Oliseh: The Right Man for Super Eagles?

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I had predicted it a few months back whilst discussing with the Nigerian football legend and some tweeps on the social media platform twitter. Now it has come to fruition, Sunday Ogochukwu Oliseh has been appointed the new coach of Super Eagles on a three-year deal.

There is something refreshingly exciting about Oliseh. Speaking at a recent TEDxEuston event, he enthused education made the difference in his career hence he assumes this herculean task with huge expectations from his employers, fans and international community.

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With the political fighting and misgivings in the Nigeria Football Federation, unnecessary disciplinary sanctions and poor results on the field, Nigerian football is in dire need of a new direction. And in my honest opinion, Oliseh is the man to navigate us through this journey towards football El Dorado.

As a footballer, he was a leader of men, passionate and a rock in the middle of the park. Post-football career, Oliseh has a carved a niche for himself in football punditry and analysis but illustrious football and punditry careers are seldom prerequisites for managerial success. Just ask Graeme Souness, Ruud Gullit and John Barnes.

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There is a myth that good players hardly make it in management/coaching; his former 1994 class members (Austin Aguavoen, Samson Siasia and Stephen Keshi) all tried to change the country’s fortunes with mixed outcomes but in Oliseh, the Super Eagles have a man with good knowledge of the game highlighted by his excellent analytical skills and strategic thinking.

No wonder the NFF President Amaju Pinnick hailed Oliseh as the “Pep Guardiola of African Football” at his media unveiling. Although the hype is an unnecessary one, it depicts the wealth of knowledge, aura, exposure and charisma Oliseh exudes.

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Just like Guardiola, Oliseh takes the mantle of Super Eagles with little management experience; he had only managed Belgian lower league side Vervietois between 2008 and 2009. Guardiola had been in management for just a year (from 2007 – 2008 with Barcelona B team) before he went on to revolutionise and bamboozle the world with beautiful tiki-taka football.

To achieve the Guardiola-esque success of adding realism to romanticism, Oliseh needs to think before he dreams; both juxtapose reality. And go for players who fit the bill to play for this dream team.

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It is encouraging to hear he shares one’s view about the current state of our football; we lack quality players. He stated, without mincing words, in his first press conference that only players playing in the top division at home and abroad will wear the Green and White of Nigeria henceforth. The only exceptions, according to him, would be young talents who have put in tremendous shifts at youth levels.

This may sound harsh or “unnecessary” as my friend described it but one has chosen to see it as ploy to encourage the current crop of players to work harder and earn moves to top football leagues rather than settle for obscure countries just for financial gains, which has become endemic. As a result, competition for places on the team will enhance, with only players who merit a spot on the team, called up. This is evident in the current Football Transfer Window; we have witnessed a huge merry-go-round amongst European footballers in search of regular first-team action to boost their chance of being amongst those invited to the Euros party.

Nevertheless, it is time for Oliseh to match his words with action. Managers are judged by performance on the field (results) and not by their preparation/analysis. And Oliseh won’t be an exception!

Nigerian Football: Which Way????

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Sitting here, relaxing and surfing the internet for the latest football Transfer News, I noticed a common ‘anomaly’ amongst Nigerian footballers.

All the Nigeria International footballers that have been linked with a move away from their respective clubs, attracted interests from relatively small clubs in top European leagues or clubs in Turkey and other obscure countries.

With all due respect to these clubs, every fan wants to see his countrymen sign for top European sides and I am no different. It signifies the quality of footballers the country churns out year after year.

A lot of fans have forgotten what it feels like to see a good number of Nigerian footballers show off their skills at the biggest stage, the UEFA Champions League (UCL). Former Chelsea manager Roberto di Matteo made every African football fan proud when he listed four Africans in his squad for the 2012 UCL final against Bayern Munich, which they won on penalties.

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These Africans include: John Mikel Obi (Nigeria), Michael Essien (Ghana), Salomon Kalou & Didier Drogba (both Ivory Coast). Hence, Mikel became only the third Nigerian to win the UCL after Kanu Nwankwo and Finidi George (with Ajax in 1995).

David Olatokunbo Alaba, Nigerian-born Austria International, would have become the fourth Nigeria International to win the UCL when he won the title at Wembley with Bayern Munich in 2013 against fierce rivals Borussia Dortmund  if Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) had approached him on time to switch his allegiance from Austria.

