Baptism Of Nigeria’s New Coach, Sunday Oliseh
LAST Saturday in the city of Dar es Salam, Tanzania, we saw glimpses of a new Super Eagles team. It was not such a pleasant sight.
The match had no goals scored, no creative or constructive play, only one truly outstanding player (the new Nigerian goalkeeper) and no clear chances created in 90 minutes of a drab encounter played on an abysmal turf.
It was Sunday Oliseh’s first taste of the fiery world of coaching Nigeria’s national team.
It was a match that attracted an apology by the new coach to Nigerians for the poor performance of the team, even though it was obvious that coaching was not the problem with the team. The Nigerian team simply comprised average players that were clueless and could not find their feet.
Aside from everything else, I think Nigerians’ expectations were unrealistically high considering the circumstances surrounding the match.
Strong teams are not built in a hurry through assembling new players for one week by a coach who is new himself. Plus, the Nigerian team comprised players too inexperienced to go to the high altitude of Tanzania and expect to defeat the Taifa Stars on their home ground. That was a tall order.
Unfortunately, the Super Eagles failed to impress even themselves with a pedestrian performance that left everyone watching in need of a cup of coffee to stay awake.
The problem obviously was not about the coaching but the lack of quality players. Oliseh rightly says he needs more time to discover the right players and to coach them to develop a distinctive culture of football reminiscent of the national teams of the 1980s and 1990s of which Oliseh himself was an active part.
This culture emphasises playing to the natural strength of Nigerian players, exploiting their physique, athleticism and speed as they power down both flanks in ceaseless attacks.
Oliseh is right – he needs plenty of time, a luxury he would not get from Nigerians, of course!
So what does he do now that domestic Nigerian football has not helped the quick and mass production of players of exceptional quality that Oliseh is looking for?
Even where a few good players come through the system, the process of honing their talent to the next level is stunted by their failure to go to the right clubs abroad, an absolute essential for making the transition from raw talent to quality finished product. Domestic Nigerian football on its own still does not have the caliber of coaches, the quality of venues (particularly for training) and the mental attitude needed to make such transformation possible.
So, we can easily conclude that until and unless a talented Nigerian footballer goes abroad and passes through the crucible of psychological and technical development, he is unlikely to become a finished product of the quality that can fulfill Oliseh’s dream of a new and truly exceptional Super Eagles flying on both wings.
Oliseh and all the other great stars of his generation and after – Rashidi, Okocha, Kanu, Ikpeba, Babangida, Mikel, etc. also went through this same process.
But there is a dangerous angle to this matter that requires careful examination.
To halt the practice where players just migrate cheaply to any mushroom clubs abroad and waste away in obscurity, Oliseh might have to do what his coach in the 1994 Super Eagles, Clemens Westerhof, did to guarantee success – get involved in shepherding the best discovered local players to strategic countries and the right clubs abroad that will ensure and accelerate their development and maturity.
Westerhof actually assisted several players into clubs in Belgium and Holland at the risk of being tagged a merchant of Nigerian players!
It is a catch-22 situation. Failure to be involved in this seemingly ‘ugly’ practice is tantamount to watching good raw materials sold into the ‘slavery’ of clubs in obscure corners of the world where they slowly and steadily waste away.
In this matter I have no advise for Oliseh. He should decide what’s best for him and for Nigeria.
So, Oliseh is combing the whole of Europe and even some parts of Asia in search of quality players that must have escaped the dragnet of previous scouting.
His baptism last Saturday clearly shows the high hurdles over which he has to scale to survive in Nigeria.
What Can Oliseh Do Now?
He must put on his thinking cap very quickly. Nigerians have no patience with unfavourable results. He must be clever in managing the best players available now for the next year before the more difficult and critical World Cup preliminary matches begin. He will survive the AFCON qualifiers.
It would be foolhardy for him to embark on starting a completely new team now. The players are just not available. So he must still make use of some older players with the experience and attitude that will provide the stability the team needs now.
Nigeria’s midfield holds the key to the immediate future of the Super Eagles.
My Humble Advise On The Team?
I think Mikel Obi still has a few more years of service he could render the Eagles. The only proviso conditions are that he must relinquish his captaincy and be ready to play strictly as a defensive midfield player, never venturing upfront for anything, providing additional cover for the shaky central defense Nigeria has been parading for some time now, and keep floating those immaculate passes of his to running forwards on both wings. No more, no less.
Ogenyi Onazi is still needed in the midfield with his endless running, tackling and shooting from a distance. It is his temperament that must be kept in check. Joel Obi, when healthy and fit, has the experience and skills from the Italian league to play as the creative attacking midfielder in the Super Eagles.
Victor Moses is still definitely needed in Nigeria’s line-up. His dribbling skills, acceleration and inventiveness for now are still unmatched. His presence in the team will help boost the confidence of the new comers and make them want to also freely express their individualism, a trait on which successful Nigerian players thrive.
Add to these tested warriors some of the emerging talents from the junior teams, and a new team would start to emerge. I am still not so sure what to make of Iheanacho’s ability, but Awoniyi is surely ready for a place in the front line of the Super Eagles.