Barely two months ago, November 16 to be precise, the Gernot Rohr-led Super Eagles playing against Cape Verde at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, put up a lackluster performance that summed up his about six years run-of-the-mill outings as coach of Nigeria.
Between November and January 11 when the Eagles reduced almighty Egypt to schoolboys footballers, the team had only eight training sessions under interim manager Augustine Eguavoen (aka Cerezo), and the Super Eagles put up a performance that has left a lot of lessons for us to learn from, especially in the area of leadership, that once the leadership is right and inspires the followers the result will most certainly be positive.
The pertinent question to ask about the Eguavoen lesson is what changed? Same set of players, under different managers with sharp and significant differences. If anything, apart from the very short time to tinker the team, the team was also denied of its first choice reliable players as Victor Osimhen, Odion Ighalo and Leon Balogun were absent yet the team did not miss them on the day. Their technique and tactical play made many believe that if the match had gone on for another hour, the ordinary-looking Egyptians would not have made any difference. For the first time in more than 10 years, we watched the Super Eagles play without requiring an extra heart in the event of a cardiovascular failure.
It’s okay to argue that these are early days yet in the tournament, but I have seen enough to make me believe that the best thing to do now is hand Eguavoen the job of the Eagles manager on a permanent basis. It is clear that he is operating on a familiar turf and understands the nuances and style that are best suitable for the team.
But the truth is that what we are pleased about is not necessarily the Eagles winning against Egypt or Sudan but that the team made everybody realize that they were propped up for action and displayed the quality they had. It may have been a case of wrong use of the players by Rohr, which again speaks to the fact that having a round peg in a square hole is a recipe for disaster. It also means that the best at every time should be used and not based on sentiments and other mundane considerations.
The Eagles under Rohr became so ordinary and clueless that he kept inviting and experimenting with players that it became difficult telling who his first team players were. He experimented to the extent that when he recalled Ighalo from retirement, many welcomed it, if only that would give us the much desired victory the team needed, especially after the Cape Verdean debacle on home soil in Lagos.
Very often we hear allegations of Nigerians not wanting to support or patronize local goods and services, but that is a lie that has been said severally. Truth is that the average Nigerian would want value for money and be prepared to back any innovation or efforts that are worth their patronage. How do you offer a poorly produced product and expect patronage? Today the Nigerian movie and music industries are enjoying their best times ever. Today, it is very rare seeing Nigerians play foreign music as they do local songs.
Eguavoen has shown that he has what it takes and his fate must not be determined by the eventual outcome of the AFCON. He has shown with the superlative performance of the Eagles against Egypt and Sudan that he is more than qualified for the job. We have to project our own and stop this mentality of believing in everything foreign.
Many years ago, Coach Adegboye Onigbinde won for us a silver medal in his first AFCON attempt only to be replaced by Clemence Westerhof, who got a bronze at first attempt but was allowed to stay to build a team which eventually ruled Africa. The point here is that we must begin to trust our local talents.
Onigbinde lamented his fate many years later when he said, “When Nigeria was going to perform an experiment to determine if a Nigerian can handle the national team or not, 33 years ago, I was the guinea pig. Nobody has told me my tenure was a failure because that was the first time we won as much as silver playing outside Nigeria. If the experiment was not a failure why didn’t we continue with it?
“Another question is: Have the Nigerian coaches been working under the same conditions the foreign coaches work when they come here? In 1983, I requested for 30 balls and the then administrators wanted to beat me up for asking for more than one ball.
“Throughout my tenure I was earning N10, 000 per annum. They didn’t give that to foreign coaches. My official car was a Volkswagen Beetle and I lived in camp with the players because I had no official residence. They didn’t do that to foreign coaches. Westerhof for example, had an ironclad support from the government and football authorities, which no Nigerian coach has ever enjoyed.”
Recall that following the drama of Sunday Oliseh’s resignation as the coach of the Super Eagles in 2016, the President of the Nigeria Football Federation, Amaju Pinnick, said the federation, under his leadership, will no longer engage indigenous coaches for the national team.
Pinnick told his audience at the 18th Annual Africa Business Conference of the Harvard Business School, Boston, Massachusetts, United States that the federation was “shopping for a well-grounded and qualified foreign coach to tinker the team.”
Well, he has kept his promise not to hire local coaches but his attempts since then to engage foreign coaches have proved that he is yet to find that “well-grounded and qualified foreign coach” for the national team.
From the pre-Independence era till date the Nigerian national team has been managed by at least 19 foreign coaches. However, only two of them —Brazilian, Otto Gloria, who coached the team that won Nigeria’s first Africa Cup of Nations in 1980 and Clemens Westerhof, the Dutch coach, who put together the team that won the African cup in 1994 — won major trophies.
However, December 26, last year, Pinnick told the nation that Austin Eguavoen will get the Super Eagles on a permanent basis should he guide the team to win the 2021 AFCON.
He had said, “We know that Eguavoen can do the job expertly, but we also know that he will be more useful controlling the technical department.
“However, if we cannot get the (new) coaches to start work immediately, we will empower them to take the team to Cameroon.
“And if Eguavoen won the Nations Cup, we might have a rethink. In that case, the foreign coach will now become the technical director, while Eguavoen takes the position of technical adviser.”
Pinnick’s condition for handing Eguavoen the job based on his winning the AFCON is not only unfair but totally out of sync with the dictates of commonsense, rationality and fairness. Has he placed the same condition before the foreign coaches he has hired since after Oliseh? Was that standard used for Rohr and yet he stayed for about six years with nothing to show for it other than the heartaches and avoidable tensions he put Nigerians through watching the Eagles play?
After sacking Rohr, we are told the NFF has hired Jose Peseiro, and we are told that he is in Cameroon as an observer preparatory to taking over from Eguavoen after the AFCON.
Has the NFF placed that same condition on Peseiro, or is the NFF trying to take us on another round of merry-go-round while wasting scarce foreign resources on what our local coaches have proved over and over again that they can do better?
Eguavoen deserves it and must be rewarded for renewing the confidence of football fans in our Super Eagles. Anything short of that is unacceptable. Give him the opportunity to build on his fantastic work on the players in so short a time. He should also not be paid pittance just because of the colour of his skin.