Just like Alaba, there used to be a time when Nigerian footballers attracted or commanded a starting berth at top European clubs.
These footballers were termed the “Golden Generation of Nigerian Football”. The Kanus, Georges, Babayaros, Wests, Ikpebas, Amunekes, Okochas, Okechukwus, Olisehs made headlines across the globe and caused a bidding war amongst top European sides after their heroics at 1994 CAF African Cup of Nations in Tunisia, 1994 FIFA World Cup in United States and 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

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Kanu Nwankwo and Finidi George moved to Ajax Amsterdam in 1993 and went on to win the UCL in 1995 under the tutelage of Louis van Gaal. They also returned to the same stage a year later but were unlucky to succumb to Italian giants Juventus on penalties. Kanu moved on to Inter Milan and Arsenal amassing a number of trophies to become the most decorated Nigerian footballer ever whilst George moved to Spanish club Real Betis in 1996 after his proposed move to European heavyweights Real Madrid collapsed.

Celestine Babayaro joined Belgian club Anderlecht in 1994 and became the youngest player to play and receive a red card in a UCL game aged just 16years 86 days. He spent three years in Belgium before joining Chelsea, where he won the UEFA Cup Winners Cup and UEFA Cup in over 200 appearances for the London club.

Emmanuel Amuneke, the 1994 CAF African Footballer of the Year, represented Portuguese club, Sporting Lisbon between 1994 and 1996 under late Sir Bobby Robson. In 1996, Robson left Sporting for FC Barcelona and took Amuneke with him, however, his time at Nou Camp was cut short by a knee injury.

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Sunday Oliseh, who is fondly remembered for his thunderbolt winner against Spain at the 1998 FIFA World Cup, played for Ajax Amsterdam, Juventus and Borussia Dortmund.

Victor Ikpeba, the 1998 CAF African Footballer of the Year, played for AS Monaco and Borussia Dortmund in France and Germany respectively with distinction.

Now fast forward to the current crop of players avaliable to the Super Eagles coach for selection and only Victor Moses, Peter Osaze Odemwingie, Ogenyi Onazi, Vincent Enyeama, Kenneth Omeruo, Elderson Echejile, Joel Obi, Ahmed Musa and John Mikel Obi stand out. Mikel caused a tug of war between Manchester United and Chelsea in 2005 before eventually settling for Chelsea. He has gone on to play in UCL and FA Cup finals as well as make the bench for the UEFA Europa League and Capital One Cup finals. He is hot on the heels of Kanu Nwankwo and may usurp the latter to become the most decorated Nigerian footballer ever.

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Others, including Taye Taiwo, who shone at 2005 FIFA World Youth Championships with Mikel, have failed to live up to expectations. To be fair to Taiwo, he started his career on a high and went on to play for Olympique Marseille and AC Milan but lost his form and confidence in 2011 aged just 26 and hasn’t recovered ever since.

There are three main reasons why I think Nigerian footballers aren’t the lure of leading European clubs anymore. The first is age; a number of Europeans still believe Africans and South Americans lie about their ages hence most prefer to take their chance on young players that can offer their clubs a good number of years in return for the astronomical figures they command.

The second is lack of ambition; Africans, rather Black men in general, are often known to become complacent once they achieve their dream. Most Nigerian footballers could care less about winning laurels and trophies. They are in the football business, just for the money considering their family backgrounds. Football has taken many from bottom to the top of the food chain. However, they fail to understand that a player that aims for titles and shattering records will make more money.

The third is lack of quality; the naked truth is that if these players were quality, most managers would take a chance on them irrespective of their limitations. A lot of managers questioned ages of Kanu and Taribo West but it didn’t deter them from signing both players.

To solve this conundrum, the NFF, Nigerian Premier League clubs and national team coaches have to invest heavily in scouting networks to discover quality players who are hungry for success on all fronts.

Why I Think Aliko Dangote Should Buy A Nigerian Premier League Club

Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote said earlier this month, in an interview with Bloomberg, that he is still interested in buying English Premier League (EPL) club, Arsenal despite having his first offer rebuffed back in 2010.

Being an ardent follower of one of the best leagues in the world, it is easy to understand why Dangote’s dream of owning the North London club seems to be the right business decision.

However, one wonders why he has not thought of purchasing a Nigerian Premier League (NPL) club instead.

Nigerian football is in dire need of a shot in the arm and Dangote may be the man to take our football to the acme of African, if not World, football.

The progress of our league is still marred by the interference of State Governments. Most Nigerian Premier League clubs are still owned by the Governments in the states where they are situated, hence the league lacks a proper business structure.

