By Kunle Adewole
Former England Manager Kevin Keegan looked at the sad faces of English fans at the old Wembley Stadium after he led the Three Lions to a 1-0 home defeat to Germany in a 2002 World Cup qualifier game and said afterwards: “I have failed England.” Minutes later, he handed his resignation letter to the English FA.
After Holland’s unceremonious loss to Italy at the semifinals of Euro 2000 in a game the Netherlands dominated and even lost two penalties during the course of the game, Oranje manager Frank Rijkaard entered the dressing room and wrote his resignation letter.
The list of European coaches that have gone on to resign after failing to lead their team to glory goes on and on. But the reverse has been the case in Nigeria where coaches sit tight in spite of non achievement and wait on till they are sacked.
The path of honour…
However, Coach Kadiri Ikhana seems to have set the path in which Nigerian coaches can now follow. After leading the Falcons to their worst performance in the history of Africa Women’s Championship (AWC), the former Bendel Insurance defender quit his job two days after.
The Super Falcons went into the 2012 edition of the AWC in Equatorial Guinea as the defending champions after lifting the trophy in the previous edition but lost by a lone goal to Banyana Banyana in the semi-final and worse still finished fourth place after losing to the Cameroonians in the third-place match making it their worst outing at the competition.
Ikhana however decided to quit after his target to lift the trophy was not met. “I resigned because my personal target was to lift the trophy. I let the country down, so I deeply apologize and take full responsibility for the disappointment in Equatorial Guinea. This failure informed my decision to quit the stage,” Ikhana said.
The CAF Champions League winner with Enyimba of Aba indeed met the target set for him in his contract with the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) but the 60-year-old felt that was not enough, as he failed to meet his own personal target.
Ikhana replaced the former coach, Eucharia Uche, whose contract was not renewed after last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany, and he signed a four-year deal in April. He was charged with reviving the fortunes of the Super Falcons following their failure to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics.
Ikhana set the task of reaching the semi-finals of both the 2012 African Women’s Championship and the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup finals in Canada, as well as qualification for the 2015 All Africa Games in Mozambique and the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
Reacting to Ikhana’s resignation in a chat with THISDAY, former Nigerian international Waheed Akani said the 2003 Coach of the Year has only done what was right. “What he did was just the normal thing. That is the way things are done in Europe and many advanced countries of the world. But all the same he should be hailed because it is un-Nigerian to resign,” the 2005 U-20 World Cup bronze medallist said.
Share of controversy…
Ikhana has had his share of controversy in the game though. He once resigned from his position at Kano Pillars in 2008, citing corruption in the game. He had earlier led Kano Pillars to their first-ever league title. That period was his third stint at the club as he was their coach in their first premier league season in 1991 and saved them from relegation in 1998.
Ikhana was a member of the Green Eagles squad that won the 1980 African Cup of Nations in Lagos and represented Nigeria at the 1980 Summer Olympic Games. After retiring from playing football, he became the first coach of El-Kanemi Warriors in 1986. He is also a former coach of BCC Lions, Kwara United F.C., Sunshine Stars F.C., Sharks F.C. and Enyimba F.C., leading the latter to Nigeria’s first CAF Champions League title.
On August 1, 2008, he returned again to be the coach of Sharks F.C. On September 24, of the same year, Ikhana was accosted by three youths at his hotel in Akure after Sharks’ game against Sunshine Stars. The marauders were later captured. In July 2010, he was hired by Kwara United FC of Ilorin, which interestingly is his birth-place. And now after spending two seasons, Ikhana is calling it quits with coaching at the age of 60.
Ikhana’s success story as a coach was built on a brilliant playing career that lasted 16 years. Born in Ilorin in 1950, he started playing football from primary school like many of his peers, not realising that the game would one day bring him fame and fortune.
Though he first started out as a goalkeeper when he joined the Nigerian Army in 1967 at the onset of the civil war, he soon discovered he held a better prospect as a player.
