By Patrick Omorodion with Sport Guard
Each time the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF hires a manager for the Super Eagles, which it dubs Technical Adviser, it tells Nigerians that such a person is expected to help identify players from the local league as well as assist in the monitoring of other national teams.
Majority of these foreign Technical Advisers have come from Europe, safe for two, Otto Gloria who tinkered the Eagles to the Africa Nations Cup in 1980 in Lagos and Alberto Torres Perrreira, both from Brazil.
Gloria was the first foreign manager or coach who left his footprints on Nigerian soil after his exploits with the golden era of the Green Eagles set of Christian Chukwu, Segun Odegbami, Adokie Amiesimaka, Alloysius Atuegbu, Emmanuel Okala, Felix Owolabi, among others who gave the country her first African title after beating Alegeria 3-0 in the final decided at the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos.
After Gloria left, many other foreign coaches have come and gone but not until the arrival of Dutchman, Clemens Westerhof, did our football really get the impact of a foreigner managing our football.
Westerhof’s arrival was like a bitter-sweet taste in our mouths as Nigeria, on a cruise to picking her first World Cup ticket, fluffed the chance ostensibly because of an untidy transition from coach Paul Hamilton to Westerhof after Manfred Hoener quit. Nigeria lost the ticket to Cameroon who went on to play at the 1990 World Cup in Italy.
What Nigeria lost by not qualifying for the 1990 World Cup she almost got by the performance of the Super Eagles at that year’s Africa Nations Cup in Algeria. After the disappontment of the World Cup qualifiers, Westerhof assembled a new team made up of some young players from the local league who got to the final of the competition, losing narrowly 0-1 to the host, Algeria.
Westerhof did not stop there. He took Nigeria as his second home, eating and drinking everything Nigerian. He was travelling allover the nooks and crannies of the country, watching local league matches and saw good players who he, not only invited to the Super Eagles, but helped get through to European clubs where their skills were sharpened.
You cannot talk of players like Finidi George, Austin Okocha, Daniel Amokachi, Tijani Babangida, Thompson Oliha, Uche Okechukwu, Isaac Semitoje, Ben Iroha, Bright Omokaro, Sunday Eboigbe, Moses Kpakor and Emmanuel Amuneke without talking about the influence of Westerhof in their careers.
He ensured that the young players he introduced from the local league played alonside the older ones he inherited from coach Hamilton to blend and get the necessary confidence to confront bigger teams.
Such was his believe in the players that despite losing 0-5 to Algeria in the group game of the 1990 Nations Cup, he still tutored the players through to the final where they lost controversially to the host in the final.
He continued with his belief in the team and added a few new players and surprised Nigerians by qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in 1994. He did the unimaginable on away soil in Algeria and today remains unarguably, the most successful foreign coach that has traversed Nigeria.
However, it seems other foreign coaches who came after Westerhof, including his compatriot, Bonfrere Johannes, who was part of his success story, don’t want to tow his line or are not just patient to comb the local league for any talent.
They all came to use Nigeria to better their profile especially during World Cup years. Name them, Phillipe Troussier, Bora Milutinovic, Thijs Libregts, Berti Vogts and Lars Lagerback. From Troussier who almost didn’t qualify for the 1998 World Cup to Milutinovic who eventually took the team to the France ’98 World Cup, they never gave or introduced any dicerning pattern for the team and Nigerians groaned all through the time they were in charge of the team.
Libregts was brought in with the 2002 World Cup as the main focus but he never stayed long to even take the Eagles to any big competition as the country was under ban after pulling out of the 1996 Nations Cup in South Africa and couldn’t attend the 1998 edition which Burkina Faso hosted.
Again after trying out local coaches following the exit of Bonfrere Jo between 2000 and 2006 when Nigeria failed to make it to the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Berti Vogts was drafted but he proved to be the greatest mistake the NFF ever made hiring a foreign coach because he spent more time in Europe than in the country, only popping in when the Eagles had a match to play.
His exit saw the coming of Lagerback who left unheralded after a failed World Cup in South Africa in 2010.
The situation is not different with current Technical Adviser, Gernot Rohr. The NFF had added to his job, the monitoring of the other national teams as well looking inwards to pick talents from the local league who could be introduced gradually into the Super Eagles. But has he lived up to it, the answer is no.
That is why his recent statement, after watching the final of the Aiteo Cup between Rangers of Enugu and Kano Pillars, that he didn’t see any player from the match who could make the national team, is unfortunate and should be condemned.
It is unfair for Rohr to say so after watching only a game. He should watch more matches on the local scene and he will discover that, like Westerhof, he could see one or two talents who could at least be in the Super Eagles to mature.