Can Nigeria’s Super Eagles Become Formidable With an Indigenous Coach?

All over the world, it is more common for a national football team to have an indigenous coach. Joachim Löw led Germany to a World Cup title in 2014. Didier Deschamps has led France to two World Cup finals (2018 and 2022), one of which they won, Roberto Mancini helped Italy win the Euros 2020. Lionel Scaloni led Argentina to become world champions in 2022, after winning Finalissima some months before and Copa America a year before, and many more. In Africa, many teams are led by foreign coaches. About 10 of the 24 coaches at the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) this year were foreign coaches. Regardless of this fact, the last three AFCON winners were coached by indigenous coaches – Djamel Belmadi of Algeria (2019), Aliou Cisse of Senegal (2021) and Emerse Faé of Côte D’Ivoire (2023). Walid Regragui helped Morocco become the first African country to reach the semifinals of the FIFA World Cup. For some of these African countries, while some indigenous coaches lead their national football team to record-breaking stages and even lift trophies; this seem to not be the case in Nigeria as many of our indigenous coaches have failed to impress, or live up to expectations regardless of how high or low they are.

Since the late Stephen Keshi’s run with the Super Eagles from 2011 to 2015, the national team has been coached by indigenous coaches Shuaibu Amodu, Daniel Amokachi, Samson Siasia, Sunday Oliseh, Salisu Yusuf and Augustine Eguavoen. Samson Siasia relatively performed well when he led Nigeria to a third-place finish at the Rio Olympics in 2016. However, he could not replicate the same performance as the coach of the senior male football team of Nigeria. When Nigeria won the 1994 AFCON and reached its highest ever FIFA ranking (5th), the team was led by Clemens Westerhof, a dutchman. When Nigeria won the 1996 Football Olympics, the team was led by Jo Bonfrère, another dutchman. Gernot Rohr, a German, helped Nigeria qualify for the 2018 World Cup and secure a third-place finish at the 2019 AFCON. José Peseiro, a Portuguese, led Nigeria to a second-place finish at the last AFCON tournament.

Several factors, including bottlenecks and corruption in the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) can be attributed to this unimpressive record. Except Stephen Keshi who won the 2013 AFCON and helped the team to the Round of 16 at the World Cup in 2014, Nigerian coaches have not proven to be skilled enough to lead the team to success. On the other hand, there could be arguments on the quality of players available to each of these coaches. Super Eagles former coach, José Peseiro resigned after the last AFCON tournament and his assistant coach, George Finidi, who was once a Super Eagle, took over as the interim coach. He handled two friendly matches; a win against Ghana and a loss to Mali. At the time, the NFF was searching for Peseiro’s replacement. Now when the Super Eagles are under pressure to qualify for the 2026 World Cup after failing to make it to the 2022 edition, the NFF decided to stick to George as the main coach of the senior team.

George Finidi talking to Calvin Bassey on the sidelines. Source: Punch Newspapers.

George started his coaching career in 2021 with Enyimba F.C. The 53-year-old, Port-Harcourt born won his first title as a coach, clinching the Nigerian Premier Football League title in 2023. However, does he have enough experience? One might say he will have a better relationship with the players since he was once a Super Eagle himself. However, Sunday Oliseh, Samson Siasia and Augustine Eguaveon were also ex-players. Also, does being an ex-player and having a better relationship with players yield on-pitch results? Up for debate. It is true that he coached Nigeria to beat Ghana for the first time in over 15 years. However, the game against Mali was disappointing. After those two games, Nigeria fell two places – from 28th to 30th – on the FIFA ranking table. What is more? The NFF appointed Amokachi and Benjamin James as assistant coaches, Tunji Baruwa as goalkeeper trainer, China Onyeike of Hoffenheim, Germany, as the fitness trainer and Mehmet Ozturk as the analyst. The last time Amokachi coached a team was in 2017 when he was in charge of second division Finland side, JS Hercules. Seeing that quite a lot has changed in the round-leather sport since 2017, isn’t that a tad worrisome?

Of course, it is almost always cost-saving to employ an indigenous coach because foreign coaches are relatively very expensive. Also, indigenous coaches are expected to be exhibit more nationalism, to the extremes where it might be difficult for foreign coaches. Nigeria will face bitter rivals, South Africa – who they knocked out of the AFCON 2023 – in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, in June. The whole nation is thirsty for the return of the team to the FIFA World Cup, especially with the support during AFCON. We can only hope that the new managerial crew pull wonders with the Super Eagles team. But are these new appointments what the team needs? We saw how Emerse Faé saved Côte D’Ivoire’s AFCON hopes and led them to win the trophy. Will George Finidi wipe off Nigeria’s blushes? Time will tell.

Emmanuel Ibitunde.

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