When the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) terminated the appointment of former Super Eagles coach, Stephen Keshi and his crew last year, and appointed Sunday Oliseh, not many would imagined that few months later, Keshi’s first assistant, Salisu Yusuf, would be a front runner for the top job. NFF may be looking in the direction of the former Kano Pillars coach if unconfirmed reports from the Glass House are anything to go by, writes Kunle Adewale
The unveiling of Sunday Oliseh as Super Eagles Coach by the NFF would go down as one of the most celebrated in the history of Nigerian football, culminating to the infamous tagging him as Nigeria’s own version of “Pep Guadiola” (the former Barcelona manager that won all the trophies available in club’s football).
After a row with some top Eagles players and walking on a tight rope at qualifying Nigeria to the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations slated for Gabon, with the Pharaohs of Egypt to contend with in the last group stage, the former Eagles unceremoniously threw in the towel. Samson Siasia was therefore summoned but could not salvage the situation as Nigeria for the second time in succession failed to hoist her flag at the biennial competition.
With Siasia still having a job at hand – the football event of Rio Olympics – the federation in its characteristics turned to one of its old coaches, Salisu Yusuf on a temporary appointment. With victories against Mali and Luxemburg, Salisu is now nursing the idea of having the job on a permanent basis.
“I can take responsibility at this level. I have been working as a coach for the past 15 years. I will work a lot harder because the responsibility is higher. It will not change my philosophy as a coach. I will not be surprised if I’m given the job because I have assisted three coaches (Keshi, Oliseh and Siasia). I know the job and I can do the job.
“I will use active players, playing for their clubs regularly, conditioning and match fitness will come from their club sides. We will only discus tactics and strategy for the four days we are together before a game. The quality of the player cannot be compromised and if he is active, he can take responsibility. If you are playing for your club, it will be easier for you to play for the national team,” Salisu said.
Despite Super Eagles’ victories in two recent international friendlies against Luxemburg and Mali, former international, Henry Nwosu, believes the team is not strong enough to compete in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers billed to kick off later this year, saying the team needs more competitive games to enable the coaches discover and correct any lapses in the team.
The former Super Eagles captain also noted that playing quality tune-up matches will bring out the best in the players and also put the team in the right frame of mind ahead of the qualifiers.
Although he commended the Yusuf-led interim technical crew for giving young players the opportunity to showcase their skills in the team, he advised the crew to keep scouting for more talents in his bid to assemble a formidable squad that can stand the test of time.
“I cannot say they are good enough to contend with the giants of Africa in the World Cup qualifiers now just because they won the two friendly games. The coaches still need to do more work on the team to bring out the best from the players. Exposing the players to quality games would instill more confidence in them to face stiffer oppositions. I still feel the coaches should also give more players the chance to prove their worth in the team, as it will also bring competition among the players,” Nwosu said.
But a former Super Eagles striker, Jonathan Akpoborie, stated that Yusuf does not know enough nor does he have the ability to rein in top foreign stars when push comes to shove. “The job is bigger than Salisu.”
Akpoborie indeed warned that it would be counterproductive for the NFF to settle again for an indigenous coach for the Super Eagles, arguing that there is a wide margin in the standard of local coaches when compared with a foreign manager, insisting that the quality of indigenous coaches falls below the standard of the foreign-based players in the national team.
“The difference between a local coach and a foreign one is enormous; it is just too big. You are bringing the players from Europe where the standard is high and you are forcing on them coaches that actually need to learn more to be able to handle them, It is very wrong,” Akpoborie insisted.
On his part, Dosu Joseph said a victory in the first game will spur the interim coaching crew but the former goalie also noted that it might be too early to judge the strength of the team or suggest areas of improvement.
However, NFF President, Amaju Pinnick’s hailing of the team’s performance and shelving of the idea of hiring a foreign coach for the senior national team due to paucity of fund in the federation is lending credence to rumour that the NFFmight have decided to give Yusuf the Eagles’ job on a permanent basis.
Pinnick applauded “an exciting display” at the Stade Robert Dichon. “I’m quite happy with the display and the result,” Pinnick remarked.
Meanwhile, Chairman of the Technical Committee of the NFF, Chris Green, accepted that the federation may not be in a position to foot the bill of a world class foreign coach, just as he disclosed that the federation would take the reasonable course of retaining the present coaches if they perform well.
“We are not going to wait for long before we choose a substantive coach for the Super Eagles. Already, we have coaches that are on trial. We are currently looking at what they possess and the philosophy they are going to bring into the game. If they come up with qualities and a philosophy that will satisfy us, of course they will remain, but if they fail to satisfy us after the two friendly matches, we may not discard them, they will remain with the Super Eagles to understudy others.
“I would not say that we have restricted the Super Eagles coaching job to either foreign or home based coaches; it is going to be an all-comer’s affair. We have received so many applications and when the time comes we will open them,” stated Green.
Interestingly, Super Eagles midfielder, Ogenyi Onazi, is another voice rooting for the Yusuf-led crew to lead the team through the World Cup qualifiers.
Onazi has pleaded with the NFF to maintain the present coaching crew for the execution of World Cup 2018 qualifiers, expressing satisfaction with the way the backroom staff handled the squad after the Super Eagles defeated Luxemburg 3-1 with goals from Brown Ideye, kelechi Iheanacho and Odion Ighalo.
“Coach Salisu Yusuf has been fantastic, and we would be more than happy for him to get the job. He’s a humble professional and we the players told the NFF officials in Luxembourg that they should support these coaches by handing them at least two years contracts.
“The players are very happy with him. if you see the team fighting hard for each other and staying disciplined in positions during those two friendlies, he’s the reason behind it,” Onazi told BBC Sport.
For defender William Troost-Ekong, he feels the managerial upheaval, which has led to six coaches in six years, has not helped the team’s quest to deliver results.
“Instability in the managerial position has had a negative impact on the team. We’ve seen managers come and go under two years and it’s not good for progress. Right now we all know what the new man (Yusuf) is doing and with support from everyone we can deliver.
“I’m positive the federation will know the right steps to take but the sooner they make the decision, the better it will be for everybody. ‘It’s all about opportunity’, ” Troost-Ekong said.
The team also defeated Mali 1 – 0.
Onazi pointed out that the present crop of players in the Super Eagles are the best set of legs he has ever worked with because of the unity and zeal they exhibited playing together in just one week.
“The atmosphere in the team was fantastic and everybody was hungry and ready to work for each other. We have all enjoyed how we have worked in training and during the matches, and we believe if these coaches were given at least a two-year contract, the Super Eagles will be flying again,” he said.
The NFF has left the door open for both foreign and local coaches to apply for the vacant Super Eagles job after Nigeria was left out in two consecutive AFCON tournaments hoping the national team does not fail in its bid to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
It remains to be seen if Yusuf would land the Super Eagles’ big job.