All They See Is A White Coach
By Zazi Bariza
Over the past two decades, Nigeria’s men football team, the Super Eagles, have had various dark experiences.
From 2002 when they failed to impress at the FIFA World Cup to 2006 when they didn’t qualify at all and then 2008 when they crashed out of AFCON at the quarterfinal, it has been one realm of darkness to another.
In 2011, 2014 and 2016 when they failed in their AFCON qualification quests; Nigerian football seemed to be in total darkness.
True to the African proverb that only the white goat can be seen in the dark, at those times with the Eagles, football administrators have only seen white coaches as the solution to the problem.
After the team’s run of the mill performance at the 2002 Korea/Japan FIFA World Cup, then NFA chairman, Ibrahim Galadima, declared that the way forward was to go foreign, so the search for a messianic white coach began, but Christian Chukwu, a Nigerian, was assigned to sit in until his arrival.
By October 2003, news filtered in that former England captain, Bryan Robson, had been appointed and a monthly salary of $50,000 had been agreed. However, the sports minister, Musa Mohammed, vetoed the deal, claiming that due process was not followed in his appointment. Consequently, Christian Chukwu was told to continue to fill the gap.
Nine months later, in July 2004, another move was made to bring in the long awaited saviour, this time, with a primary mission of ensuring qualification for the 2006 World Cup and Jean Tigana was mentioned.
Nonetheless, the Frenchman vehemently denied any knowledge of advances from Nigeria.
Again, no messiah was brought, and Chukwu was made to stand in.
Some shaky performances in 2006 World Cup qualifying series flashed the reality of not qualifying for the 2006 World Cup in our faces, and subsequently, Chukwu was removed.
Philippe Troussier, a former technical adviser of the team, was contacted to return our World Cup hopes to track, but the Frenchman made it clear that the Eagles stood little or no chance of qualifying, and declined! The job was obviously not attractive at that time, hence Austine ‘Cerezo’ Eguavoen, another Nigerian was told to step in.
Cerezo led the team to convincing victories in the remaining two games of the qualifiers, albeit, it wasn’t enough to take us book our place in Germany 2006.
He went ahead to tinker them to an impressive third place finish at the 2006 Nations Cup, yet the NFA did not find him worthy of a permanent contract.
By January 2007, German tactician, Berti Vogts was appointed Super Eagles technical adviser. Coming with the ‘rich’ pedigree of winning the 1996 European Championship, it looked like the NFA had for the first time in a long while got it right. Nevertheless, it proved not to be the case as the German, after grating through the 2008 AFCON qualifiers, led us to our worst AFCON finish in over two decades. The Eagles won only one of four AFCON matches, crashing out in the quarter final. That marked the end of Vogts reign with the Eagles, and Amodu Shuaibu stepped in.
It was already common knowledge that Nigerian coaches no longer got substantive contracts with the Eagles, and needless to say, Amodu’s appointment was also on interim basis.
For the third time in his coaching career, Amodu led us in World Cup qualifiers. This time he struggled, but eventually qualified the team for the first FIFA World Cup to be staged on African soil, South Africa 2010. In spite of that, he was fired four months before the mundial, on grounds of ‘technical and tactical deficiency.’
The search for the white coach to lead us to the World Cup began, and Nigerians were left breathless as the tournament was fast approaching. Glen Hoddle was mentioned, and he looked close to landing the job, but eventually Lars Lagerback, who had just failed to qualify Sweden for the same World Cup, dazzled the NFF technical during interview and landed the job.
With Lagerback, our performance at that World Cup was far below par, finishing bottom of group B that also had Argentina, Greece and South Korea.
Shortly after the tournament, the Swede announced his departure (although the NFA looked willing to keep him). He, however, left us with a useful piece of advice _ to always “look inward.”
It was advice the Aminu Maigari led NFF quickly heeded; perhaps because of the colour of lips that offered it. Consequently, for the first time in so many years, Nigerian coaches were offered substantive contracts and entrusted with the responsibility of returning the Eagles to paths of glory.
Samson Siasia, Stephen Keshi and Sunday Oliseh all had their turns, making apologists for indigenous coaches glad that the tendency of seeing only the white coach was over.
But here we are again: Sunday Oliseh resigns, Mr. Amaju Pinnick (NFF President) swears before an international audience that a foreigner would be appointed (that no Nigerian coach has the capacity to lead the Eagles to great heights) yet Samson Siasia is kept in the gap for the double header against Egypt.
Now the coaching consortium of Salisu Yusuf, Imama Amapakabo and Kennedy Boboye have been recruited to sit in and oversee two friendly matches, before the next white coach makes his ‘triumphal entry’.
After seeing all these in my last two decades of being a Super Eagles die hard, I regretfully say that there is no greater ‘vanity and vexation of spirit’ than seeing the administrators of our football use the equally capable coaches we have in this country as pads that will warm the seat for the arrival of their white counterparts.
Perhaps, the adage that only the white goat can be seen in darkness holds the most plausible explanation for this self-degrading tendency.