Siasia and Obama: Birds of a feather?

Nurudeen Obalola, Lagos

It is quite fitting that Samson Siasia's first assignment as Super Eagles coach is an invitational tournament named after Barack Obama.
Like the US President, Siasia rode on the wave of popular public opinion to get the dream job he always wanted. And like Obama, Siasia also steadily rose through the ranks to get the ultimate appointment.
Obama was once a grass roots politician, then a senator before becoming the world's most powerful man. Siasia was first a national team player, then Flying Eagles coach, Olympic team coach, before snagging the big one.
Hopefully for the Eagles boss, the similarities will end there. Because, like Obama's job Siasia's continued popularity depends solely on results. And that is where he the Nigerian will hope his path is smoother than the American's.
While millions of Americans clung on to the hope provided through Obama's smooth-as-silk campaign rhetoric and voted him in as the world's most powerful democracy's first black President, back in 2009, the stark reality has been a whole lot different than the dream of plenty sparked by the former senator's powerful speeches.
Although Obama is obviously giving economic recovery and other burning issues his best shot, the damage done during George Bush's eight-year reign has been tough to get undone. And the hate-filled agenda of the fierce ultra-conservative opposition has caused further damage to his reputation as his approval ratings keep tumbling down.
If there were to be an election right this moment Obama, who won by a landslide less than two years ago, would struggle to get a majority.
So, as Siasia heads to the Obama Cup in the US next month, the US President's story should serve as a lesson: popularity is a tenuous asset in this world of fickle human beings.

That Siasia is very popular now is not a guarantee that he will still be a cult hero in April. He has to achieve good results with the Eagles and make them play attractive football, otherwise the same 'fans' that called for his appointment would be quick to dismiss him as a talentless opportunist.
Hopefully, the damage done to the Eagles by the likes of Shaibu Amodu, Berti Vogts, Lars Lagerback and some of the team's senior players is not so much that Siasia would not be able to impose his style and positive approach on the side.
Because failure is not an option for Siasia.
The coaching job is so thankless that the transition from hero to zero is painfully easy. Siasia must learn from the past and realise that the only way he can sustain his high rating among fans, journalists and others is to keep winning. And then he must win in some style, too.
Many Nigerian football fans would give anything to see the Eagles reproduce their swashbuckling days, when the team produced a devastating blend of style and substance that bamboozled opponents and left fans baying for more.
Interestingly, Siasia was a member of that golden Eagles generation, the side that conquered Africa in 1994 and left the world drooling at the World Cup in the same year.
If Siasia could get the Eagles to play like that and win - not offer the drab fare Shaibu Amodu's team consistently produced-then he is guaranteed a place in the pantheon of great coaches.
But if he fails -God forbid- the same people who vehemently called for his appointment would turn their backs on him in an instant. Just like millions of Americans are blaming Obama for their woes these days, even when he is obviously doing his damnedest to get the economy moving again.
Siasia would do well not to dwell too much on his past achievements. They count for nothing if he does not achieve new success.
That he won silvers at the U-20 World Cup and the Olympics would not shield him from fierce criticism if, for instance, the Eagles do not do too well at the Nations Cup in 2012, that is if he leads the side to qualify.
Jo Bonfrere was the ultimate coaching reference when he led the Dream Team to win Africa's first football Olympic Games gold at Atlanta '96 and he was also applauded for taking the Super Eagles very close to the Nations Cup title in 2000.
But the Dutchman was disgraced out of Nigeria after he led the Eagles to lose to Sierra Leone in a 2002 World Cup qualifier. I was at the Lagos airport to cover the team's arrival from Freetown and the vile bile thrown Bonfrere's way by the incensed mob was enough to drown a herd of elephants. The once-revered coach had become the villain of the piece and shouts of 'Go, Bonfrere, go' rent the air as he appeared at the arrival lounge.
There are many more cases of coaches who turned from demi-gods to sub-humans in the opinion of the public following poor results - Shaibu Amodu, Roy Hodgson, Lars Lagerback et al come to mind- so Siasia should not be deluded into thinking he is immune from this kind of treatment.
But, hopefully, his openness, technical savvy and willingness to learn will ensure Siasia continues winning and he will continue to be a hero forever.
We all know that the difference between hero and zero is in the first letter. Siasia should ask President Obama.

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