The NFF and their expensive German gamble!

Categories: Analysis, Featured, Football, Sports Development
Written By: Olusegun Odegbami

I am very happy that the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, have finally got their wish. They have hired another foreigner to handle the Super Eagles.
I am also happy that they appear to be very happy with their choice of the man, a German. They tell us his best credentials are that he has deep grassroots developmental experience plus knowledge of African football and footballers!

Nigerians’ expectations are now sky high considering that the new man has promised to deliver on the mandate given him – to qualify the Super Eagles for the 2018 World Cup.
That mandate is important because the cost to Nigerians of failing to qualify for the last two African Cup of Nations championships is humongous, particularly for those of us whose livelihood depends on the football business that thrives only when the national team is doing well internationally. Plus, of course, the impact on millions of other Nigerians that ‘feed’ on the ‘feel good’ factor that success in football provides them in these harsh and hard economic and political times.

All over the country now, Nigerians want the Super Eagles to return to winning ways. Winning is what unites them. It is an integral part of what made them the happiest people in the world a few years ago. Winning cushions the psychological depression of failure in other sectors, if only temporarily.

Nigerians have missed the buzz that comes with winning in the past two years! They want it back and quickly. The NFF know it and have chosen the path of a foreign coach to rescue the situation.

It is obviously a very big gamble considering Nigeria’s past experiences with foreign coaches since Jo Bonfrere exited about a decade ago.
The 2018 World Cup provides the platform for the next big challenge. For the NFF it is a matter of ‘lose and sink’, or ‘succeed and survive’. Deep down they know it.
So, I can understand why it is important for them and for everyone else to be interested in who takes over the national team at this critical time after the last two crisis laden experiences under Nigerian coaches, late Stephen Keshi and Sunday Oliseh.

A few things come to mind though as the German starts work in Nigeria. He will probably be scrutinized more than any other foreign coach in our history.
Probably, that the NFF chose to cloak the coach with the title of technical adviser is to provide a cushion of some sort for the man and for themselves should he fail. Otherwise why a title unknown to developed football cultures, unknown even in Germany where the man comes from.

So, is he fully in charge of coaching the Super Eagles or he is not? Is he just supposed to advise the chief coach, Yusuf Sanusi, who, like all the other Nigerian coaches before him that worked under a technical adviser, has a title that entitles him nothing but the ceremonial role of sitting on the bench?

We recall Clemens Westerhof. He was also called Technical Adviser. He was the first foreigner to be given that title.
His was originally a ploy to shift responsibility of failure to another should he fail. It was also to cover up for his lack of requisite coaching qualifications needed to manage a high profile national team like the Super Eagles. Clemens Westerhof had little credentials, no pedigree of any substance, and definitely none of the experience needed to coach one of the biggest teams in Africa. Hiring him was a big gamble taken by late Chief S. B. Williams.

Fortunately, Westerhof took over at the right time with an avalanche of emerging truly exceptional talent onto the scene. He cleverly exploited the situation by supporting himself with competent technical aides (both foreign and local) and, in 5 years, achieved success that only late Stephen Keshi, a Nigerian that played and obviously learnt a lot under him, has surpassed since then as a coach in Nigeria’s football history.

The present NFF have engaged another little known foreigner with limited experiences coaching some minor teams in Africa, and clothed him in the amorphous garment of Technical Adviser, Westerhof-style!

This time there will be no opportunity of shifting responsibility to a scapegoat should the experiment fail. The German will carry the can of the team’s success or failure.

In surrendering to their sentiment to hire a foreign coach I am putting it on record that even as the new man obviously does not need my support to succeed, he should know from the onset that I am not on his side, and that my stand has nothing to do with his person but with the realization that for every foreign coach that Nigeria hires we are denying a Nigerian the opportunity to accumulate the much-needed experience that moving up the global ladder of football coaching requires.

The truth is bitter that Europe, Asia and the America’s will never (at least not in this lifetime) give a Nigerian coach, no matter his resume, the opportunity to coach a big foreign club or national team, exactly what our administrators demand as prerequisite to confidently hire them to handle the senior national team.

How will any Nigerian coach ever be qualified to handle the national team? Where would they gain and gather the required experience if not from Nigeria itself and probably a few African countries as in the case of Stephen Keshi?
Is Daniel Amokachi’s sensational decision to handle a foreign fourth division club in the remote lesser league of Norway driven by the desire to fulfill this far-fetched requirement by our administrators?

It is important to make the necessary sacrifices now so that we can escape our perpetual enslavement to cheap foreign coaches.

With Amodu, Keshi, Siasia and Oliseh succeeding each other with mixed results, including a spell of unprecedented achievements under Keshi, Nigerians were poised to attain that level of sophistication, experience and knowledge in coaching (which will be eventually handed down to a new generation) that would have placed them at par with their colleagues in Europe and America. By truncating the succession and handing over to an ordinary foreign coach Nigeria has definitely taken a step backwards.
History will prove me right soon enough when this musical game of chairs continues between local and foreign coaches.

Once again, let me state clearly that I have nothing against the idea of hiring the best foreign coaches for Nigeria’s senior national team. But no foreign coach shall get an iota of my support unless he has the credentials, the experience and the pedigree that clearly dwarf those of the best Nigerians available, period!

So, as we all bring out our microscopes and telescopes and start to go through everything the German coach does with a fine toothcomb, my hope and wish are that he succeeds.

Qualifying for the 2018 World Cup is a huge mountain to climb, but we are all waiting, watching, praying and wishing Gernot Rohr well, despite any misgivings!

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