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November 25, 2023

To sack Jose Paseiro, or not!, by Segun Odegbami

To sack Jose Paseiro, or not!, By Segun Odegbami

A friend, a foremost sports journalist, called me up last week from Abuja to inform me that he was racing to the office of the Minister of Sports to inform him of his decision to lead a national campaign to sack Jose Paseiro, the Portuguese coach of the Super Eagles. He wanted my urgent opinion.

Of course, I do not take decisions in a hurry, nor in a panic mode. I also do not swim with the tide of opinion based on emotional or sentimental outbursts, or be part of a mob action baying for the blood of a foreign or local coach, when everything around is skewed against any form of success.

I politely told him I had no opinion yet on the matter and would make it public when I do. That’s what I am doing now.

A new star is born!

I have traversed a similar path in the past, and got burnt by the power of narrower interests and personalities that have run and ruined Nigerian football for many years.

The core of the matter is that the Super Eagles are not winning their matches. Even easy ones. As far as the people are concerned, these last two drawn matches are ‘failures’ and someone must pay for them.

That person is Jose Paseiro. I won’t completely fall for such sentiments now. The Super Eagles should win AFCON 2023. They should also qualify for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Let’s look at some of the issues that can truncate these goals.

Domestic Nigerian football.

There is no depth to the country’s domestic football. They were neglected for too long by successive football federation boards. The boards concentrated on the more personally ‘lucrative’ Super Eagles. They feasted on the fruits without properly feeding the roots. The tree eventually and inevitably weakened and withered, having been deprived of nutrients essential for development of players for a career in the domestic leagues – good nurseries, organisation, integrity, infrastructure, capacity building programs, adequate funding, great welfare packages, and so on. The only available ingredient has been the endless sea of young uncut diamonds in Nigerian players. Ironically, these players are doing everything to flee the country for greener pastures and better opportunities in other parts of the world, and not to strengthen the domestic leagues.

This uncontrolled migration has made nonsense of any attempt to build a serious national team of local players. The failure of the big clubs in the country to win any continental laurels confirms this. That is why all the recent foreign coaches employed don’t take the route of the domestic leagues to seek players for the national teams. The calibre of players is just not there.

So, Paseiro, like the others before him, concentrates on observing Nigerian players in the various leagues in Europe. He assembles the best of them that he finds to form the country’s Super Eagles. He also only has two days before most matches to work with the players before matches, making it impossible to build a team with any level of organised play, pattern and understanding. You do not build solid teams that way. They must have some time to train together, understand each other, be infused with a planned style and philosophy, and made to play several matches. That’s the only way a good team can emerge.

Under the present circumstances, the Super Eagles do not have such luxury. Coaches have been on this impossible mission for well over a decade.

AFCON and the World Cup are the only championships that provide a little time for the team to train together, to play some friendlies, to become a unit. The team uses the earlier group matches of the championship to get better.

That’s what happened during the transition between Gernot Rohr and Austin Eguavoen. A good team started to evolve during the group matches of AFCON 2021, only for the process to be disrupted by a difficult match and a costly error that saw the Eagles exit rather uncharacteristically ‘prematurely’. The baby and the bath water were thereafter thrown into the gully of history. The result is to begin-again.

That’s how Jose Paseiro came in to inherit an impossible and unchangeable situation. For as long as the present system is not changed, no coach in the world can change the fortunes of the Super Eagles. The best he can do is what Gernot Rohr and, now, Jose Paseiro have been doing – not wasting time on the local players from the domestic league (they are not good enough for the national team without additional exposure and training in Europe), scanning Europe for players of Nigerian descent, assembling the best of them for the short periods of time before matches that can NEVER make them a good team with organizational depth, and then going on their knees to pray for undeserved victories. They win some and lose most!

So, Nigerians are disappointed and angry, and bay for the blood of successive coaches.

Yet, deep down, the issues have roots in other issues. A proper study by proper experts is necessary.

Arm-chair critics masquerading as experts whose noise-making rises above the din of common sense and more careful interrogations blur proper and more meaningful conversations.

Meanwhile, the present Super Eagles are not strong in two major areas of the field – the mid-field and goalkeeping.

There is little that can be done about the team’s strength without the influence of a few players with exceptional skills and ability in certain areas of the team. Presently, there is a dearth of creative and attacking midfield players who can hold and distribute the balls well.

Goalkeeping has become a problem only because Paseiro refuses to see the difference between an efficient goalkeeper and one whose only qualification is his physical frame.

The last goal conceded against Zimbabwe, scored directly from a free kick 30 metres from his goal clearly exposed Uzoho’s weakness. It is an elementary goalkeeping error.

Finally, Nigeria should not panic and take decisions that will not impact anything, will not change the Super Eagles and will not provide guaranteed outcomes.

This is the time to be cool, calm and calculated.

Nigeria is blessed with a lot of good players presently. With a little bit of luck, more patience and the time shortly before AFCON 2023 used properly to build a stronger team, plus the return of one of the deadliest strikers on the planet, Victor Osimhen, in the team, Nigeria shall improve steadily into AFCON 2023.

In January, the team will use the group matches of the championship to get better, and possibly go on to win AFCON 2023. They will then gain the essential confidence to play more consistently and (at the end of AFCON) establish a stronger team that shall be able to go into the World Cup qualifying matches with more strength and purpose, and qualify for the World Cup as true champions of African football.