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Who should coach Eagles?

By Onochie Anibeze
I was not moved when we crashed out of the World Cup. I never expected wonders from the team. I had prepared my mind for the worst. I saw disaster coming but I never knew it was going to be that bad – that a team would lose two matches and still had a chance to qualify if they won one against a country like South Korea and still failed!

When I saw the direction we were headed at the Angola Nations Cup in January, I felt that I should do more than writing. I placed calls to our FA and warned them over their plan to hire a foreign coach for the World Cup. But they confirmed to me the news that had spread back home in Nigeria. The Presidency had directed that a foreign coach be hired. My Abuja contacts confirmed the Presidency directed so after consulting with the Presidential Task Force, PTF. That news shattered my spirit.

I have always questioned the technical competence of those who run the game and the ones who advise the government. The PTF proved me right. I blame the NFF for not making changes early enough when they were absolutely necessary. That was even before we qualified for the World Cup.  I blame the PTF for insisting on changes when it was late.

Two wrongs never make a right. But I strongly think that we could have done better than we did in the World Cup if the NFF was allowed to adopt my recommendation to promote Amodu Shuaibu as technical adviser or team manager and get the likes of Stephen Keshi and Samson Siasia to assist. That way, we would have maintained some continuity and introduced something new  in the

I just couldn’t understand how we would appoint an entirely  new coach, a total stranger to Africa to handle the Eagles three weeks before the World Cup and expect results. I warned in my column and when it appeared to me that these guys were not reading newspapers I made the contacts. But I was wrong. They were and actually bought my recommendations but here was their reaction:
“There’s nothing that we can do. The Presidency wants a foreign coach..”

The PTF had their way. That’s why I’d place them among the immediate causes of our World Cup failure. They thought they meant well for Nigeria. The PTF is constituted by some names that should know better. Segun Odegbami, John Fashanu, Jay Jay Okocha all played the game to top level. John Moustrodes knows the game. But it beats my imagination that a body that had these names would advise on such changes three weeks to the World Cup.

Lars Lagerback was engaged five months to the World Cup but we all knew that with the football season still on in Europe and all over the world, a coach would only have three weeks to coach his World Cup team. I’m sure that there was disconnect in the PTF because I would not want to believe the allegation that ‘some people wanted us to fail to score some points.’ When the likes of Okocha publicly criticized selections and  the tactical  approach of Lagerback my fears and suspicion of disconnect were confirmed.  But the damage had been done and Nigeria failed woefully at the World Cup.

Coaching problem is top of the immediate causes of our World Cup failure. It is a problem we must address if we want to catch up with Ghana and possibly surpass them. And we must address it with utmost sincerity. We begin by ensuring that those who man the technical department of the federation are professionals whose knowledge of the game is high. If it were so, they would have avoided the mistake that saw government appointing a task force that eventually misadvised government. Hiring Lagerback was a big blunder and paying him $1.3 million in five months was economic sabotage against this country.

Back to the coaching problem. There are times coaches are appointed on sentiment and not on merit. This problem started long before now. It has been with us for ages. It is a national problem, just like what obtains in many government circles. That’s why I insist that the plunge in sports administration and management cannot be isolated from the systemic failure that Nigeria has become.

But there have been times the wrong coaches were appointed out of ignorance. Once, I called a top member of the FA to tell him that a coach they had just appointed to handle a youth team would fail. He was loud in defending their choice, citing the paper qualifications of the coach. I told him he got me wrong and I explained that the coach might not be a bad coach but not one who could train kids.

Hewas the wrong person for the job. The coach failed and they sacked him after the damage had been done. His replacement was appointed on sentiment and the confusion continued. Appointing the right coaches is a major stepping stone to success. This is a continuation of my  response to Ben Udechukwu’s challenge that I chart the way forward for Nigerian football. I told Ben I feared that I might be repeating myself but I know how forgetful we are and accepted the challenge.

Coaching is a big factor, perhaps, the biggest factor in football. If you have potentials and you lack the right coaches to identify and nurture them those potentials may never see the light of the day. Some may even quit the game prematurely. We have had great potentials who were wrongly managed and they became quitters.

This is not only a Nigerian problem.. Coaches have different talents and it is the duty of the technical department of the FA to advise on the choices to be made. But if such technical department is not endowed with deep knowledge of the game they will always make mistakes especially when it matters most.

A coach who does well in youth development may not necessarily excel with big players. A coach who has the eye to spot talents and who excels in developing such talents may fail with a cream of stars and vice versa.

I once wrote that the state of a country’s football should inform the kind of a coach they need. But we are in a country where coaches are assessed by oral interviews. How backward we are. They said Lagerback dazzled them during the interview.  On that basis they selected him and placed him on $300,000 a month.

Ghana’s coach earned $45,000 a month. I don’t know if we are deliberately wasteful or simply incompetent. My friend Yomi Jones who made a name with Lufthansa and pulled all the strings to revive Nigeria Airways says it is greed and sometimes wickedness. He has seen it all in Nigeria and should know what he is talking about.

Nigeria Airways was almost dead when he accepted the Challenge to turn it around and left Lufthansa to be the Managing Director. He swung into action. Nigeria Airways  resumed the flights to London and increased their operations in Dubai. Hope returned.

But as Fela would put it, suddenly, suddenly, then suddenly government brought instrument of magic and those who were supposed to champion the cause of Nigeria, out of sheer greed and wickedness,  compromised and worked against Nigeria. They took care of themselves leaving Nigeria Airways to die. I’m talking about some top people in government. Yomi Jones has a story. I doubt if he tells it now. He is still passionate about our country and may keep it to himself for peace to reign.

Back to coaching. Right now, the best players from our league are not good enough to move to good clubs in Europe. Even the big scouts don’t come here anymore. We need to build again. Last week, I suggested that high standards be set for our league as a way of rescuing  it from total collapse.

The rebuilding starts there and it shouldn’t matter if only ten clubs meet the standard to be in the Premiership. The rebuilding starts from our league and now that we know that we lack quality players let’s go for coaches who have the knack to develop players. They can be foreign coaches and they may be Nigerian coaches. But did it not interest you that after Lagerback suggested  that African countries should look inwards to appoint coaches our FA was still talking about renewing his contract?
I will continue from here next week.

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