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Sunday Oliseh, Artificial Turf, Super Eagles – Wrong Equation!

By Segun Odegbami   |   06 February 2016   |   2:35 am
Oliseh

Oliseh

MY piece on CHAN 2016 last week was not in any way intended to make any excuse for the poor showing of the Super Eagles at the championship. The issue of artificial turf affected all the teams equally and I believe that no matter how long players play on it, playing on plastic would never compare to playing on grass.

I have always believed that that’s why the USA would never rise to become a truly global football power despite all their application of advanced science and technology to football. Football shall always remain an Art form played best on the lush greens of grass.

America’s use of artificial turf for their professional league will keep them rooted to their present levels forever. Why they do not know this that baffles me.

The best football cultures in the world do not touch artificial turf even with a long spoon. Those that have ears let them hear. I rest my case.

On the Super Eagles and Sunday Oliseh, I am unable to pass critical comment because, as a reader rightly pointed out, I am complicit in the recruitment of Sunday Oliseh through my supportive writings and comments when he was to be appointed coach of the national team.

I believed, and still do by the way, that Oliseh would introduce a slightly different dimension to coaching the national team, an intellectual angle that would make a big difference.

I believed also that he would bring a deeper level of technical and tactical understanding and knowledge to the national team, those things that are not taught in the classroom of football, but rather are a measure of the intelligence and genius of the coach in charge.

That is what separates the great coaches from the good ones, what makes the difference between a Pep Guardiola and a Rafael Benitez, or between an Alex Ferguson and a Sam Allardyse, with all due respect to all the coaches! Genius is not taught in the classroom. It is engrained in the genes!

That is what I believed Sunday Oliseh would import into Nigerian football.  Knowing him, I still think he can achieve great success if he re-sets his objectives, let everyone know where he is going, how he intends to get there and what he wants them to do and understand so that he is not distracted by the clamour for instant results.

My take is this:

1.      Nigerian football is at a very low ebb at the present time;
2.      The country will be extremely lucky to qualify for the next World Cup;
3.      Winning the next AFCON will be a tough order;
4.      Nigeria does not have the finished products in players to succeed in these two quests now; and,
5.      The domestic league is not churning out exceptional players in large numbers.

All of these are not Oliseh’s handiwork.

That is why it is unrealistic to expect too much immediately from Oliseh, and too early in the day to judge his competency as Nigeria’s national team coach even if ‘morning shows the rest of the day.’

The CHAN 2016 team was definitely not his making. He used the best players assembled for him from the country’s poor production room (the domestic league) and tried to work some semblance of organisation into the team. He did not succeed as far as the results showed.

His rhetoric before and after should have been different. He should have kept telling Nigerians what his longer- term goals are and how he is going about achieving them down the line.

He should not have raised the people’s hopes and expectations (the reports by his aides from out of the Eagles camp in South Africa promised heaven and earth) with veiled promises despite people’s impatience for success and unearned victories when the players to do the job did not exist.

His biggest challenge is that he cannot conjure great players from nothing. They do no exist now given the state of the domestic league that should hone them.

Exceptional players are not being churned out in large numbers, are not being groomed well enough domestically, and are not being directed to the right teams abroad that will provide the necessary technical advancement that would take them from being good raw materials coming out of Nigeria to becoming excellent finished products after a few years in Europe. That’s the formula that produced the Olisehs, Kanus, Okochas Ikpebas etc. The domestic league at that time produced very good raw materials in Nigeria before the players left for Europe. The rough grounds, the harsh environments, the tough and challenging leagues on poor grass, etc, all made the players individually very skillful, hungry to learn and ready to absorb new things.

Once again, playing domestic leagues on artificial turf takes away that essential raw material that makes the big difference in the development of raw talent.

Examine this: why would the Super Eagles never agree to play at the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos, or anyone of the number of stadia in Maiduguri, Enugu, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Benin, Ilorin, Jos, Kano, all with artificial surfaces in Nigeria? Yet, that’s where the players that are expected to play for the same national team are cultivated and nurtured.

Can’t people see there is a contradiction there? Can’t people see that there is something wrong with that equation?

I do not expect that most people will see my point and agree with my argument on the matter because this is deep stuff!

Forgive me for always digressing to the issue of artificial turf.

Now back to the Super Eagles.

Oliseh is facing the greatest challenge of his life trying to fix Nigerian football in a hurry. It can only be done holistically, slowly and steadily from the grassroots up. He must, as Clemens Westerhof, his boss and coach, did in the early 1990s, work with local Nigerian coaches and administrators, to determine how the domestic leagues will start again to produce quality players with exceptional skills, power, speed and control.

I sided with those clamouring for Sunday Oliseh at the time because I believed he had the knowledge and guts to look Nigerian football in the eye and to prescribe the right solutions following a forensic audit to move the game beyond the level attained by Stephen Keshi, Shuaibu Amodu, Adegboyega Onigbinde and others, who had done a good job that needed to be taken to a higher plane to make Nigeria join the club of the elite football nations of the world.

His conversations and incisive analysis, added to his personal experiences as an excellent football player and product of the best of European coaching made him the excellent candidate to take Nigerian football to the next level.

He would need time to achieve this. He would demand for time, the resources and the right personnel. He would work with coaches and administrators in the domestic leagues. He would continue to scout for finished products from Europe and anywhere else in the universe and use them in the short term, but remain focused on the ultimate goal to take Nigerian football to the zenith.

He cannot hurry through the process. He cannot also tie this assignment and his own fate to the immediate successes of the present Super Eagles. He cannot afford to raise false hopes and expectations of Nigerians that he can win everything immediately when the true situation on ground is that the present Super Eagles are work-in-progress!

Sunday Oliseh’s absence from Nigeria due to what is reported as health reasons surely is not helping matters.

I have a feeling that Sunday Oliseh is succumbing to the pressures of needing to win small now at the expense of winning big later. He has not helped himself either with his rhetoric. He must henceforth be patient with critics, and be bold, sure and clear with his words and actions!

Luckily, there are a few new Nigerian players showing up on the radar in Europe that can help his immediate cause and steady his wafting ship – Ighalo, Iheanacho, and co!




  • Your write up makes for an interesting reading sir. Today we have seen what Keshi meant when he said that “it’s not about employing a new coach but we also have to get players from the moon to play the way we like”.

    It’s clear that with his experience, he knows what to do but is handicapped by unavailability of the right playing staff.

    We need to be realistic in setting our goals. Nigeria must be prepared to accept some inactivity and wait for a strong Super Eagles to be built over time, otherwise we will continue to grope in the dark.

    Fix it not and we will be happy later.

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