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Sunday Oliseh: A talented but difficult coach


Sunday Oliseh

Nigerians are a proud people.

For us, there is no greater source of pride, aside personal achievement, than pointing out our connection to someone else’s success story.

That explains to some degree quite why Sunday Oliseh is such a polarising figure today.

Equal parts hero and villain; and even, for some, both strands run parallel to bring together an individual who is, for better or worse, never far from the headlines.

Oliseh, as a part of Nigeria’s most revered footballing vintage – the USA 94 crop – already has, for some, an eternal place in the nation’s footballing pantheon.

That he then went on to captain the Super Eagles, while turning out for some of Europe’s giant clubs (Ajax, Juventus and Borussia Dortmund – all Champions League winners in the 90s) practically licks the envelope shut.

He has also taken to life post-football with a dignity that is uncommon in these parts: no whispers of financial mismanagement, no loud family drama, no controversial career paths.

A member of FIFA’s Technical Study Groups, a TV pundit with a fresh angle and the eloquence with which to convey it, and latterly, joined a handful of Africans to manage professionally in a major European nation when he took up the reins at Fortuna Sittard—without a doubt, Oliseh has done extremely well for himself.

Yet, there remains a dark mist that seems to descend every now and again, clouding just how great this man is and has been.

As a player, and later as captain, his confrontations with the football authorities were the stuff of a Mario Puzo novel, complete with allusions to a “Mafia” within the national team ranks.

While the nature of Nigerian football administration made these run-ins inevitable, there has been no move to address the bad blood that led to his unceremonious exit from the national team back in 2002.

His fraught personality also dogged him at club level, and was at the root of yet another premature departure, this time from the post of Super Eagles coach.

Having been installed by NFF boss Amaju Pinnick, against every tenet of due process (there were no applications, neither were there interviews for interested parties) and infamously dubbed ‘The African Guardiola’, he proceeded to antagonize nearly every category of stakeholder: calling out the press; alleging the use of devious voodoo; ostracizing captain, long-term goalkeeper and appearance record holder Vincent Enyeama; and feuding with the country’s football authority.

At the root of his behaviour is the tenuous insistence that things be done his way or not at all – the eternal chip on his shoulder seemingly forcing him to interpret anything less as a slight on his person.

This inflexibility could be strength if channelled rightly, of course. Instead, it has turned his most recent triumph, a wildly successful spell in the Dutch second division, to ashes in his mouth.

His falling out with the board at Fortuna Sittard, and subsequent suspension, would not have come as a surprise to anyone. That he managed to make a mess of things when he had been overachieving massively, and had secured a place in the Promotion play-offs though, was borderline miraculous.

Even worse, his insistence on circumventing the official media channels of his employers, favouring his own personal website, has invariably thrown up concerns regarding his truthfulness and self-discipline.

Slowly but surely, he has built an image of someone who is difficult to work with, who cannot function within an organization, and who is never wrong.

Brilliant as he is, suave and accomplished as he comes across, and however many coaching badges he accumulates, football management is as much about interaction with people as anything else. The ability to manage egos, and communicate effectively within a chain of command makes a world of difference.

It is never too late for one to make a change. However, Nigerians are a proud people. It is precisely that which might hold Oliseh back. However, he owes it to his natural talent and intelligence to make the best decision today, and clean up his act.

Already, with the messy break-up with Fortuna, it is hard to see how a bigger European side, with greater ambitions and pressures, entrust him with the reins.

Back home, there is a general consensus within the continent that his prickly personality is prone to friction.

Oliseh needs to fix Oliseh or all he has worked for may well come crumbling down at his feet.

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Sunday OlisehSuper Eagles
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