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Did you or did you not Mr. President?

By Onochie Anibeze
ONE thing that pains me badly is how forgetful we are. The other is our complex over white skin which I made an issue before they signed foreign coach to replace Amodu Shuabu.

I recalled the style of Berti Vogts two years ago and the mess Bora Militinovic made of our Frnace ,98 team and pleaded that we should not hire a foreign coach five months to the World Cup, noting that in the said five months the coach would only have three weeks to work with the players.

I concluded that no magic could be done to transform the Eagles overnight and pleaded that Stephen Keshi or Samson Siasia be assigned to work with Amodu who may assume the position of Technical Adviser or Team Manager or whatever name the federation might prefer.

I didn’t expect the authorities to take everything that I recommended but I wrote from footballer’s point of view and I was guided by experience.

I almost wept over the way we clamoured for foreign coaches as if they were magicians. I was personally pained because I have been close to some of them and knew that, in coaches like Keshi, Siasia, Okpala, we have great qualities too.

And the advantage of being Nigerians would have helped in fitting immediately on recruitment. But those who would die for anything foreign had their way because the Presidency, as we were made to believe, also reasoned like them. Adokiye Amasiemeka, arguably, the most forthright of the Eagles of his generation, launched a strong media campaign.

He argued that rather than sack Amodu the likes of  Keshi, Siasia and Okpala could be drafted to assist. He agreed with me.

Paul Bassey added his voice to this campaign. My friend Mr. Yomi Jones kept wondering about what was wrong with us and repeatedly said nemesis would catch up with us if we hired a foreign coach. But who were we when the Presidency had decreed that a foreign coach must be hired.

I write this piece today, hoping that the aides of the President (about three of them follow the game) if not the President himself will read it and know if lies were told about their said directive. The instruction to the Nigeria Football Federation was that the President directed that a foreign coach must be hired. I knew when I followed my media campaign with action.

I do not need to blow my trumpet but I almost succeeded especially when Amodu requested for Keshi. A top member of the federation said the Keshi option was good. But I gave up hope when President of NFF Sani Lulu told me on phone from Angola during the Nations Cup that there was nothing that could be done since the Presidency had directed that a foreign coach must be hired.

If it was true that the President (Who was Acting President at the time) so directed largely due to his interest in the game, did they lay the background to him? I’m sure the President wouldn’t have been carried away if he was properly advised.

But the PTF wanted a foreign coach, so who could have advised the President otherwise? We always misconstrue our passion for the game for knowledge of the game. This is the biggest problem of Nigerian football today. We mislead ourselves and our country. I want President Goodluck Jonathan to know that we signed a foreign coach to train our team three weeks to the World Cup because he was said to have so ordered. If he didn’t give such directives, let him know that have lied in his name.

I knew how the said Presidential directive dislodged what could have been a better plan for Nigeria. What pains me is that when we err we fail to admit it, so we are bound to make the same mistake again and again. And again and again we also fail to nail those responsible so the cycle continues.

I recognize the fact that our football is down but we could have done better in South Africa if we hadn’t blundered. Those who pressed the federation to hire the foreigner should admit their mistake. We will make progress that way. I am not defending the federation but the truth on our World Cup must be told.

They were coerced and later forced into the action that brought us shame in South Africa. And the President was said to have given the directive. The PTF that represented the Presidency cannot absolve themselves of blame. The media cannot wash their hands off this. The fans were louder in yearning for a foreign coach.

Only a few saw the light. The NFF must also share in the blame for not insisting on what they wanted although it was always going to be difficult to ignore Presidential directive. There are so many issues people may have with the federation but on the question of our World Cup performance, I make bold to say that the Presidency and PTF have created an alibi for them and they should not carry the cross alone. We are all to blame.

It only pains that nobody is talking about the failure of Lagerback largely. It must be due to the complex I earlier mentioned. Eagles were horrible in South Africa. Lagerback’s selection and tactics have all been faulted. He simply didn’t know our players and could not put them to good use.

He couldn’t have known much under the period and you cannot blame him for taking our money, $1.3m in five months.  I wept when I heard about the politics that destroyed our team in South Africa – how splinter groups emerged.

There was the Yakubu Aiyegbeni camp that didn’t agree with the Osaze and Martins clique. Osaze praised Lagerback to high heavens but when the man preferred the Aiyegbeni camp, Osaze cried blue murder, saying that it was a mistake to sack Amodu, the same Amodu he described as almost a neophyte.

Osaze should shut up. Lagerback was said to be pleasant but lacked the tough stance to handle Nigerian players who are known to do better under tough leadership. Against Argentina, we made two attempts at goal in a 90 minute game and people said we tried by losing only 1-0. Against Greece we saw how Lagerback failed to react to Sani Kaita’s red card and how the team crumbled. We were 1-0 up when the red card came.

One expected Lagerback to react by introducing a midfielder to ensure we held the game especially after Greece pulled a defender out and introduced an attacker because they needed to score. Lagerback rather introduced Osaze, a striker.
When Greece equalized and even led 2-1, Lagerback needed to attack more because we needed goal. Surprisingly, he introduced a defender in Afolabi rather than bring in a striker like Martins who has pace. I wondered what the man was doing.

But he is a foreign coach so I kept quiet.  Against Korea we concluded that our team was a complete disaster. Yet nobody is blaming the coach.  Unfortunately, we have just forgotten how we sowed what we reaped in South Africa.

That is the problem because I know we will blunder same way again. We never learn from our mistakes otherwise Korea-Japan World Cup would have been a huge lesson for us. More on the World Cup later.


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