Sunday Oliseh does not possess the kind of résumé that will blow people away despite his acquisition of the highly touted UEFA Professional Coaching License. This accounts for harsh criticism from many quarters following his very surprising appointment as Manager of Nigeria's national football team. What is their nickname these days really? Super Eagles or plain Green Eagles? I have read some referring to them as "Chickens." Not nice at all!
As a highly decorated club and national team player, Oliseh was the coaches dream. A footballer who could serve as the "coach on the field" because of his in-depth understanding of the game, tactical awareness and ability to adapt to different strategies. The respect he had from his peers and coaches was evident in him being made captain of the team in 2002 during the Nation's Cup in Africa. He is my favorite player from that generation. Kanu and Okocha included and I do appreciate the immense skills those two possessed! Oliseh's wonder goal from a 30 yard strike against Spain at France '98 sent me into delirious frenzy and still brings a huge grin today!
However, his lack of experience in coaching top flight and even second tier teams in European leagues — an almost impossible feat to achieve by an African or no experience whatsoever in African leagues, something he could have easily accomplished, count against him no doubt. There really is no way to evaluate his ability to lead a football team from the coaches bench right now in spite of his impressive credentials. Still, Nigeria wants to experiment with him at the helm of its vacillant football team many are wondering? For them, their crystal balls are revealing more years of tears and frustration rather than smiles and jubilation! They need to smash those glass balls please! Optimism is needed here.
It was painfully obvious that Stephen Keshi lacked the technical depth to alter the flow of a game in which his team was performing badly and he had an excellent if not great résumé before being appointed as Sunday Oliseh's predecessor! He definitely paid his dues! So what is the NFA expecting this time from Sunday Oliseh? Will he be using the early part of this appointment to learn how to coach a team that should always play at a high level? To calm down, try to think of other players that stepped into National coaching positions without much experience and were quite successful. Dunga of Brazil and current UEFA boss who was also Maradona's supposed rival in his day, Platini are two that come to mind very easily. I would have preferred, along with many others if Oliseh took the career path Frank De Boer, current Manager of Ajax is on but since such positions are virtually off limits to Africans in Europe, is it in the moribund Nigerian local league that he will gain the experience many question him over?
When Nigeria had a Nigerian born coach with world class experience in Festus Onigbinde who managed the National team from 1981-1984 and in 2002, the National Football Association, NFA did not give him the kind of support it gave foreign coaches and technical advisers in spite of his very impressive credentials and reputation as a great football tactician! The Shaibu Amodu experience is another example of this unequal yoke placed on Nigerian born coaches taken from the Nigerian system to manage its National team! Stephen Keshi had his running battles with them too even though he had coached other African nations with moderate success! We can only hope that Sunday Oliseh will be able to navigate the shark infested waters of Nigerian Football politics safely. Fingers crossed!
The new coach of the "overcame by gravity" Eagles of Nigeria must select players with impressive enough natural skill sets, regardless of which part of the country they claim as their origins, since an ability to harmonize them all as a team is what will make him look good as a coach initially, before he is able to show impatient Nigerians, including me that he really does know the art of managing a National Football team. You must realize that 99% of Nigerians are arm-chair coaches. The remaining 1% are those who watch cricket, golf, tennis or some other "second class sport" in our world, while Nigeria's national football teams are engaged in fierce battle on the turf!
If he can show within a few games that it is not a fluke when his team is successful on the field, then Nigeria should at least give Oliseh the same length of rope it gave one of the most vocal critics of his appointment, Clemens Westerhof who is arguably Nigeria's greatest football coach to date having coached a golden generation of players including Keshi, in his twilight years, Oliseh, Kanu, Okocha, Yekini, Finidi, Amokachi, Amuneke and others from 1989-1994. Westerhoff was not a great tactician by any means but you cannot deny he was a tremendous scout of talent and a very good manager of football players, NFA and government officials— all with huge egos! Bonfere Jo made up for his supposed "technical deficiency" we were told. I have to go back to that era because it is the best reference point to use in my opinion.
Regardless of how this appointment turns out, I believe that the choice of using Nigerian born coaches is the right way to go. I wish Coach Sunday Oliseh well. May he find within himself or outside of himself, his own "Westerhoff" and/or "Bonfere Jo" as the need arises. "The Boss," Keshi's inability to figure out how to fill that void or maybe even to recognize it existed… was his undoing.
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