OLISEH TO KEEP DATE WITH HISTORY
BY AFOLABI GAMBARI
Those who charged ceaselessly and insisted vociferously that the appointment of Sunday Oliseh as Super Eagles’ coach did not follow due process were right.
True, Oliseh distinguished himself as a committed former Eagles’ player and captain who later carved a niche, as it were, for himself in the technical and analytical aspects of the game at the top level and commanded respect for Nigeria as he was ultimately appointed into the elite FIFA Technical Study Group. Yet, whether all these qualified him to coach a national team at the topmost level was another matter entirely.
It was all like a movie well scripted. Former Eagles’ coach Stephen Keshi was first harassed out of the job, leaving a vacuum. Just when speculations suggested that an expatriate would be engaged, it emerged that the President of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick, was in London to discuss with Oliseh on the possibility of his ascendancy to the position. A dizzying scenario followed and in no time Oliseh was on his way to Abuja in Ngeria, where he would be unveiled as the new gaffer.
The unveiling was a fanfare and indeed it took a refreshingly different dimension of a national team coach being presented to the public at the main bowl of the Abuja National Stadium. Oliseh spoke to the media minutes after and revealed his plans to be “different from the past”.
The “difference” could have been noticed immediately after it was pronounced; except that the quality of players available to Oliseh would largely determine the “new order”. He stated that his employers had weighed in on the “developmental aspect” rather than demanding “instant result”, giving vent to the reality suggesting that he had enough time to build a brand new Eagles with the implication of probably missing out of the Africa Cup of Nations for the second consecutive time after failing to defend the title won in South Africa in 2013 while busy with the “building job”.
In making a difference, however, Oliseh toyed with looking inwards, saddling the players in the domestic league with the responsibility of taking the national team to the promise land. But after contemplating that he needed to, at least, return Nigeria to the AFCON finals to make a mark and establish his reign. For once, many thought he would be bold enough to start from the scratch as was expected of him. The thinking was soon buoyed by the invitation he extended to 23 players in the Nigeria Premier League. But soon after the players reported to camp ahead of the AFCON 2017 qualifiers that will resume in the weekend of September 4-6, he discarded the idea and turned his attention to Europe, from where he invited 18 players that he will see for just five days to mould to a group that would practicalise his philosophy on the pitch. His decision that “only six players will be retained among the home lads to join with the foreign-based players” merely re-inforced the old order. Therefore, nothing has changed.
The 18 foreign-based players have come from England, Turkey, Germany, Italy, France, Russia, Ukraine, Belgium and Slovakia. Oliseh would be meeting with nearly all of them for the first time while he tries to impose his coaching philosophy on them. Without any fuss, the chemistry must mix well, if only for the task ahead, that is, a flying start against Taifa Stars of Tanzania in Dar es Salaam on September 5. It really should have been a friendly encounter with the East Africans, with no string attached, whereupon Oliseh would probably ascertain who among the lot could fit in well or be shipped out as the race to Gabon 2017 intensifies. But he would have no such luxury, even though it would be his first game in charge. A country that endured no-AFCON show in 2015 would accept nothing but maximum points against the Taifas, no matter that the Eagles would be visitors at the Dar es Salaam stadium.
Nor can Oliseh also afford any further slip thereafter, after it dawned on him that his employers will not accept another AFCON miss.
Yet, Tanzania cannot be written off just easily. Despite losing 3-0 to Egypt in their Match Day 1 fixture in Cairo in June, the Taifas are far from overawed. Even then, Oliseh must devise tactics to get them overwhelmed at home, as he would thereafter when he hosts the Pharaohs of Egypt in Kaduna next March and then be their guest in Cairo two weeks later after which he would round off the qualifiers against Chad in Ndjamena. Whether he can add up 15 points to the three already hauled by the Eagles after the 2-0 defeat handed Chad in Kaduna in June remains to be seen. But he dare not exhibit the trait of a learner on the job, lest he squanders his goodwill.
Nonetheless, the match in Dar es Salaam cannot be anything but “test game” and how the Eagles fare would determine how far Oliseh would go. Otherwise the Eagles’ rhythm has been disrupted with the sack of Keshi, the result of which some of the players that prosecuted the Match Day 1, like Anderson Esiti, Babatunde Michael and Aaron Samuel, would have now kissed the team bye.
The “can do” spirit notwithstanding, Oliseh is facing the biggest task of his life in Dar es Salaam, not particularly helped by the Amaju Pinnick-led NFF’s resolve to use him to take a plunge and see how far it goes to steady Nigeria’s ship towards berthing in Gabon in 2017. His coming takes a precedent in Swede Lars Lagerack who took over the reigns from Shaibu Amodu as Nigeria headed to the South Africa 2010 World Cup finals. Lagerback, like Oliseh, could not but settle for the mainly foreign-based players to prosecute the Eagles’ run at the global competition. Like Oliseh, he knew little or nothing about his players and, like Oliseh, exuded confidence in deploying the players he knew little or nothing about. But when his confidence was mostly needed, Lagerback was nowhere near offering same to rescue Nigeria from the disgrace of failing to go past a group that had top side Argentina and less-fancied duo of Greece and South Korea competing for two second round tickets.
Perhaps, Oliseh is not as lucky as Lagerback who had the luxury of knowing the players as he was employed some three months to the 2010 World Cup finals, even though the Swede failed to utilise the opportunity. Oliseh is condemned, willy-nillly, to be with the Tanzania-bound Eagles five days before they face the Taifas.
As it is, two choices face Oliseh as he emabarks on his debut match: either he makes Nigerians forget the past (reign of Keshi) or makes them regret parting ways with the past.
If only in his own interest, he had better make Nigerians forget the past as they enter into the present on September 5.