The clamor for indigenous coaches to handle most especially the senior national team of Nigeria, known as the Super Eagles has been on for as long as I can remember. The issue of national pride is always cited as one of the major reasons why the exponents of this school of thought kept on with their agitation.
At a time, I was almost wooed into this school of thought, maybe in sympathy with the local coaches that have paid their dues as far as football achievement is concerned.
I was almost carried away by our major achievements in the cadet categories of the world cup most especially the under 17 category. Nigeria has won that trophy 3 times since the inaugural edition was held in China as far back as 1985, when an indigenous coach by the name of Christian Chukwu, himself a former captain of the national senior team, led a group of young unexposed boys to the Asian nation of China to put their names in the Guinness book of world record as the first country in the world to win this championship then being sponsored by Kodak.
Before they left the shores of Nigerian, no one gave them the slightest chance for success. When they finally returned home with the trophy, a lot of euphoria greeted their achievement. And just as stated earlier, this feat has been repeated two more times after the maiden edition, ironically in the same continent of Asia. First, it was China in 1985, then Japan in 1993 and the most recent one in Korea in 2007.
At these three occasions, our indigenous coaches were at the helm of affairs, first it was Chairman Christian Chukwu, then Fanny Ammun and recently the late Yomi Tella who died a few weeks after returning from a glorious outing in Korea.
In 1996, another exploit was achieved in the field of soccer by Nigeria in far away Atlanta, Georgia in the United States of America. There, an underestimated Nigerian side led by the Dutch man Bonfrere-Jo took the world by storm by winning an Olympic gold medal that has eluded the almighty Brazil since they registered their name as the greatest soccer playing nation in the world, having won all that there is to win in soccer at every level of the game expect at the Olympics (I am beginning to think that they are jinxed). Ironically, they were eliminated in the semi-final by Nigeria in an epic game which the bookmakers had already given to the Brazilians. The event that led to the elimination of Brazil in the soccer event of Atlanta Olympic game is a topic for another day.
The issue here however is that Nigeria won that soccer gold under the tutelage of a foreign coach, and it is on record that the two time Nigeria has won the African Cup of nations, first in 1980 was under a Brazilian known as Otto Gloria, the second time was in 1994 in Tunisia under the flamboyant and vocal Dutchman known as Clement Westerhof, it was this same man that qualified Nigeria to her first ever senior soccer world cup popularly referred to as USA 94. It was a double feat for the Dutchman who had earlier in the year won the African cup of nations in grand style, thereby sending a signal to the world about Nigeria’s preparedness to take her rightful place in the field of world soccer.
Why have the foreigners succeeded more than the indigenous coaches when it comes to the senior level?
I would want to proffer the reasons in two ways, first the administrative lapses in the Nigerian Football Association. Most people involved in the day to day running of the game of soccer in Nigeria, knows close to nothing about the game and its challenges. The Nigerian Football Association is thus politicized and is mainly used as an instrument of political gratification for electoral supports. The foreign coaches succeed because they are hired under a well signed and sealed contract, they are offered mouth watering contracts that help to motivate them into putting in their best.
When it comes to the local coaches, it is a different ball game. They are hardly given a concrete contract and when that even happens, a lot of interference from the powers that be in the sports ministry and the soccer ruling house makes decisions making by the indigenous coaches difficult. The issue of job security is another determining factor. Coaches are hired and fired at will, most of them being owed salaries for couple of months, and they are never to talk about such issues otherwise it would be seen as sabotage and an act of insubordination since these coaches are treated like ministry workers.
The issue of respect from the players is another kettle of fish when it comes to coaching the senior national team. Come to think of it, some of these professional players earn as much as Eighty Thousand British Pounds a week in their various European clubs, that translated to our local currency, runs into millions of Naira which could pay the indigenous coaches’ two years salary. Now, psychologically, the student here is living more comfortably than the teacher, has achieved more than the so-called teacher and therefore finds it difficult to subject himself under the authority of a man who has never played professional soccer all his life.
The foreign coaches are more respected by players and administrators alike and that tends to give them the upper hand ahead of their local colleagues.
Until the time that the local coaches are treated with much more respect like the foreign coaches in term of remunerations and free-hands to be able to operate without undue interference, the possibility of an indigenous coach succeeding with the senior national soccer team looks like a mirage for now and the near future.