It looks like for the first time in a very long time, the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) may have done the right thing. The former national team captain and legend Sunday Oliseh is expected to be unveiled shortly as the new coach of the “Super Eagles”. Talks are said to be at an advanced stage.
This follows the sacking of Stephen Keshi, also a former skipper, who incidentally has the same roots in the Ika-Igbo area of Delta State as Oliseh (Keshi from Illah, Oliseh from Abavo), even though both were raised in Lagos. But that is where the similarity between both men ends.
Keshi basically tried to “wing it” as a coach. He spent little time trying to qualify properly as a coach and got the job on the back of his reputation as a legendary player. He managed to “fluke it” with an African Cup of Nations win in 2013, using a handful of players from the domestic league like Sunday Mba.
That win emboldened Keshi to start capping just about any player for reasons that were not apparent to the naked eye. His teams were soon found out against any half decent opposition, first at the Confederations Cup in 2013, and then the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.
Keshi reached his Waterloo and dragged Nigeria to the bottom of the pit when they didn’t qualify for the African Cup of Nations this year despite being the defending champions.
Rather than do the honourable thing and go, Keshi chose to cling on for a new contract, and the NFF chose to reward his mediocrity, rather than do the right thing and kick him into the long grass, and put long-suffering Nigerian fans out of their misery.
As there were always question marks about the motives behind Keshi’s squad selections, the NFF tried to check this by insisting a “technical committee” should vet Keshi’s choices. This, naturally, didn’t go down well with the man known as “Big Boss”. He allegedly applied for the Ivory Coast national team job while under contract with the NFF and this was used by the NFF as an excuse to fire him.
Whether he applied for the job or not, Keshi was the author of his own misfortune. He was too intellectually lazy to try to improve himself as a coach and compounded his incompetence with picking players for the purposes of marketing them in Europe and a cut of their transfer deals.
He will not be missed and his departure gives Oliseh a chance to give Nigerians a national team that could inspire once more.
It is clear that the conveyor belt of talent is broken and not churning out players of the calibre of Oliseh and his team-mates from the heady days of the mid-1990s. We are in a bad situation when it comes to player development. But Oliseh has the tools to make the best of a bad situation.
Some have argued that he has not proven himself as a coach as this is his first coaching job. But Franz Beckenbauer took charge of West Germany in the 1980s without any coaching experience. Jurgen Klinsmann’s first ever coaching job was with Germany. Both had experienced assistants by their side.
Oliseh should aim to get support from experienced assistants. He also shares with Beckenbauer and Klinsmann leadership qualities as a player at the very highest levels. Oliseh is arguably the best coach Nigeria has had in terms of playing pedigree. He played in Belgium and in the football hotbeds of Italy, Germany and Holland, for Cologne, Ajax, Juventus, Dortmund and so on.
There is no substitute for this type of experience. Oliseh said he learnt different lessons from each of those countries. In Italy he learnt that “football was not a pleasure, it was business”. In Germany he learnt about discipline. He said: “Africans need to learn how to start pressurising the opponents. Football has changed now. It’s no longer football where you pick individuals and expect them to do well.
Now it’s more about team work, team dynamics, team schemes, things that are planned out. How to look at the opponent, how to bring about antidotes to the opponent’s playing star. When it comes to physical strength and bursts of speed, you can’t beat an African. But what is lacking now is just that technical and tactical know-how. Then we’ll get it.”
Oliseh took out the time when he finished playing to get the Uefa Pro Licence, the highest coaching qualification in Europe. His qualifications and his playing experience equip him with the tools to improve the technical and tactical aspects of our national team. He is also one of the most intellectually sound players of his generation. There are indications that he will be given the mandate for a root and branch revamping of Nigerian football.
There are only two factors that are likely to stop him being a success. These are the frustrations of working in the Nigerian terrain, which include working with inept and corrupt administrators. The second factor would be whether Oliseh chooses to work in a manner that does not let other motives come into play. Oliseh has several business interests including this one: Oliseh’s business and sports consultancy
His brother Churchill is a football agent.
If those factors do not get in the way, Oliseh could be the best thing that happened to Nigerian football since he hit that screamer that ensured Nigeria beat Spain 3-2 in the 1998 World Cup.