Can we really blame Oliseh? | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Can we really blame Oliseh?

Posted: Feb 27, 2016 at 6:02 am   /   by   /   comments (1)

By Bola Bolawole

I am not a soccer buff, as they say, but I follow soccer enough to be able to intelligently comment on issues around the round-leather game. Sports pages are some of the first that I not only read in any newspaper but also study to some extent. On my phone, I receive latest reports on the Premier League at the very least. I followed with bemused interest the hoopla generated, first by the Super Eagles’ knock-out stage loss to minnows Guinea in the African Nations’ Championship that was held in Rwanda. Later the internet “rant” of the Super Eagles coach and former national team captain, Sunday O’Chukwu Oliseh, as the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) boss, Amaju Pinnick, labelled it, against his critics, which included NFF officials, members of the NFF’s technical committee, the Sports Writers’ Association of Nigeria (SWAN),  fellow ex-internationals, supporters’ clubs, and football lovers and critics generally.

Oliseh characteristically (I will explain that later) gathered together everyone who had raised a voice against the loss to Guinea and dubbed them “insane”. The loss to Guinea rankles for three major reasons. One: The Super Eagles had started the tournament so well, beating their first opponent, Niger, and drawing with the second, Tunisia; and thus it needed just a draw with Guinea to scale the knock-out stage. No one expected this to be the Herculean task it later turned out to be. Two: Compared to Nigeria, Guinea is a football minnow in every respect; so, no one expected that it is this Lilliputian, so to say, that would floor the African giant that Nigeria is in all respect. Three: Because of our trajectory and exploits, no one expected Nigeria at this level and in this age to still exit any Africa soccer event at the group stages. Even Oliseh’s response, however, revealed three issues. One: The frustrations and limitations imposed on both himself and his team by the authorities. Two: The Oliseh response also revealed his surprise at the impatience of Nigerians and their lack of appreciation for what Oliseh considers as his impressive performance so far as the national coach. He could be right, although on the first issue of the NFF shirking of its responsibilities.

On the other issue of the critics’ impatience, Oliseh was both right and wrong. Right because he truly needs more time to put together a winning team from the rag-tag “army” bequeathed unto him. Wrong, because he ought to know, as an ex-international and, I suppose, a keen football watcher, that few gaffes ever get all the time in the world to produce a winning team. Impatience is the name of the game everywhere and coaches have to race against time. Three: Success today, failuretomorrow is counted as failure in football’s queer way of conducting its activities. In soccer, successes are no longer remembered once failure sets in. In soccer, perhaps more than any other sports, failure appears intolerable, even for a season. Oliseh should have known that.

Three issues again and we close. One: Oliseh’s tempers or human relationship abilities. Two: His requisite experience as a coach at a summit such as the Super Eagles’. Three: His technical understanding and professional knowledge of the round-leather game. We all knew Oliseh’s fiery tempers before we decided to make our bed with him. Either we thought age had tempered him or responsibilities would clip his wings. We took a calculated risk, I suppose, or, as usual, we trivialised facts and acted on sentiments.

Since we, nevertheless, preferred Oliseh to his betters on that score, we have to give him enough time to mature on the job. I will be modest and give him five years after which I will return to judge him. I hope he will still be on his seat by that time! The quality of footballers in the Nigerian team as of now leaves much to be desired. The reasons why this is so should be a discussion for another day. This lack of quality cannot but negatively reflect on the Super Eagles’ performance until we are lucky enough (better still, after we have worked really hard at it) to have an array of stars as in the days of yore. Zinedine Zidane, the new coach of Real Madrid, said recently that he needed not give his players more than one or two instructions during matches because they are all professionals and know what to do; until we get to that threshold, it will be unrealistic to expect miracles from our own national team coaches. Therefore, the people who spoke to some people to let Oliseh be rather than sack him and start another wild goose chase have done well. The fault, O Caesar (Nigerians), is not in our stars (Oliseh) but in us!