From pre-Independence era till date, the national men’s football team has been known by several names. The first name they were known by was the UK Tourists who played on bare foot as we were told.
From being mere ‘Tourists’, they metamorphosed into the Red Devils, ostensibly because of their red top jersey. They bore that name till after the country’s Independence from British colonial rule in 1960 when it was changed to the Green Eagles.
In 1988 after the Green Eagles lost to Morocco controversially in the African Nations Cup, then military vice president, Vice Admiral Augustus Aikhomu who, like every other Nigerian believed the team were gallant in defeat, renamed the team Super Eagles. That name has remained till date.
Like the change in the team’s names, the list of coaches who have handled the team, both local and foreigners, have been equally more than a mouthful. From the last count, about 14 local coaches and 19 foreigners have handled the team at one time or the other.
The indigenous coaches who have had the privilege of handling the Super Eagles are Daniel Anyiam, Peter ‘Eto’Amaechina, Adegboye Onigbinde, Chris Udemezue, Patrick Ekeji, Paul Hamilton and Shaibu Amodu. Others are Christian Chukwu, Augustine Eguavoen, James Peters, Samson Siasia, Stephen Keshi, Daniel Amokachi and Sunday Oliseh.
On the foreign legion list are John Finch (England), 1949, Les Courtier (England) 1956-1960, Moshe Jerry Beit haLevi (Israel), 1960-61, George Vardar (Hungary), 1961-1963, Joey Blackwell ( England ), 1963–1964, Joseph Ember (Hungary) 1965-1968, -Karl-Heinz Marotzke (Germany) 1973-1974, Jelisavic ‘Tiki’ Tihomir, nicknamed “Father Tiko” (Yugoslavia), 1974-1978 and Otto Glória (Brazil), 1978-1982. Others are Gottlieb Göller (Germany), 1982, Manfred Hoener (Germany), 1988-1989, Clemens Westerhof (Holland), 1989-1994, Johannes Bonfrere (Holland), 1995-1996, Philippe Troussier (France), 1997, Bora Milutinovic (Serbia) 1998, Thijs Libregts (Holland), 1998-1999, Berti Vogts (Germany), 2007-2008, Las Lagerback (Sweden), 2010 and then current manager, Gernot Rohr who the NFF prefer to call a Franco-German, came in 2016.
Out of these crowd of coaches, some have handled the team more than once. Only late Amodu had the luxury of being in charge on four different occasions, 1994-1995, 1996-1997, 2001-2002 and 2008-2010.
Other local coaches who have been in charge twice are Anyiam, 1954-1956, 1964-1965, Onigbinde, 1983-1984 and 2002 as well as Keshi who was in charge first in 2011-2014 and again in 2015.
Among the foreign legion, only two of them have been in and out twice. Marotzke was in first between 1970 and 1971 and returned in 1974 while Bonfrere first took full charge between 1995 and 1996 and then returned between 1999 and 2001.
Of all these coaches, I started following them from 1980 after the Nations Cup victory in Lagos. I was still a young school leaver then awaiting university admission and knew very little about Otto Gloria. Then what rang a bell in my ears were our national heroes like Segun Odegbami, Adokiye Amiesimaka, Christian Chukwu, Emmanuel Okala, Felix Owolabi, Alloyius Atuegbu, among others who I got to meet one on one later on as a sports reporter.
Even though I got to meet with Marotzke later on in the 1990s, it was not as a coach but one who hung around top shots of the sports ministry in search of one contract job or another. The first Super Eagles coach I interacted with was Westerhof as I had to go the team’s training site on Honda ground at Ota whenever they trained for matches in the early 1990s.
Westerhof who got nicknamed ‘Dutchgerian’ after he declared his love for Nigerians and their way of talking, was controverial though but was not a loose talker like we now have in Rohr. Westerhof never liked when his team was criticised ‘unjustly’ by journalists and was ready to ‘attack’ whoever did.
One such sports journalist who was confronted by the Dutch coach was then Punch reporter, Gbenga Bakare, now based in the United States over the story he did. Westerhof looked out for him on the training ground and they exchanged some ‘hot’ words. Bakare went to the office happy that he got another good story and the next day Punch splased on its sports page, a story headlined, Westerhof goes gaga.
That word was what attracted Westerhof the next day. Of course he was not English but a Dutch who spoke smattering English. He was so disturbed that he asked everybody he came across the meaning of gaga. That was Westerhpf for you.
Not so with Rohr. He is a very reserved person and hardly engages any journalist in a hot argument. His bad side though is that he is garrulous. He takes the slightest opportunity to lampoon Nigeria as country. If he is not saying that Nigeria lacks world class players, he will remind everyone that Nigeria is the only country where her national teams don’t play matches at their capital. An alibi in case his team lost a match I believe.
Now his sing song is that the pitch at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba is not safe or conducive for football. But he forgot that he lost a match at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo with a lush green turf. A loss that threatened the Eagles qualification initially.
I believe somebody at the NFF should tell Rohr that Keshi, in his time, won away matches even on pitches good only for the game of polo. He should talk less and give Nigeria a team capable of vying for the Nations Cup title in Egypt later in the year.. Being garrulous is not the hallmark of a good tactician.