Keshi, Oliseh and Nigeria’s football




THE unveiling of Nigeria’s new national football coach the 45th in tow, to handle the national team, the Super Eagles, after the sacking of Stephen Keshi, seems a shot at a sustainable football culture by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).

Indeed, Sunday Oliseh’s presentation is like turning the page in NFF’s  age-long chaotic relationship with coaches. But a critical assessment of the crises and chaos that is Nigeria’s football administration in the past decades makes such optimistic conclusion untenable, even deceptive.

However, the NFF has a great opportunity to cut a new image for itself and give the game of football a new direction to return the country to the pinnacle of soccer on the continent and make it a force to be reckoned with worldwide. Keshi has served his country and deserves respect.

A national team coach ordinarily should command respect in any country. But by unnecessarily taking on the establishment at a point in a career that undoubtedly gave some glorious returns to him and the country, the former coach, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, seemed to have done more wrong than good. He has now joined the long list of coaches who ended terms with NFF on strained notes, and he is not likely to forget in a hurry his war of attrition with the NFF especially in his very controversial, turbulent second coming. That was after the expiration of initial contract terms that terminated with the Brazil 2014 World Cup where he led the Eagles to an early ouster and in which critics held him responsible for presiding over a divided house.

Some critical areas are germane to the NFF-coaches unsavoury relationship. Does the Federation fully appreciate or recognise the value of professional employees? Has NFF been signing quality managers who could measure up to the best on the continental or global stage? What manner of interference do the coaches endure from some incurably nosy and corrupt officials? Is there a cartel in the Glass House, irrespective of the administration as critics allege? Time remains the true arbiter.

On a closer look, Keshi did well for himself and country both as player, team captain and as national coach. His coaching pedigree even covered exploits with national teams of Mali and Togo at some point, a plus to his profile. To his credit, he returned the Super Eagles to the zenith of African football with his winning the African Cup of Nations in 2013 in South Africa after almost 19 years of the team hitting that level of success. Soon after, he got the team on board the World Cup train to Brazil, disastrous as that outing eventually proved, anyway, for a continental champion.

Although undeclared publicly, NFF saw Keshi more like an imposed manager, to the detriment of Nigerian football. Keshi rolled with the crisis until his sack which he facilitated by his alleged application for another job to coach Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire as his N5 million per month contract subsisted. His successor, Sunday Oliseh will do well to learn from these pitfalls.

Critics questioned NFF on following the due process, though many saw the dismissal long coming. The Federation has to put its house in order because it is not enough to accuse coaches of not being “on the same page with employers.” The coach’s position became untenable, NFF added, because “it looked unlikely he would achieve set objectives…we thought we were not going in the same direction in terms of what we hoped in the short and long term”.

In some quarters, Oliseh, the new helmsman, is coming in on a deficit note going by the sharp division among local tacticians on his coaching pedigree and suitability for the big position. However, a plus for him is the expressed faith of his employers in him as well as Nigerians’ love for him on account of his successful years of service to the nation on the pitch.

At his unveiling, the coach, also a former national captain, spoke humbly and confidently of his mission to accomplish a lot for Nigeria because the country was not doing him “a favour by the appointment” just as he would not expect his wards to consider wearing the national colours a favour.

Oliseh’s appointment must, therefore, set a new tone in employer-employee relationship. Nigerians and the global football community have had enough of mudslinging in the Glass House. Football means a lot to Nigerians and they are thirsty for more honours as well as the national pride that comes with it.

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