For eons now I have been clamoring that one of the best coaches that fit the bill of being the national coach of the Super Eagles of Nigeria is Sunday Ogochukwu Oliseh. I wished for this not only because I had been a great admirer of the former Super Eagles captain and fierce midfield combatant, it is also because I sensed that he has what it takes to become a successful coach.
So you can imagine how elated I was when the Nigerian Football Federation announced the sack of the former coach, Stephen Keshi, and later announced Sunday Oliseh as head coach. Many were skeptical about this move—citing that Oliseh is not experienced enough to fill in such a big shoe and should have been tested with the Under-23 Team or the Flying Eagels. But I felt that that is hoax because he is more than qualified to do the job.
Indulge me if you believed Keshi was good enough but for me I never really liked the man as a coach. Let’s get this sorted— I didn’t doubt that Keshi had some football acumen and had shown it with the teams he had handled across Africa, but there is this lax about him—something that is accentuated by the way he chews gum and pick his words while answering queries from the press as if he didn’t want to say them; something that suggests to me that he had taken his job for granted. In Stephen Keshi, I didn’t see a coach who is technically astute or who is really hungry to take our football to the height it once was. It is true that Keshi won the Nations Cup for Nigeria— but it is not just about winning a trophy that has arguably plummeted in standards—it is about the attitude a coach is able to instill in the players who wear the national colors of the most populous black nation and the kind of football they play.
Sunday Oliseh has always been a pragmatic guy—a disciplined and fearsome leader. No one would forget the passion he puts on when playing for the super Eagles in his heydays. He was assiduous in the midfield and shrewd with his long accurate passes. It would be criminal to forget the pass that he gave to Emmanuel Amunike in the Tunisia ‘94 Nations cup final, or how he rescued Nigeria from crashing out after he came off the bench in the final moments of the quarterfinal game between Nigeria and Senegal in Nigeria/Ghana 2000 Nations Cup and delivered one of his long trademark passes to Julius Aghahowa, who fired home and sent fans in the National Stadium Surulere rambunctious. That heroics would have been normalcy if not that he was sick that day which was why he was omitted from the starting line up in the first place. When Nigeria would lose the final to the indomitable lions of Cameroon, after coming back from two goals down and forcing a penalty shootout, Oliseh would wail inconsolably like a child whose biscuit was forcefully taken from him as he penitently received the runners-up trophy. The man had passion!
Passion, however, is never enough – competence is everything. The moment Oliseh called it quits with his colorful career as a professional player, having had stints with eight clubs across Europe, one that made him a polyglot and has won him laurels—he started prepping for the next stage of his career—getting his coaching badges, something he shared in his TEDxEuston talk a while ago and I also hinted on in a blog I wrote about Emmanuel Adebayor and his family. Oliseh obtained all the football badges at the highest level and that simply makes him qualified to do the job! Apart from having his dossier filled with coaching certificates, Oliseh also had a stint coaching in a Belgian club. If you look around the world today, you would see that the most promising coaches are those of Sunday Oliseh’s era. Who would forget in a hurry that ferocious winner that Oliseh fired home for Nigeria to beat Spain in the France ‘98 World Cup? The former Juventus and Ajax midfielder battled the likes of Luis Enrique, Fernando Hierro, Andoni Zubizarreta (who conceded that goal!) and others in that game—folks who are now top coaches and football administrators today.
There are many coaches who have succeeded and have never really had any remarkable “experience.” And examples abound: Pep Guardiola, Didier Deschamps, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Roberto Di Matteo and even Luis Enrique who just won a treble in his first stint in a top club. Forget experience, knowledge is what matters and with the right support, Oliseh should be able to do a good job. He has the discipline and toughness to instill seriousness into any player and having played at the apogee of his trade, he would not be intimidated or compromised by the fortune of his subjects. My only fear is that would he be allowed to the job without interference? Would the NFF support him as they should and not try to frustrate him when he takes decisions that may not tickle them? All the answers we seek lie in the days ahead.