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Omagbemi: celebrated by FIFA, rejected by NFF

By Gowon Akpodonor
19 August 2017   |   3:52 am
“Pinnick is a member of FIFA Organising Committee and I expect him to kick against such decision to drop Omagbemi. Pinnick should be happy seeing his fellow countrywoman growing in world football.

Omagbemi and her ‘golden’ generation of the Super Falcons reached the second round of the FIFA World Cup at USA ’99 under coach Mabo, where Nigeria narrowly lost the semifinal ticket to Brazil.

Former Super Falcons’ Coach Ismalia Mabo can’t understand why the current leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) should treat coaches, who excelled in their assignment with disrespect.

“What offence has Florence Omagbemi and her assistant coaches committed to warrant being dropped from the Super Falcons?” Mabo asked while speaking with The Guardian from his base in Jos yesterday. “By all standards, Omagbemi did so well as a coach by defending the African Nations Cup title in Cameroun last year, and there is no reason whatsoever to drop her at this moment. She has to continue with her job,” Mabo, who led the team to win numerous titles, stated.

On Thursday, Omagbemi was nomination by the world football governing body (FIFA) for the Coach of the Year award. While some football-loving Nigerians were celebrating her for the achievement, the NFF rolled out names of 52 coaches shortlisted for interview into various positions in the national teams without Omagbemi and her two assistants, Ann Chiejine and Perpetua Nkwocha.

To Mabo, such act by the NFF was ‘wicked’ and unhealthy for Nigerian football. “Football is all about results, and I want the NFF to rescind its decision by bringing back Omagbemi and her assistant coaches to the Super Falcons as quickly as possible.

“How will the entire world look at Nigerian football? That you just woke up and fired a coach, who won the last Nations Cup at the same period she was shortlisted by FIFA for the Coach of the Year award? This is unthinkable. No sane person will take such a harsh decision. We won’t accept it. They did it to the late Coach Stephen Keshi after he won the Nations Cup in 2013 in South Africa and since then, Nigeria could not qualify for two editions of the championship.

“Nigerians at home and in diaspora must not allow this wicked decision to stand. Omagbemi has not committed any offence and should be allowed to continue with her job. Nobody gave her the chance of winning the title in Cameroon. She did it and Nigeria must not treat her this way. The good luck Omagbemi and her assistant coaches have brought into the team must continue,” he stated.

Speaking further, Mabo, who led the Super Falcons to the quarterfinal at USA ’99 FIFA World Cup said: “Someone whispered to me that Omagbemi and her assistants might have been dropped because of the protest by the players in Abuja after they won the Nations Cup last year. To me, that is absolute rubbish. The players are adults, and they deserved a better treatment from Nigerian government, more so, after winning such an important title. I am sure the Presidency that footed the bills is not even thinking in that direction, so, I don’t expect the NFF to use it as a weapon against a progressive coach like Florence Omagbemi. She has done so well for the country as a player and a coach, and I want the NFF President Amaju Pinnick and his board members to realise it. They should bring her back to her coaching position.

“Pinnick is a member of FIFA Organising Committee and I expect him to kick against such decision to drop Omagbemi. Pinnick should be happy seeing his fellow countrywoman growing in world football. Omagbemi is a gift to Nigerian football and the NFF should be happy with her.

“I don’t know if the likes of Alhaja Ayo Omidiran is aware of this ‘wicked’ step by the NFF? She should use her position as a member of House of Representatives to avert it because she does not tolerate injustice, especially when it comes to women football. Every woman in the Senate and House of Representatives should kick against it because this is great injustice against a female coach,” Mabo stated.

In December last year, Omagbemi led the Super Falcons to win Nigeria’s eighth continental title in Cameroun, thereby emerging as the first African woman to win the AWC title as a player and coach. Former coach of the Super Falcons Uche Eucharia, had retired from playing before the maiden edition of the AWC in 1998 in Abeokuta.

Signs that the NFF was planning a ‘coup’ against Omagbemi and her assistant coaches emerged a few weeks ago when the football body asked them to send in their applications.

“The same NFF promised Omagbemi and her assistants in 2016 that if they won the AWCON title in Cameroon, their contracts would be renewed automatically,” one sports analyst recalled while speaking on Channels TV programme yesterday morning. This is unfair treatment and I think the NFF should reverse it as quickly as possible.”

The Guardian learnt that the coaches were still being owed part of their wages, including camp allowances and winning bonuses for the two wins against Senegal in the qualifiers for Cameroun 2016 AWCON. Also, the NFF is said to have paid them only four out of the nine months salary they were entitled to.

A source close to the NFF revealed yesterday that two top officials of the body, including the Chairman of the Technical Committee, Chris Green were the brain behind the decision to edge out Omagbemi and her assistants.

According to the official, Green wants former handler, Edwin Okon, who is the head coach of Rivers Angels of Port Harcourt to take the job at all cost. Green refused to comment when The Guardian contacted him yesterday saying: “I don’t want to say anything about Omagbemi for now.”

For 16 years, Omagbemi was one of the amazons who shouldered Nigeria’s quest for glory in both CAF and FIFA Women’s championships. From the inaugural edition of the World Cup in China ’91, to Sweden ’95, USA ’99 and USA 2003, Omagbemi was in the defence, providing cover for goalkeeper Ann Echiejine against oppositions.

Omagbemi and her ‘golden’ generation of the Super Falcons reached the second round of the FIFA World Cup at USA ’99 under coach Mabo, where Nigeria narrowly lost the semifinal ticket to Brazil. Till date, the record still stand as Nigeria’s best at the World Cup.

Before then (1998), she led the Falcons to capture the maiden AWC title in Abeokuta. She also won it in 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006.

In 2012, Omagbemi was part of the Nigerian U-20 Women team’s technical crew that got to the semifinal in Japan. She worked with former Falcons coach, Edwin Okon in Japan.

Omagbemi’s profile has been on the rise since then, especially at global level. That same year, FIFA listed Omagbemi as a member of Women’s U-17 World Cup organizing committee held in Azerbaijan. She was also a member of the FIFA Women’s U-17 World Cup organizing committee at Costa Rica in 2014.

In 2015, Omagbemi was elevated to the senior rank, as she was listed as a member of FIFA’s Technical Study Group (TSG) for Canada 2015 Women’s World Cup.

Omagbemi was the second ex-Falcons player to handle the women senior team. The first was ex-striker, Uche Eucharia, but she failed with the team, as she could not qualify the girls for the All Africa Games in Maputo and the 2012 Olympics in London. Eucharia could not also take the team beyond the group stage at Germany 2011 World Cup.

Before Omagbemi’s emergence as coach of the Super Falcons in March 2016, the team had harvested series of poor results, including failure to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, as well as a humiliation at the last All Africa Games in Brazzaville Congo, where they failed to win a medal of any colour under coach Christopher Danjuma.

Omagbemi’s first assignment was a double-header against a ‘stubborn’ Lioness of Senegal, which she won to qualify the Flacons for Cameroun 2016 African Nations Cup. Nigeria won the title, beating host Lionesses of Cameroun 1-0 in the final.

She is listed alongside 10 others for the Coach of the Year award by FIFA, the first by any Nigerian coach.