In 2013, Stephen Keshi turned the fortunes of the Super Eagles around, despite internal lack of belief, and he earned his place in the annals of coaching greatness.
To match his record is a tall order for anyone who’s charged to take on such difficult task.
Keshi did not just win the AFCON against all odds, he equalled Nigeria’s best finish at the World Cup, although in a less fashionable manner.
The goal hasn’t been to find another Keshi as the late former Super Eagles captain had a tumultuous end to his national team coaching career.
Still the only Nigerian to have qualified two African nations for the World Cup, Keshi’s methods worked a great deal on his best days, and the new times and the struggles of present make one peek further into what stood him out.
Criticisms were in full swing in Keshi’s last years but those who replaced him soon discovered how thorny the path is.
The only man who has come closest to Keshi’s achievement with Nigeria was Amodu Shuaibu.
Of the much-vaunted 1994 Super Eagles squad who have ventured into coaching, Keshi was a level ahead of every other coach.
Samson Siasia is another good head to call as he did well with the U-23 winning silver and bronze medals at the Beijing and Rio Olympics respectively.
In 2011, Siasia struggled to help Nigeria qualify for the 2012 AFCON much after Austin Eguavoen had laid the ground work for struggles.
Keshi, Siasia, Eguavoen at different times failed to help Nigeria qualify for the AFCON but none of those failures has been as excruciating as the most recent – missing out on the 2022 World Cup.
It’s even more befuddling that the coach, Eguavoen has blamed everyone except himself for the dismal showing against Ghana and the failure of the team to book a ticket.
First, he said the NFF shouldn’t have sacked Rohr when they did and he went on to question the character of the players he invited.
Excuses have been endless, but Eguavoen for many years has struggled to show competence and that’s quite the tale of the general Nigerian situation. Opportunities are given to those who have little to no track record of performance at the expense of those who have painstakingly built capacity.
Assisted by coaches seen as some of the best on the local scene, Eguavoen laboured to impact a definite system and approach, struggled to understand game situations and made pre-conceived rather than situational substitutions. His stint was an exposé into a man who has a lot of catching up to do in terms of understanding and knowledge of the game.
Unfortunately, Nigeria doesn’t seem to offer much better in other candidates.
Emmanuel Amuneke’s appointment was expected to help Eguavoen but either due to its timing, limited access or lack of enough know-how altogether, they both struggled to achieve their aim.
Siasia has shown promise in the past but has issues with FIFA. This further exposes the cracks masterminded by the NFF.
Under Amaju Pinnick as President, nothing of significance has happened to Nigerian coaching. The faces seen are hardly changing, many of whom are struggling to cope with the ever evolving football world. Sometimes in 2020, Ladan Bosso was appointed the coach of the Flying Eagles and if recent reports are anything to go by, he will be reappointed. Same old faces.
Those who have managed to upgrade are spending exorbitantly to acquire such knowledge yet are constantly ignored.
Many Nigerian coaches don’t have CAF licenses today because the NFF has failed to do the needful.
The entirety of the focus of Pinnick’s NFF has been the Super Eagles and virtually nothing else. The finality of the Super Eagles’ journey is a perfect reflection of the banality of the approach of football administrators in Nigeria.
It took a big hit on Nigerian football’s biggest product, the Super Eagles for the NFF to discover it needs a revamp.
Footballers in the country have their developmental weaknesses exposed abroad as a result of the absence of good coaching. The finest Nigerian players abroad nowadays hardly pass through the league system because there’s almost no development in that regard, greatly due to the NFF’s failures.
The big brand Super Eagles needs a new handler and it’s an almost unthinkable risk giving a Nigerian the job. The honest question is when the current generation of coaches, many of whom are not in sync with modern trends and methods retire, where will Nigeria turn to?