His seven-month reign as Super Eagles coach started with a bust-up with Vincent Enyeama and then further clashes with his employers and the media, but Sunday Oliseh knew 11 years ago that he would have a turbulent ride if given a job in Nigerian football, writes ’TANA AIYEJINA
As blunt as ever, Oliseh replied, “The problems of Nigerian soccer won’t be solved easily. Yes, maybe one day I will become an administrator… on the other hand, I will certainly make some changes and because of that stand on a few peoples’ toes. I will make many people angry and I am not sure how that will be received…”
Perhaps, he is Nigerian football’s Nostradamus, the French seer, who predicted several global events that came to pass.
Ten years later after his comments, precisely on July 14, 2005, Oliseh was appointed coach of the Super Eagles after Stephen Keshi was sacked by the Nigeria Football Federation.
His appointment was greeted with resentment in some quarters; with some claiming the Atlanta 1996 Olympics Games gold medalist lacked the experience, temperament and character to manage a global brand like the Eagles.
The manner in which the coach was appointed also raised several eyebrows, with the media condemning the process. As against the tradition, the Eagles coaching job was not thrown open after Keshi’s exit. Instead NFF boss, Amaju Pinnick, travelled to London for a meeting with the former Borussia Dortmund man, before he was unveiled in Abuja as the new manager of the national team.
Oliseh’s ex-teammate and member of the NFF Technical Committee, Victor Ikpeba, admitted that there were anomalies in the appointment of Oliseh.
“Mistakes were made then but we have to move on. I think people that gave others responsibilities made some mistakes but there’s nothing wrong in giving someone a chance in life. The great coaches like (Pep) Guardiola and (Jose) Mourinho were given chances and they made use of them,” he said.
Perhaps, Pinnick didn’t know of Oliseh’s prediction and he held on to his man, promising that under him, the Eagles would play scientific football.
“NFF president Amaju Pinnick in his unveiling of Sunday Oliseh hailed him the ‘Guardiola of Africa’, and a very sentimental Nigerian public screamed Hosanna,” sports broadcaster Godwin Dudu-Orumen wrote on his website.
And Oliseh failed to solve the problems of the team as his side struggled against lesser oppositions like DR Congo, Tanzania, Swaziland and Niger. In the course of discharging his duties, he sought to make some changes to the status quo thereby stepping on some toes.
The earliest sign that Oliseh was going to experience a turbulent reign in charge of the national team came just few weeks after he assumed office.
Ahead of the Eagles friendlies against DR Congo and Cameroon in Belgium, Oliseh stripped Nigeria’s most-capped footballer, Vincent Enyeama, of his captaincy of the team after a face-off with the Lille shot stopper and made CSKA Moscow forward, Ahmed Musa, his new captain. The drama that followed led to Enyeama unceremoniously retiring from the national team.
“I want a captain who is disciplined; a leader who can motivate other players; a player who comes to camp early. I want a young player not a retiring player as captain. And Ahmed Musa is that player. He is my captain,” Oliseh had.
One of the changes the ex-Juventus midfielder had sought to effect was to report to the Secretary General of the NFF rather than the Technical Committee, as agreed between him and his employers.
Tempers rose when the Technical Committee ordered Oliseh to submit his technical report on why the Eagles crashed out of the African Nations Championship in the first round.
Oliseh in reply said, “The agreement from the beginning I had with the NFF was that I report to the secretary general and not to the Technical Committee. The secretary general has been briefed that we did not do well because we were broke.
“I have nothing to do with the Technical Committee. The only thing I have to do with them is that they have an advisory role that they can play. We were very specific about that (in the contract we signed). One thing is that I won’t violate my contract.”
After failing to steer the home-based Eagles to the knockout stages of the Rwanda 26 African Nations Championship, Oliseh blamed the NFF for the team’s failure saying, “This is an adult tournament and there are certain things which must be present if you want to go far and win the tournament, and that is what my players see existing in other teams that we don’t have in our team.”
His youtube rant, where he ruffled feathers by calling his critics insane and also alleging that some journalists had asked him for money in order to write positive stories, also irked the federation and the media.
He said, “I want to speak on the insanity that has befallen some of our national team critics. I call it insanity because you must be insane to start seeking a plebiscite on the future of the national team coach of Nigeria because we lost the CHAN.”
