Sunday Oliseh: Last Chance Saloon for Nigerian Coaches

With Sunday Oliseh expected to be unveiled as the new head coach of the Super Eagles of Nigeria, a lot of talk has centred on whether or not he is the right pick, given his lack of top-level coaching experience. Upon retirement, the former captain of the Super Eagles went on to acquire the highest coaching qualification available – the UEFA Pro Licence – held by the elite band of coaches qualified to manage any team in any of the top leagues. However, his coaching experience is limited to the Belgian second division.

Those critical of Oliseh’s lack of coaching experience should perhaps reckon with the success stories of ex-players like Franz Beckenbauer, whose first managerial job was the German national team (then West Germany), with whom he won the World Cup in 1990 after his appointment in 1984. Also, Jurgen Klinsmann and Pep Guardiola were both appointed to manage top teams (Germany and FC Barcelona respectively) without prior top level experience. Their relative successes with those teams and their current pedigree are indicative of why giving Oliseh the Super Eagles job would be a worthy gamble. What he may lack in terms of coaching experience, Oliseh makes up for in terms of coaching qualification. While experience is relevant in practical endeavours such as football, one cannot underestimate the importance of proficiency-based learning, especially given the technical approach to modern day football.

It is noteworthy that the UEFA Pro Licence is based more on managerial ability, whereas the immediate lower level licence, the UEFA ‘A’ Licence would have already taught the holder about matters relating to gameplay on the football pitch. The point here is that a holder of the Pro Licence is expected to be better equipped to manage the personalities and sundry issues relating to the players in the squad. This perhaps accounts for why top coaches are able to cope with characters such as the Mario Balotellis of this world. Undoubtedly, rifts and rumours of rifts with players was part of the undoing of Stephen Keshi during his time as head coach of the Super Eagles. Although reputed to have been a ‘stubborn’ player who many of today’s critics describe as being too tough to bend if given the job, if indeed Oliseh has learnt anything from the coaching courses, he would have learnt the necessary temperamental skills and adjustments, if he is to succeed.

Whether or not the appointment of Oliseh is the right decision remains to be seen; only time will tell. However, beyond all the talk about his coaching qualification or lack of coaching experience, this appointment probably presents the last chance for Nigerian coaches to prove their ability to handle the top job. After the intermittent appointments of Nigerian coaches like Christian Chukwu and Amodu Shuaibu, the new generation of Nigerian coaches have also had their opportunities at the helm. The list includes ex-internationals from the legendary 1994 Super Eagles squad – Austin Eguavoen, Samson Siasia and Stephen Keshi – all of whom failed to hold on to the coaching job with the stability with which they held onto their first team jerseys in their playing days. Beyond this group is the likes of Manu Garba, whose ‘approval rating’ has dropped since his exploits with the Under-17 World Cup-winning squad in 2013 have now been overshadowed by the unimpressive performance at the Under-20 World Cup this year. There were some who had advocated for Manu Garba to graduate along with his youth team players into the Super Eagles role.

Nigeria has kept faith in local coaches in recent times without much success and this may be their last opportunity. In the unfortunate event that Oliseh fails and we have to look beyond him for a head coach for the Super Eagles, it may be difficult to point at any other prime domestic candidate at the moment. The scale would then certainly tilt towards the hiring of a foreign coach, especially as the most successful spell in Nigerian football came under foreign coaches – the climax of the Dutchman Clemens Westerhof era in 1994 when Nigeria attained the 5th position in the FIFA world rankings; as well as another Dutchman, Bonfrere ‘Jo’ who led the Under-23 Dream Team to win Olympic gold in 1996.

One can only hope that Sunday Oliseh succeeds as the head coach of the Super Eagles, not only for the good of the Nigerian game but also for the advancement of Nigerian coaches.

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