.

The proper way is to analyse the track records of coaches and go for the one you want, the one that you feel is most suitable for your football. You then discuss terms of contract and not the kind of interview our people conducted and branded us all as stone-age people. We first short-listed names of coaches and made the list public even without contacting the coaches.

No other country does such a thing in the world now. While so much noise was being made about the coaches short-listed, one of them, Guus Hiddink, signed for Turkey. Before then, nobody heard of any move by Turkey to sign him.

That is the way it is done. Some of the coaches Nigeria short-listed didn’t even bother to respond to our interest. They just ignored us, apparently taken aback by our approach. No country conducts the type of interview our officials engaged in.

You simply appraise the track record of coaches and other qualities and discuss terms with them. If you agree on the terms (of contract and other matters) you sign the coach or coaches as the case may be. You must keep certain things confidential at the initial stage. What Nigeria did is not even good for a coach who has an existing contract.

It also means that such a coach may also not respect your contract if he receives any better offer while holding your contract.

Going by what we saw on television, reports from Abuja and the comments of the officials, we certainly turned Nigeria into a laughing stock.

Those who interviewed the coaches said that some of them spoke brilliantly. So coaches’ capabilities are now judged by the way they speak and not by their track record or practical work? God help Nigeria.

On the calibre of coaches they are about to sign, I said in my past columns that if we can’t get the likes of Guus Hiddink we could as well go with our good coaches who may slightly improve  the team we saw in Angola. Keshi, Siasia, Okpala, Oliseh have all been mentioned by Nigerians as capable of holding forth.

And in the alternative, some of them could work with the incoming foreign coach.  Now that it is clear that they cannot get the likes of Guus Hiddink, I have my fears. From the way journalists reported Patrick Ekeji, the Director-General of NSC, Glenn Hoddle excelled in the interview and may be favoured.

They said that he spoke well when they met him in England. What was the character of teams he trained the past? How knowledgeable is he in African football? What about the mentality of our players and how to deal with it? What about the differences in tactical and technical approaches? It is same for some of the coaches already interviewed.

Ordinarily, I would not have bothered so much about this if the coach would be given a long term contract and I know that he may have time to gradually inculcate his concept into our team. Hoddle is a big name and may not be a bad coach for us.

But we are talking about the World Cup in four months time and anybody who does not consider these points may not be doing justice to our World Cup campaign. I’ll rather be at home with a coach with a long term contract with the development of our football uppermost in our minds. Ekeji did not impress me when he said that the World Cup will determine whether the coach they will sign will continue or not. Was he quoted out of context? Now, consider the circumstances.

The friendly match Eagles would have played in March is off. That is the only fifa  free date before the World Cup. The only time for the coach to work on the team will be the three weeks camping before the World Cup. It will be unfair to properly assess a new coach with our World Cup programme.

A good coach can add one or two things within that period but they may not be significant enough to produce drastic change. No magic about it. You cannot rightly assess a coach after three weeks with your players especially where such a coach did not have time to watch many league matches at home and abroad and pick players of his choice. If we made a mistake before now, why not try to correct it with a proper plan for our football?

Now, we may have to spend between $100,000 to $150,000 or even $200,000 a month for the coach and his staff for the next four months. If you give me that money to spend on technical staff, I’ll invest it on coaches for a restructured youth football system that will be free of age cheats even if the coaches must be good but cheap ones from Eastern Europe who will work with Nigerian coaches for a period.

But who says we cannot get a coach who may do a fairly reasonable job for $50,000 a month? I think that we can if we can be sincere to our country. But who is?  The Acting President can and should ask questions about the way we going on with the employment of foreign coach and preparation for the World Cup.Ordinarily, I would not have brought him into this.

But the government showed interest by setting up a task force for the World Cup. Let them finish what they have started. It will serve him and the entire country well for the Eagles not to be disgraced at the World Cup. We can do fairly well if he possibly rights the wrongs. Time will tell.

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