In 2002, Nigeria finished as the third place team in the African cup of Nations, later that year, Nigeria went to the World cup and finished fourth in a very tough group despite playing some good football. Coincidentally, current head coach, Sunday Oliseh retired in June of 2002 and ever since that world cup tournament, Nigerian football has been on a decline and now, Oliseh, who was omitted from the World Cup squad in 2002 for disciplinary reasons has been tasked with restoring Nigeria to the summit of African football.
Let me be clear, Oliseh is not hear to stop the ship from sinking, he has been tasked with building a new ship all together, Christian Chukwu, Bergti Vogts, Augustine Eguavoen and Samson Siasia were the ones who could have stopped the decline but all these former Super Eagles players failed woefully and Lars Lagerback was probably the manager that hurt the Super Eagles the most. Stephen Keshi’s 2013 AFCON triumph was mainly because of a run of luck, hunger on the path of the players and the desire of the home-based eagles to succeed. That much was obvious when Nigeria failed to even qualify for the 2015 AFCON exposed Keshi for the tactical blockhead that he was despite Nigeria’s run to the second round of the world cup in 2014. Keshi was fired and then re hired but the former Sacramento Scorpions man’s inconsistency and selection blunders cost him his job and Oliseh was hired to rebuild what a host of managers had destroyed in 13 years. A 13 years that has seen our key players decline from strikers for Arsenal and Ajax, Bolton, PSG and Newcastle United as well as Everton to Bench warmers at Chelsea and Stoke City to division two players and reduced Nigeria to struggling to call up a B-list player at Liverpool.
Oliseh started out quite smartly as he clearly stated that any player not playing first team football in a top division would not be called up. Nigerians castigated the former Genk man for his decision but let us break it down. Van Persie left Manchester United for Fenerbache! Because he wants to feature for the Netherlands in the Euro 2016, Mario Balotelli found his way back to AC Milan because he wanted to fight for a jersey in the Italian squad and Pato returned to Brazil in search of first team football. A player who does not play in the first team might be match fit but he would never be match sharp, don’t believe me, watch Mikel in recent matches despite his quality. Secondly, if you want to come up against the best opponents week in week out, play in a top division. Oliseh did not say the UEFA champions league he simply said “the top division” for Pete’s sake, Everton is a top Division club. A few months ago, Mikel would have commanded a first team shirt at Southampton but the longer he stays on the bench at Chelsea, the lower his chances drop with clubs that can still compete in Europe. Obafemi Martins is set for a return to the Super Eagles after moving to the United States and becoming a key player for the Seattle Sounders. So Nigerian players would most likely move to clubs that would enable them play and showcase their talents before bigger clubs would then come for them and actually put them on the pitch and not the bench.
Oliseh has also made it clear that home-based eagles would have a chance. The answer to that is simple, Nigeria play most of their games in Africa against African team with players playing in Africa and the Players in the Nigerian league and other African league would be better at tackling these players who they go up against on a weekly level. Just check out Egypt from 2006 to 2012 you would agree with Oliseh’s logic. Home based players are generally more hungry and would serve the country well.
Oliseh is also reported to be looking at playing friendlies against teams in the top 20 in FIFA’s rankings. This might cost Nigeria some money and planning time but the results far outweigh the labor. Nigeria would get more points when they play against higher rated teams, especially European teams and quite simply the quality of Nigeria’s opponents would attract some players to the national team while also preparing the Super Eagles for clashes against teams of that quality in international tournaments. I mean if you p spend all your time playing against Tahiti and celebrating wins in those kinds of matches when you come up against Portugal, you would be in for it. If you want to be in the top 10, beat the teams in the top 10.
Now onto Oliseh’s abilities. Oliseh is good with the press but his time at Vervietois showed how tactically unsound Oliseh was. I say was because that was 5 years ago. Oliseh has shown a great understanding of the game while serving as a pundit for a few TV stations in Europe and his expansive knowledge of the game make his quite qualified to manage team. Oliseh is however unproven as a manager and doesn’t have the temperament or the political know-how to navigate the management of a national team in a country like Nigeria. Oliseh also has an attitude that borders on narcissistic and runs the risk of ostracizing his best players. And the former Juventus man’s problem’s with authority mean he would hard time managing a relationship with the NFF. That being said, Oliseh’s balls to the wall attitude and his tell everyone off attitude would work well for the Super eagles. His emphasis on hard work would go a long way in attracting the crop of players we need. Oliseh also runs the risk of falling out with the press and when that happens, it would only be a matter of months before he is fired. Oliseh has also failed to tell Nigerians not to expect quick results as he struts around with the air of someone who would fix the problems in the Super Eagles camp before the next match.
Putting it all into account, Oliseh is kind of like Buhari; put in a tight spot, under the spotlight after inheriting an institution that has been wrought by mismanagement for over a decade and with people expecting him to turn it around within a few weeks.
Oliseh might not be the one to take Nigerian football back to the place where we all know it can be but he certainly has the quality to set the Super Eagles on their way if the NFF doesn’t kill all the 40 year old’s plans.