He was posted to the Anti-Aircraft Unit, Kaduna. There, his football potential was spotted by the Commanding Officer of the unit, Major Adenuga, who encouraged him to take football seriously alongside his military career.
After distinguishing himself during the inter-unit game, it was not surprising when Ikhana was drafted into the football team of the Nigerian Army, Kaduna. As a junior officer, he won the heart of everyone not only with his skills but also with his versatility. There was no position in the team the ex-international could not and did not play.
“Everybody in our unit was impressed with me and the commanding officer was always using me as an example for others. In fact, he predicted that one day I would play for the nation, but some of my colleagues in the army laughed it off because they didn’t see the possibility of my playing for the national team as an army officer,” Ikhana recalled in a previous interview.
In the grip of the game...
Even as he nursed the ambition of becoming a top-flight professional soldier, Ikhana’s dexterity in the game of football began to take the better of him.
He was selected for the Nigerian Army football team after distinguishing himself at the inter divisional game held in Ibadan in 1970. The following year, Ikhana, who hails from Atte in Akoko Edo Local Government Area of Edo State, had enough reason to be happy as Kaduna won the soccer gold during the Army Games held in Kaduna.
The unit beat the star-studded Lagos Garrison team 2-1 in the final. With this victory, Ikhana became a strong member of the Nigerian Army Football team. But sadly, he couldn’t make the team to the World Military Games held in Congo Brazzaville in 1974.
Missing World Military Games...
Missing the World Military Games was a painful experience for the emerging young defender, but he took the development in his stride and waited for his own time.
He did not, however, have to wait for too long as he was invited to the Nigerian team for the first WAFU Cup Championship held in Dakar, Senegal, in 1975 because players from Rangers International of Enugu decided to shun the invitation. Hence, players from IICC Shooting Stars and the Nigerian Army were invited to represent Nigeria in the competition which also featured Sierra Leone, Ghana and host Senegal.
Ikhana made good use of the opportunity by posting a brilliant performance which enthralled the then national team coaches, Carl O’Dwyer and Isaac Nnado, who pencilled him down for future invitations. Despite fielding a depleted team, the Nigerian selected side came back with a silver medal, losing only in the final to Senegal.
With a WAFU Cup silver medal in his pocket, Ikhana longed for more honours when he eventually made the Nigerian Army team to the World Military Games in Germany in 1975. He came back with a bronze medal to prove his claim for a full international call-up two years later.
Ikhana was eventually invited to the Green Eagles’ camp for the Nations Cup in Ghana in 1978 and the All Africa Games in Algiers. It turned out to be an interesting experience for Ikhana as Nigeria won bronze in the Nations Cup and silver in the All Africa Games to the delight of the Yugoslavia-born soccer tactician, Father Tiko, then chief coach of the Green Eagles.
Resigning from the army…
As stardom beckoned, Ikhana resigned from the army the same year to concentrate fully on football. He joined Bendel Insurance FC of Benin and with the team he won the 1977 National Challenge Cup by beating arch rival, Enugu Rangers 3-0 in the final. The team had previously defeated IICC Shooting Stars (now 3SC) 2-0 in the semi final.
Ikhana and the Bendel Insurance team made it yet another glorious year when they won the National League in 1979.
However, the year 1980 was a more rewarding year in the playing career of the Edo-born left-full back, as he was a prominent member of the 1980 Nations Cup-winning squad. He almost had a permanent claim to the left full back position despite strong challenges from quality players like Okey Isima and Orlando John.
But despite being the top favourite for the number three shirt, Ikhana only featured in two matches during the Nations Cup campaign due to illness.
He, however, quit the national team the following year voluntarily. “I thought it was high time I gave the younger players an opportunity to prove their mettle. Besides, I had nothing again to prove after the Nations Cup. I thought it was better to quit when the ovation was loudest,” he said.