The NFF went on to fine him N6m for the derogatory remarks, with Pinnick describing his comments as a distraction.
Ikpeba, a member of the Technical Committee said, “I’m a critic but I’m not insane. It’s my job; it doesn’t matter if the person involved is my teammate. I’m used to criticisms; I have been criticised all my life. The mistakes ex-internationals make is that they don’t want to criticise their ex-teammates who are coaching the national teams. If the criticism is objective, the coach should take it. Some people are afraid, why? If the people on the streets can air their views, why not those of us in the industry?”
Last Thursday, Chris Green, the Chairman, NFF’s Technical and Development Committee, said Oliseh would instead report to Shuaibu Amodu, the National Technical Director of the NFF for “easy coordination.”
“Normally, as the National Technical Director, Oliseh will report to him (Amodu), while he (Amodu) reports to the Technical Committee and from there to the secretary general and finally to the Executive Committee of the NFF,” Green stated.
But Nigerians and the football body were in for a rude awakening few hours later when Oliseh announced via Twitter on Friday morning that he had resigned as coach of the national team.
The Delta-born pundit turned coach had just collected N20m; the arrears of salaries owed him by the federation, before he blew the lid on his resignation.
“Due to contract violations, lack of support, unpaid wages, benefits to my players, assistant coaches and myself, I resign as Super Eagles Chief Coach. I feel fortunate, blessed and eternally grateful for having had the honour to play, captain and coach this great nation of ours, Nigeria,” Oliseh announced on his Twitterhandle.
Ikpeba said the Technical Committee did not violate Oliseh’s contract, insisting that it only played an advisory role.
The 1997 African Player of the Year said, “We only had to look at the players he had and advise him on what to do. At the end of the day, he calls the shots, we cannot force him. Before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, we were criticised; we were told to allow Keshi do his job.
“We didn’t want to make his (Oliseh) job difficult. We only wanted him to select the right players that would make Nigerians proud against the Egyptians. All we wanted to do was to look at which player should be there and which shouldn’t. A lot of errors were committed in the past but we are not going to dwell on that.
“We wanted to patch the differences so that our football can move forward. No Nigerian is bigger than this country. I played for this country, even if some say its few matches, I would not have been named African Player of the Year, if I didn’t play for Nigeria.”
However, for critics of the coach, it was just a matter of time before the romance between the coach and his employers ended in chaos.
“I knew it will all end in tears. NFF misled Nigerians in the breathtaking departure from reality in Oliseh’s engagement,” Dudu-Orumen added.
As a player, Oliseh experienced similar fate. The midfielder served the country meritoriously but in going about his business in the national team, he stepped on toes of officials, his teammates and even the media at times.
He had the distinction of winning the African Cup of Nations gold (1994), silver (2000) and bronze (2002). He also won an Olympic gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and was part of the Eagles World Cup squads that reached the second round in 1994 and 1998.
But as captain, he was sent packing from the national team unceremoniously after a burst-up with officials over bonuses and allowances at the 2002 AFCON in Mali.
However, Oliseh has never hidden his love for Nigerian football, trying to proffer a way forward through his blog and punditry.
Interestingly, the man Oliseh took over from, Stephen Keshi, was also a victim of the crisis that rocked the national team in 2002. An assistant coach to Shuaibu Amodu, Keshi’s sin was allegedly throwing a piece of paper — recommending how the team should play — from Adegboye Onigbinde, into a trash bin at half time of the team’s semi-final match against Senegal. The Eagles lost the game 1-0.
The entire technical crew alongside key players Oliseh, Tijani Babangida, Victor Agali and Finidi George were axed from the squad to the 2002 World Cup, which was taken over by Onigbinde.
Once beaten, twice shy, goes a saying. This time, Oliseh didn’t wait to be axed from the team as coach; he saw tomorrow, knew what would happen and was prepared for it. He walked away this time, smiling to the bank with a whopping N20m.
Dudu-Orumen sums up the saga, drama and controversies that trailed Oliseh’s seven-month in charge of the Eagles.
“Sunday Oliseh has quit but not before ensuring he flushed Nigeria’s AFCON 2017 qualification ticket down the toilet,” he said.
Maybe coaches Samson Siasia, Emmanuel Amuneke, who alongside Oliseh’s assistants Salisu Yusuf and Aloy Agu, will steer the squad against Egypt in March, can help revive the chances of the Eagles in the double-header.