Captail Oil owner and business man, Ifeanyi Ubah recently acquired Gabros FC for over a billion naira and said “We seem not to know what we have in this country in terms of football standard. I feel ashamed whenever I see Nigerian young players go to lesser football-playing countries to play professional soccer. I don’t see why our players should run to places like South Africa, Malta, India, Bangladesh and even Israel to play professional football, when in the actual sense, with proper organization and planning, the Nigerian league is better. My dream is to make Nigeria the Mecca of club football in the world.”

The English Premier League is lauded today as the best league in the world because England allowed foreign investors to come in and buy the clubs, attract foreign players to the league and expand their fan base.

Egyptian Mohamed Al Fayed was the first foreign owner in English football, with Fulham. He purchased the club for £6.25m back in 1997 when they were still in the fourth tier of English football.

But it was the success of Russian billionaire, Roman Abramovic at Chelsea that heralded the influx of foreign investors into English football.

Abramovic bought Chelsea, a fairly midtable team at the time, for £150m from Ken Bates back in 2003 and has since turned them into EPL/FA cup/Champions League winners.

Since then, Stanley Kroenke, Alisher Usmanov (both Arsenal), Randy Lerner (Aston Villa), Assem Allam (Hull City), Ellis Short (Sunderland), The Glazer Family (Manchester United), Katharian Liebherr (Southampton), Tony Fernandes (QPR), John Henry (Liverpool), Sheikh Mansour (Manchester City) and  Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha (Leicester City) have all acquired major stakes in English premier league clubs.

Investment of the Dangotes and Ubahs in Nigerian football may also propel our league to such great heights and attract the likes of Abramovic to invest in the league.

One cannot overemphasize how Nigeria, as a nation, will benefit from having a well-structured and competitive football league.

The English Premier League generates €2.2 billion per year in domestic and international television rights.

Having a well-structured league will help curb the chronic youth unemployment we have in the country. Apart from being a footballer or coach, many youths will get the chance to work for the league clubs in different capacities such as advertising, managerial, human resource, sports science etc.

The prospective club owners can record profits from sale of club merchandise and match tickets, if sold at available prices, to ensure the stadium is filled and make the match enjoyable for everyone.

I had the opportunity to watch a League One (English third tier) match between Bristol City and Scunthorpe United at Ashton Gate stadium in 2014. I was in awe of the atmosphere in the stadium; it was nothing like what I experience back here in Nigeria. The fans were in boyish mood and sang on top of their voices.

The club also slashed the match ticket prices for students and persons with disabilities hence allowing everyone to get a glimpse of their local stars.

The Egyptian, South African, Moroccan, Tunisian, Mexican and Japanese leagues are leagues we can use as stereotypes. Let’s use the Egyptian league for example, it is so organized and exciting that their top players leave Europe and return home. For instance, Amir Zaki was an instant hit at Wigan Athletic when he was on loan at the club (2008/2009 English premier league season) and had the opportunity to make the deal permanent but he declined the offer and opted to return back to Egypt where he’s been representing Zamalek.

The Egyptian league is so exciting to watch because of their style of play and the atmosphere in the stadia. The fans come out in mass, wearing the colours of their favourite teams and singing loudly.

Nigerian football needs this boost!

Football’s Life Lessons II

16. Under rated people find life easy, they surprise everyone when they do well but over rated people are always under intense pressure and are often criticised for every wrong move they make. Google Freddy Adu.

17. Listening to renowned commentators like Martin Tyler can aid your vocabulary.

18. Karma is a bitch, just make sure that bitch is beautiful. Our past come back to haunt us one way or the other. Sunderland’s appointment of Paolo Di Canio as manager has caused an uproar because of his fascist salutes/political views in the past.

19. Drugs, alcohol and women can ruin you. Diego Maradona (drugs), Paul Gascoigne (alcohol) and George Best (alcohol & women) all ruined their careers.

20. Money can’t buy happiness. Robert Enke and Gary Speed committed suicide after succumbing to depression.

21. A leader is a person who leads by example and not words of mouth. Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard led by example in the 2005 UCL final against AC Milan, having started the game in midfield, he shifted to the right back position in the extra time of the match to send the game to penalties, which his team won.

22. Don’t be a quitter. Ronaldo de Lima suffered recurrent knee injuries in the early 2000s. Prior to the 2002 world cup, he didn’t a play part in Inter Milan’s season but went on to win the Golden boot and World Cup with Brazil that year. He also won the FIFA World footballer of the year award that same year.

