Worries For Enrique, Mourinho And Oliseh!
I don’t know what to make of FC Barcelona on the eve of the new Spanish La Liga season. The players are mostly the same except for the exit of one or two from the team that made mincemeat of all opposition last season. Barcelona were so good they made many a team look like some bungling school boys learning to play football!
Okay, so, I may be exaggerating a little bit but the truth is that last season the team was awesome, ending on the note that it could go all the way to equal their unprecedented record of six trophies in one year achieved in 2009.
At a point during the season no team in the world could keep pace with the movements, the running, the flawless interchange of positions and passes, the constant danger in opposing goal areas, and the three unstoppable strikers – Messi, Suarez and Neymar. Last season, time stopped temporarily every time the team played.
In the past three or so weeks, however, something has happened to the team. First, they only managed to win the Uefa Super Cup with the skin of their teeth after blowing away a four-goal lead against Seville FC.
Although they still went ahead and won the trophy but not without tears and blood, raising concerns for their greatest fans and for Luiz Enrique.
One week later, playing like a team that had run out of steam and ideas, they fell scandalously like a pack of cards to Athletic Bilbao by four unreplied goals in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup. They could only manage a 1-1 draw in the second leg at Camp Nou!
Definitely something is not right with the team. Dani Alves, the Brazilian playing at right back in the team, attributes their dismal performance to the fatigue as a result of the grueling match with Seville. Fatigue at the start of the season?
For eight goals to be scored by two different opponents within the space of one week against the current best team in the world raises serious questions about the architecture of the defense of FC Barcelona on the eve of the La Liga!
That’s why I am worried for the ‘architect’, Luis Enrique!
My fears may turn out to be premature again considering that in previous years Barcelona have always found a way of bouncing back after any slump.
‘The Special One’
My second concern is for the loquacious and incomparable Jose Mourinho.
Two weeks into the new EPL season Mourinho has not looked his usual boisterous and confident self.
This last week, as Chelsea, for the second time in a week, failed to impress again I noticed the weary look on Mourinho’s face, particularly as he sat and helplessly witnessed how his team was methodically torn apart by Manchester City’s supreme midfield play!
By the time Manchester City scored their third goal Mourinho was lost in the labyrinth of confusion. Gone were his usual cockiness and swagger.
The ease with which Manchester City tore Chelsea to shreds in 90 minutes, and the ‘humility’ with which Mourinho shook the hand of Manuel Pelligrini after that match, were for me the highlights of last week in the EPL.
On top of all of that, the way he snapped up Pedro Rodriguez who had been on the shopping list of Manchester United all through pre-season, immediately after losing to Man City, appeared a very desperate move to right his tilting boat. Has he given up on Radamel Falcao already? Has not investing lavishly in new players this season begun to take its toll? Did he get his calculations all wrong this time?
That’s why I am worried for Jose Mourinho!
My third concern is a new ‘soldier’ in the war front.
Sunday Oliseh, Nigeria’s new national coach, has resumed work with the team in the past one week.
His first assignment will be the match against Tanzania in a few weeks time.
In order to justify replacing Stephen Keshi, Sunday Oliseh must be seen to be of a different stock. He has not disappointed in that regard. His composure, confidence, language and message have all revealed a man who appears to know exactly what he is doing. Everything he has said and done since his arrival has resonated well with Nigerians.
Then he released his team list of players to be invited for the assignment. And I got worried. Looking at the list I could almost read how his mind is working.
Playing a team like Tanzania provides him a perfect opportunity to raise a new Super Eagles team with a distinct character from the one that failed in the latter part of Keshi’s tenure.
Oliseh has surely combed the world for new players.
Dropping Mikel Obi and Victor Moses, two of the most experienced Nigerian players in the world currently, sends a very strong signal about his intentions. He is not going to be sentimental and dance to the tune of superstar players. With him, reputation counts for nothing, and current performance counts for everything. That appears to be his philosophy.
Oliseh stated that he has not found any exceptionally gifted Nigerian players in his global search, and that this is a reflection of the quality of the domestic league producing them.
So in making do with whatever good players are available he would build a solid, disciplined and organised team that will be committed to the mission at hand and hungry to succeed.
So, why am I worried? It is not for the reasons many will be thinking.
Tanzania have never been and are definitely not a threat to Nigeria in African football. Over two legs they cannot defeat even the worst assembly of Super Eagles drawn from any assembly of Nigerian players.
With all due respect, Tanzania are a perfect platform to launch Oliseh’s first assignment as coach of Nigeria’s national team. Winning will instill confidence in him and the new players. The real tests obviously still lie ahead when the big teams come, but he needs a good launch pad in order to take off.
So, with Tanzania Oliseh can afford to try out new players and start the development of a new style of play, utilizing the natural endowments of Nigerian players – physique, speed and power – to the best advantage.
So, why am I worried?
I am worried because Oliseh must get it right the first time. Nigerians do not have patience for any kind of failure.
And to do so, and convincingly too, he would require a good theatre for his assembly to perform as a disciplined team following a well-structured script on the field of play.
Nigerian teams in the past have played and won on poor grounds but were successful on the strength of exceptionally gifted individual players and their performances. They are not in Oliseh’s team.
It is that simple yet only a deep and discerning technical mind would appreciate fully why this should worry anyone particularly the coach. The better the grass, the better the ground, the better the game!