The Super Eagles can win the World Cup in the next 10 years, at the championships of 2026 or 2030. That should be Nigerians’ next target.
In 1994, at the USA ‘94 World Cup, with 14 minutes to go and playing against 3 times World Champions at the time, Italy, Nigeria was firmly on the periphery of creating the biggest upset in World Cup history by defeating Italy and advancing, on the basis of outstanding performance (not luck), to challenge for a place amongst the last 16 teams. Looking back now, I imagine a scenario where, with the same 14 minutes to go, the Super Eagles had on their bench any one of Jose Mourinho, Diego Simone, Carlos Ancelotti, Pep Guardiola, Jürgen Klopp, or even late Nigerian, Teslim ‘Thunder’ Balogun, as a coach.
Anyone of these coaches would have become the 12th player on the field on that day. At that point in time, when the Nigerian team was cruising to an almost certain victory and started to toy with the ball, the coach would have been moving up and down by the sidelines hugging the playing field, shouting out instructions that may not even be mostly heard, annoying the opposing team and even match officials with distractive theatrics, charging and directing the Nigerian players to ‘kill’ the game and do whatever they had to do to hold out against an increasingly frustrated Italian team playing with one man down. Mourinho, for example, takes critical moments in a match so seriously that he once sacked his own team doctor for entering the field ‘too early’ to help his own injured player. The same man rushed to hug a ball boy that had returned a ball that had gone out of play very quickly to his own player, an unscripted act that resulted in a goal that changed the course of the match. These ‘new’ generation coaches do ‘crazy’ things in the course of a match that has become a part of winning strategies and tactics. They may not always win, because football is an unpredictable game after all, but no one can accuse them of not doing enough, or not giving enough of everything they know and have to offer, to win matches. Their records, therefore, speak volumes. That’s why they are listed amongst the best 10 coaches in the world, with the exception of Teslim who passed on in 1972, probably when some of them were in their diapers.
These are managers whose actions and critical decisions on the field of play have, through the years, impacted and influenced the course of matches, and separated the boys from the men in the game of football. Nigerians are a peculiar breed of the human species. In my limited experience, and without any scientific data to support my assertion, I believe Nigerians are different from every other Black homo sapiens in their general comportment, mannerisms, values, aggression and confidence level in all things. What motivates the Nigerian is different from that of all other Black folks partly because with him the cultural colonisation process was not completed before political Independence came. This carries on to the football field and to Nigerian football players, largely.
So, to successfully manage a Nigerian team requires some special skills and special attention. Westerhof got the psychology of the team right but failed because he lacked the depth in tactical ability, that fine edge that makes all the difference between winning and losing difficult and critical football matches. That’s why for a team such as Nigeria, with players that have a unique temperament that only Westerhof has been able to identify better than any other foreign coach before and after him, and for which reason also he has been the most successful amongst the foreign coaches by deploying this knowledge to good and effective use, there is a need for the services of a coach that can do what Westerhof did managerially and psychologically, and add to that the missing ingredient ( deep tactical knowledge) so as to get the best of the physical, quick, intelligent, sharp, aggressive, hard-fighting and never-say-die Nigerian team that Westerhof’s Green Eagles were. Jose Mourinho in charge of that team to USA ’94, even with his defensive tactics, or Ancelotti, or Pep Guardiola, or anyone of several of the best coaches in the world, would have effected some changes and given some instructions, and charged the players to secure their lead against Italy and progressed in the World Cup that year.
Also in 1998, a tactically savvy manager would have recognized the technically organized disciplined style of Denmark and crafted a countermeasure for the Super Eagles to deal with it very easily and moved on to the second round after playing one of the matches of the tournament in defeating one of the best teams in the world at the time, Spain. Bora Milutinovic had no such knowledge, or carriage, or even temperament to alter the course of the match against Denmark and Nigeria lost out again to tactical deficiency. Forget about what happened in South Africa in 2010 with Lars Lagerback, the Swedish International turned coach. He came in too late in the day to join the Nigerian team that before he even settled in to understand the team, the Eagles had been humiliated and bundled out of the World Cup.
In 2018, even with the average team that Nigeria presented in Russia, a team that showed intermittent brilliance, with Jürgen Klopp, or a Luis Van Gaal, or a Pep Guardiola, or any of the decent tacticians in European football in charge, Nigeria would have ‘stolen’ the match against Argentina. They had the opportunity with 14 minutes to go. For lack of proper grounding in tactics, as well as some naivety, the team helplessly blew it, with Gernot Rohr, the German manager, sitting on the bench not doing anything to attempt to alter the course of the match. That he did nothing was spoke volumes. It was either that he did not know what to do, or that he did not realise the match meant almost life or death for the Nigerian who was gleaning a victory within touching distance and saw it slip away because the expert he hired to do the job did not have the capacity.
Gernot Rohr is a complete European gentleman, a cool, calm, and fatherly figure that Nigerian players do NOT need to lead them into battle. The Nigerian is a complex character – boisterous, sometimes cantankerous, and effervescent. He does not function maximally with the gentle handling – ask Westerhof! If Gernot’s Russian failure could be forgiven for any reason, not so what happened at a much lower level in Egypt during AFCON 2019. The Russian scenario almost played out again in the semi-final match against Algeria. The Algerians were a better team, but it was Nigeria that had the gifted opportunity of snatching victory from the jaws of poor performance up to the dying moments of the match. Directionless, naively, tamely, and with a manager that did not take any decisive decision to halt the mounting pressure and ‘kill’ the game in the dying seconds, Nigeria lost a match they had already in their pockets, and lost the chance to play in the finals. It was an elementary tactical deficit. Gernot Rohr does not love Nigeria more than Nigerians. He has not even demonstrated commitment as Clemens Westerhof freely did, living here in Nigeria, and even setting up a home with a Nigerian ‘wife’ in tow.
The World Cup is a theatre of passion, national pride and patriotism. It is a World War. Players, supporters and anyone connected to the team must love the country they represent with a passion that reflects that they can die for it, more so Nigeria, the representative of the largest congregation of the most discriminated-against race in the world. Any coach to lead this country must have his work cut out, and must fight ten times harder than usual to go near winning the World Cup. I am not a racist but I know that no White coach can demonstrate such unbridled love for an African country. So, if African choose to hire a White coach, they must be ready to pay to pick from amongst the best in the world. Otherwise, they should sink or swim with their own. That way they would give their own the opportunities denied them by the advanced football cultures to gain the experience they need to join the league of the best coaches in the world, and genuinely attempt to win the most coveted trophy in football, from 2026, 2030 and beyond. For me, Gernot Rohr has had his chance and opportunities and blew them both. I would not set sail again with him in 2022.
Go get a Jose Mourinho (any amongst the best in the world), or start to groom qualified Nigerians to do the job! Teslim‘Thunder’ Balogun could have done the job. Ask all those that knew him, saw him play and coach in Nigeria.