By Onochie Anibeze
Today, the Executive Board of Nigeria Football Federation will take position on the decision of their Technical Committee.
The Committee’s recommendation is for Siasia to step aside having failed to qualify Nigeria for the 2012 Nations Cup. A 2-2 draw with Guinea October 8 in Abuja saw to that. Siasia had signed a contract stating that he must take Nigeria to the semifinal of the competition for which he did not qualify. A lot has been written on this and I do not need to dwell so much on the October 8 failure and what Siasia’s contract says.
I have discussed at length with those who matter in the Federation and save for last minute change the discussion today would have centered more on Siasia’s successor.
There are those who feel that a foreign coach should succeed Siasia but the majority want former Eagles captain Stephen Keshi to hold sway. Whatever happens, the Executive Committee may ask the Technical Committee to recommend a successor today or as soon as possible. I’m not one of them but I know that most of them favour Keshi for the job. And the modern thing in football is to allow him to choose his assistants. One member had said that Oliseh would assist Keshi. Oliseh himself says he wants to be the head coach.
He has the right to aspire so. He was a brilliant player and looks like one who will be firm in the management of players. He may not tolerate indiscipline. But we need to see him coach first. I know that coaches start somewhere. Oliseh needs the chance to start somewhere. Nigeria can offer him that chance. It must not be head coach of the Eagles.
But if it so happens my attitude is always to support whoever is in charge and withdraw that support when results warrant so.
But this is not about Oliseh. This is about those who may be calling for a foreign coach. I have been long enough in this business to know what is good for our football. What I have against foreign coaches is not in their making. It is about us. Always, we go for the wrong ones and I’m ready to stake my one year salary in betting if they get the right foreign coach. . If they go for one now, they will still get it wrong. I cried and fell sick when Nigeria employed Lars Lagerback and paid him $350,000 per month.
If I were in a position of authority, I would ensure those behind that dirty deal were charged for economic sabotage. What they did to Nigeria was criminal. There were allegations that money changed hands and some people benefited from that deal. If it was true, it wasn’t a novel here. It had happened before. Nigeria once paid a foreign coach $300,000 sign on fee.
Ever head anything like that elsewhere? A sign-on fee for a national coach? Only in Nigeria. And did the coach get the $300,000? What actually went to him? Anyway, some people would not even have minded if they got the right coach and got the results.
It didn’t take time for them to sack the foreign coach. Lagerback was to mock us after collecting our money. “Nigeria should look inwards to solve their football problems and for their coach,” he said when some people pressed for his continued stay. It was the bitter truth but in many ways a mockery. We also paid for his tax and other allowances.
The total payment amounted to about $400,000 per month. A country with per capital income ranging about $2,500 paid that for a coach of Lagerback’s calibre? As I was writing this, our Acting Sunday Editor Jide Ajani walked into the newsroom and was fuming over the news that President Jonathan had approved $370m for renovation works at the sea ports to ease congestion and create easy berthing for ships with fuel. Jide wanted to know how much it would cost to repair our refineries or even build one. If $370m would help, then it didn’t make sense to him. But those who lead us fail us everyday. And they were the ones who imposed Lagerback on our federation at the time and approved that amount as salary. Do these people live with us? Do they feel us. I’m beginning to doubt so otherwise their decisions and policies will be people friendly. That is by the way.
A foreign coach now will not help us because they will not get the right one for us. And I go by the position of veteran journalist Bisi Lawrence (Bizlaw), who maintains that no foreign coach “will develop your football for you.”
In this case, kindly note the difference between coaching and developing. The foreign coaches will merely coach but will not develop your football. The job of a national coach is to pick players from clubs, train them for few days and play their qualifiers. It is only during running competitions like the Nations Cup or World Cup that the coach may have the opportunity of training such players for a period of two weeks or more.
Developing will entail working with local clubs( amateur and professional), academies, youth teams, setting up camps here and there, constant screening, building of solid teams around local players and combining them with foreign-based when necessary. Only Clemence Westerhof did this. He went beyond his brief because he loved it that way and it was simply part of him. Kojo Williams once said that Westerhof was a gift to Nigeria and I agreed.
The mistake we have continued to make was to expect all coaches who came after him to work the same way. We’ll continue to fail in this aspect until we get another coach like Westerhof. And it may be difficult until we purge ourselves of the sins of the past, be professional and sincere about our search.
With great knowledge of the game and its antecedents we can get a coach who is hungry in Eastern Europe or some areas of West. And we can hire a coach for $40,000 and the man will do a pretty good job. But the football federation must have a programme that the man will follow.
I once recommended that the Technical Department of the federation must have programmes that coaches must pursue.
This way, they can hire and fire coaches but their programmes will remain. If a coach does not follow their programmes then that coach is walking his way out of his job. The job of Technical director should not, therefore, be for anybody. It must be for somebody who is well schooled in modern football and management. I hope the federation gets one.
For now, let them get cracking with Eagles’ coach. If they decide to part ways with Siasia then my money will be on Keshi who must look inwards for our solution. We must truly begin to build a new team. Siasia tried in getting some players like Joel Obi, Fegor Ogude, Ahmed Musa into the team.
The introduction of new players must continue. This time, I would like to see more local players in our national teams. I want to see where Olympic and Under 20 teams are built around local players who will be easy feeders to the senior team, the Eagles.
I have since stopped calling them Super Eagles for there’s nothing super in them. The change from Green Eagles to Super Eagles was never made official. Late Augustus Aikhomu, then Vice President, in a reception for Maroc ’88 team that won silver simply said “I think that you have done well enough that you can be called Super Eagles.” It just stuck from then.
The referee had disallowed what appeared to be a great goal against Cameroun in the final and in sympathy with team, late Aikhomu was trying to make the players feel good. There was no official statement from the FA or the Presidency changing the name. The team has the 2013 Nations Cup and the 2014 World Cup to repair the damage it had done to the sobriquet, SUPER. When they win the 2013 Nations Cup and not only qualify but do well in the next World Cup I may change my mind. But for now they are simply Eagles. It is time to really look inwards for our salvation like Nwabufo Obienu also said. “Our salvation is in our league, not in foreign coach,” he said.
I agree in the sense that we have to develop our league, select players from there and build teams around the local players. We will then only fortify with foreign-based players. Never should we allow Under 17 coaches to invite players from abroad. Our league can help us.
Niger qualified for the Nations Cup without foreign-based players. War torn Libya also qualified. Botswana without any known professional were the first to qualify for the Nations Cup. Many players abroad have let us down. Let’s begin to look inwards and create a healthy competition among players, the type that usher hungry players. We need them for a new dawn.