The new Nigeria national team coach Sunday Oliseh was unveiled in Abuja yesterday.
The president of the Nigerian Football Federation Amaju Pinnick hyped the new coach as “the African Pep Guardiola”. This may seem over the top at first glance, considering the number of trophies Guardiola has won with Barcelona and Bayern Munich since 2008. But there are a lot of similarities between the two coaches.
Both were cerebral midfielders in their playing days that dictated play from just in front of the back four with a great range of passes, both short and long. Both were not blessed with much pace, but were recognised as leaders on the pitch. They could have faced each other when Nigeria beat Spain in the 1998 World Cup thanks to a 25 yard effort from Oliseh, but for a career threatening injury that kept Guardiola out of the squad.
Both men are great students of the game and respected as thinkers. They both took on relatively huge jobs with question marks over their experience and readiness for that scale of responsibility. When Guardiola was appointed Barcelona coach in 2008, he only had a year’s experience coaching the B team. Oliseh’s coaching experience is limited to RCS Vervietois in the Belgian third division. Both hold the Uefa Pro Licence coaching qualification.
Guardiola’s appointment as Barcelona coach received the backing of club legend Johan Cruyff, who told the doubters “he is ready”. Oliseh has been backed by Nigeria’s greatest player Segun Odegbami as a “fantastic choice”.
Oliseh was sharply dressed in a tailored blue suit at his first press conference as Nigeria coach. Guardiola also favours sharp suits.
Oliseh knows expectations are high and he has a lot to live up to. He talked the talk, claiming he was not a “messiah” but he was going to give “150%”. He said he favoured a “team style of play” over “individual play” and the team would be picked according to how individuals complement the rest of the team and not just on the merits of that individual.
He also stressed that he would only pick players that “played with speed in attack” and there would be no room for second division players in the national team. He clarified that teams in the Championship in England, for example, played “kick and follow” football and players from that league could not fit into his plans.
Oliseh’s appointment has surely fired interest in the “Super Eagles” again from not just Nigerian fans, but other Africans that adored the mid 90s team that Oliseh starred in. His charisma and intellect may make the Guardiola comparison appropriate, but a bulging trophy cabinet like Guardiola’s would require players of the calibre of Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Philip Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and so on.
Nigerian football may not reach those heights, but Oliseh’s interviews would surely be very interesting.