23. Team work supersedes individualism. Chelsea won the 2012 Champions League not because they were the best team but because they worked hard as a team.

24. No knowledge is a waste. In 2012, 21-year old, Vugar Guloglan oglu Huseynzade was named as coach of Azerbaijani club, FC Baku based on his experience of playing the computer game, Football Manager. He beat former European footballer of the year, Jean-Pierre Papin to the job.

25. Hard work will always beat talent, if talent doesn’t work hard. Nani is more talented than Antonio Valencia but Valencia’s work ethic is impressive thus he’s kept Nani out of the team for most of the campaign.

26. Don’t underrate anybody, everybody has something to offer. Monaco & FC Porto surprised everybody when they beat G-14 clubs to reach the final of UCL in 2004.

27. Proper planning makes decision making process a lot easier. A strategic plan is usually developed for every opponent. This plan is developed after careful examination of their strengths and weaknesses. The experience gotten from this plan, whether successful or not would be useful in subsequent matches.

28. Be flexible to change. Sir Alex Ferguson is an epitome of flexibility to change; he’s gone from 4-4-2 that won him the treble in 1999 to 4-5-1 in 2001 to 4-3-3 in 2008 to 4-2-3-1 in 2013. This has helped him wrestle the EPL title from the likes of Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Roberto Mancini and Arsene Wenger.

29. Always have a substitute or back plan. I’m yet to see a season Sir Alex Ferguson has played without four recognised strikers in his squad. When one or two strikers aren’t performing at an optimal level, the others are thrown into the game.

30. Everybody remembers the winner, nobody remembers the person in second position. When a goal is scored, nobody remembers the player with the killer pass but the scorer.

Football’s Life Lessons I

Football is the most popular sport, played and watched by millions of people world wide.

Football is more than a game because it teaches us a lot about life so let’s take a look at some of the lessons we can learn from following the game.

1. People don’t remember all the things you’ve done for them rather they will hold unto the one you didn’t do. Robin van Persie has scored a lot of important goals for Man United this season but took a lot of stick for missing a glorious chance late in the game against Chelsea.

2. Success breeds haters. Lionel Messi and his FC Barcelona team are hated by many because of the success they’ve recorded.

3. The media will make and mar you. David Beckham married spice girl, Victoria Adams in 1999 and the pair were dubbed “Posh & Becks” by the British media. A few years later, British tabloids offered Rebecca Loos a whooping £5m to reveal all the details of her affair with the football star.

4. Competition is healthy and brings out the best in us. Javier Hernandez has really improved in his all round play this season because of the emergence of Danny Welbeck and signing of Robin van Persie.

5. Football enlightens us on geography and makes us conversant with some places we had never heard of. Eg Andorra, San Marino, Faroe Islands, Luxembourg, Catalunya, Lichtenstein, Basque country, Andalucia country, etc.

6. Football helps you become familiar with some names of the players/coaches and the countries associated with such names.

7. Nothing is permanent. Life is all about rise and fall. In 2002, Leeds United were in the semi finals of the UEFA Champions League; they play in the English second tier (Championship) today.

8. All is fair in love and war.
If you like complain and moan all day about some refereeing errors that cost your team the match, the match won’t be replayed.

9. Opportunity comes but once, take it! Kenneth Omeruo was relatively unknown prior to the start of AFCON. He was given the chance to play after Efe Ambrose was red carded in the first game, he did well and cemented his place in the team ousting the captain, Joseph Yobo from the starting line up.

10. Football educates one about history, only if you listen to the commentary and don’t make silly noise/arguments during a game. Did you know whenever Tottenham Hotspur plays at home, Arsenal (Highbury days) must play away to prevent traffic jam?

11. It is hard to replace or leave a team player out of the team. Pedro is the one of the most hard-working players I’ve seen, that’s why it’s hard to keep him out of the team at FC Barcelona and International level.

12. Footballers inspire you, you can be anything you want to be if you work hard.

13. Money will always come but what would you do with the money? A lot of footballers have gone from riches to rags because they failed to invest their money properly.

14. Nobody is indispensable. Manchester United won’t become extinct when Sir Alex Ferguson finally retires.

15. Humility is truly a virtue. Ryan Giggs is the most decorated player in the history of English football but he’s laid back and humble, a true example to everyone. See Kanu Nwankwo also.

To be continued