NFF’s obsession with foreign coaches

Tayo-Oke

The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations games kicked off last Sunday, January 9, 2022, in Cameroon, amidst high expectations for the Nigerian national team, the Super Eagles, which last won the prestigious competition in 2013 under the guidance of the late coach, Stephen Keshi. The Super Eagles currently top Group ‘D’ and qualified for the next round, having collected six points from their first two matches. They are thriving under the interim manager, Austin Eguavoen, whilst the newly appointed permanent coach, Jose Peseiro, a Portuguese, has been invited to watch from the stands. He has absolutely no influence and no role in the tournament. He is simply there to take notes for future reference. Nigeria has had a succession of foreign coaches since John Finch, the first Englishman to coach the national team, at the first inter-African games in 1949, in which Nigeria won 2-0 against Sierra-Leone.  Les Courtier, another Englishman, took over the coaching duties between 1956 and 1960. Then, it was the turn of Moshe Jerry Beit Ha Levi, Israeli (1960-61); George Varder, Hungarian (1961-63); Jorge Penna, Brazilian (1963) and (1972-73); Joseph Ember, Hungarian (1965-68). After that, a succession of German coaches took turns: Karl-Heinz Marotzke (1973-74); Othman Calder (1974); then, Jelisavic Tihomir, Yugoslav (1974-78); Otto Gloria, Brazilian (1978-82); then, back to a combination of Germans, Dutch, French, Serb, Swedish etc, right through to Gernot Rohr, another German, dismissed just four weeks before the start of the tournament due to a string of lacklustre performances.

It is always a risky strategy to get rid of a team’s coach in this fashion but the Nigeria Football Federation thought it would have been an even bigger risk to leave Rohr in charge. What boggles the mind, though, is the wisdom of appointing another foreigner to the position. As you will see, this particular foreign coach has no business managing the Super Eagles. Jose Peseiro, a Portuguese journeyman, has been hired to take over as Nigeria’s national coach immediately after AFCON 2021. What is even more puzzling is the realisation that Peseiro is not a household name from any top league anywhere in the world. He had recently resigned from his job as coach of the Venezuelan national team for unpaid wages, according to reports. He has obviously not done his homework, otherwise, he would have found that unpaid wages and bonuses are considered natural hazards of the trade in Nigeria. But, who is Peseiro to complain about not being paid anyway? He spent the first eight years of his coaching career in the lower divisions in his home country before moving on to assist Carlos Queiroz at Real Madrid in 2003-04. They were dismissed for underperformance after just one season.

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Peseiro then took charge of Portugal’s Sporting CP (2004-05), then Greece’s Panathinaikos FC (2007) but won no trophies with either. He later took charge of the Romanian “Rapid” in 2008 and resigned in 2009. Then, he coached Saudi Arabia in 2009 but failed to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa in 2010. He was appointed head coach of Al-Wahda and Al-Ahly in the United Arab Emirates in 2013 but immediately faced a popular uprising by fans for his “weak” CV. He subsequently made a dash back to Portugal with Porto FC in 2016, lasted one season; rushed back to the UAE in 2017, then Sporting Braga in Portugal in 2018; Venezuela, which suffered a humiliating exit from the group stage in Copa America with two draws and two defeats in 2020. Any wonder Peseiro had his wages docked by the Venezuelan Football Federation? That notwithstanding, the NFF board has now decided to put the destiny of the national team in the hands of a serial loser. It is wishful thinking to imagine that he will perform the magic of success for Nigeria that has eluded him in his entire career as a coach. On the face of it, this appointment is so ill-judged and so hopelessly ill-conceived that only the NFF in its current form could have made it.  It is a kick in the teeth for dozens of up-and-coming Nigerian football coaches in and out of the country. On a deeper analysis, it is hard to see what added value Peseiro brings to the Super Eagles other than his white skin. That says a lot about the colonial hangover inside the NFF.

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Lest anyone is miffed by the column’s hard take on this issue, it is not a campaign against foreign coaches per se. Nigeria is not unique in appointing foreign coaches for its national team. Foreign coaches are appointed where the technical expertise is missing in the legion of coaches locally. And, in countries still susceptible to ethnic cleavages, a foreign coach may be appointed to maintain neutrality and impartiality in player selection. Even England, the birthplace of the game of football, felt obliged to put their trust in a couple of foreign coaches in the recent past: Swedish Sven Goran Erikson (2001-2006) and the Italian Fabio Capello (2007-2012) at a staggering cost in millions of dollars in star salaries for so few rewards. The main aim was to win a major trophy for England, which neither of them managed to achieve. England last won the World Cup in 1966, so, you can imagine the nostalgia and allure of a foreign coach that had a whiff of instant success with trophies. Erikson and Capello were such. There were 13 foreign coaches at the last World Cup in 2018, including, curiously, Mexico, coached by the Colombian, Juan Carlos Osorio, and Panama, also coached by another Colombian, Herman Dario Gomez, whilst the Colombian national team itself appointed a foreign coach, the Argentinian, Jose Pekerman. Iran was coached by the current coach of Egypt— the underachieving Portuguese, Carlos Queiroz, a close friend of Peseiro.

Far from nursing angst about foreign coaches, this column is leading a crusade to make the Nigerian national team NATIONAL in all its facets. Super Eagles are done learning tactics from lightweight foreign imports. Nigerian football players regularly feature in many of the world’s top football leagues. Many of them go on to become coaches. Well, maybe not in the top European or Latin American leagues, but that is by the way. With the continuing progress under Eguavoen, it would be foolhardy and rather disruptive to ask him to hand over to a foreign coach for the World Cup qualification campaign starting immediately after AFCON 2021. The public would resist and so would the players. It would end in tears. Quite frankly, many people in this country would like to see Peseiro’s letter of appointment rescinded and torn to shreds.

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On his part, Eguavon has not earned himself much favour with the public by not seeking the job on a permanent basis. He has been here before, in the caretaker capacity in 2010, as a replacement for the Swedish, Lars Lagerback. He has also had spells coaching a number of clubs in his career: Sliema Wanderers in Malta, the Black Leopards, Enyimba, Sharks FC, Bendel Insurance and others at home. No trophies, nothing spectacular on his CV. That said, there is nothing on Peseiro’s CV that rises above Eguavoen. He or another Nigerian should be given the opportunity to manage the national team on a permanent basis ahead of Qatar 2022 and beyond.  Of all competitions, the World Cup is closest to a World War in its impulse. You want your own general at the command of your own troops, not some mercenary. It is about pride as much as it is a game. NFF’s continued lack of confidence in their own field marshals is heart-rending devastation for many. Peseiro’s appointment cannot and should not stand.

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