This Thursday, Jose Peseiro - the 18th foreign coach of the Super Eagles since Nigeria's independence - will preside over his first competitive fixture since his protracted and controversial appointment by the NFF.
Protracted because the NFF dilly-dallied about engaging him before and after January's Afcon and March World Cup qualifiers and controversial because other coaches with far superior backgrounds and resumes applied for the role the second time around only for the NFF to elect for the least accomplished of the lot.
Controversial or not, there is no point flogging a dead horse, Peseiro is here and we just need to see how he performs. It is safe to say that he hasn't particularly started on the front foot. Two defeats against sides that Nigeria should be rubbing shoulders proved to be anticlimactic.
However, owing to a myriad of factors, it will be unfair to come down like a ton of bricks in criticising Peseiro for those losses.
The 62 year old gaffer barely had time to train with the team. Moreover, he didn't select the squad, with many big name players like Okoye and Osimhen pulling out. Plus, a lot of the players available were still demoralised for failing the nation in world cup qualifiers, more so to rabid bitter Ghanaian rivals. Others were rookies like the homebased players.
So, it was always going to be easier to draw water from stone than extract winning outcomes from those games against Mexico and Ecuador.
Still, the green shoots of recovery, redemption and revival were evident in how the players interpreted Peseiro's philosophy on the pitch in both games. We the fans were thrust into the world of a Super Eagles universe filled with on-field organisation, discipline, creativity, variation in play, positive approach and a pattern worthy of bringing out the best in players at his disposal.
But for occasional lapses in concentration at the back and profligacy in front of goal, the outcomes could have been far more favourable for the Super Eagles in those games.
But a defeat is a defeat and all defeats can be attributed to one excuse or another. So, as much as a huge platoon of fans were willing to accept and accommodate the "excuses" for defeats against Mexico and Ecuador as "mitigating factors", Peseiro can expect far greater scrutiny and sterner critiques in games to come.
I am hurting at the moment. Everywhere you go in the Super Eagles family, there is hurt and pain. The gaping wounds of Afcon and world cup failures have left terrible scars which still ooze of painful memories and future anxieties.
The current diminishing debilitating socio-political, economic and security situation of Nigeria itself are a massive cause for concern. Sadly, the Super Eagles neither provided succour nor sanctuary that it normally does in such dire times. For example, the successes under Westerhof in years gone by provided the sort of national cohesion that the military government failed to provide.
In this backdrop, Peseiro has been tasked to pick up the ashes and restore the Super Eagles back to its governmental gap-plugging position that it occupied even under beleaguered and unpopular Gernot Rohr (who continued to qualify Nigeria for tournaments in a manner that served as detergent which temporarily washed away the sorrow of everyday life in Nigeria). I was never a huge fan of Gernot Rohr but those sentiments never blinded me to the zen, success and stability he brought to the Super Eagles despite his less-than-attractive brand of football.
So, what are the areas that Peseiro must address in order to restore the Super Eagles back to being the pride of the nation? I have come up with 10 variables that I think Peseiro must pay attention to in order to help heal recent wounds thereby reconnecting the fanbase back with the Super Eagles on an emotional level.
*Areas To Address*
1, Set Piece Resourcefulness: but for Iheanacho's exquisite and excellently executed freekick in the critically acclaimed 4:2 friendly victory against Argentina in 2017, the outcome of the game could have been different. That goal sparked Nigeria's revival having gone 2 goals down.
That was about 5 years ago. It is easier for an elephant to fit through the eye of a needle than for the Super Eagles to score direct from freekicks these days. If Peseiro addresses this, he will be feted by fans and the media.
2, Winning Friendlies: very few can forget the euphoria that trailed Onuachu’s gut wrenching blast in just 5 minutes that condemned Egypt to a slim but sumptuous 1:0 friendly defeat in the hands of the Super Eagles in 2019. That was about 3 years ago. The Super Eagles have since gone 10 friendly matches without recording a single win.
Yes, friendlies are by their very nature meant to experiment new techniques, approaches and players. However, going 10 friendlies without a single win across 3 years is nothing short of scandalous and an indication that all is not well. At the very least, it shows that "experiments" from previous friendlies didn't work.
If Peseiro starts winning friendlies, some communities in Nigeria will bestow him with chieftaincy titles.
3, Unifying Discernable Style: for all of Gernot Rohr's admirable attributes and decent record, he was never able to engineer a pattern of play that resonated with disparate Nigerian stakeholders. His use of inverted wingers in 4-2-3-1 failed to lift the spirit whilst the use of the overly defensive 5-3-2 against lowly oppositions (like CAR) just made many fans fall sick as they felt it made a mockery of Nigeria's preeminent position in African football.
The less said about Eguavoen's rendition of the ancient 4-4-2 philosophy with its midfield fragility and wing play frailties, the better.
The Super Eagles fans want 2 strikers up front with direct wingers, creative attacking midfielders, cast iron defensive midfield, assured centre backs, overlapping fullbacks and quality goalkeepers. Should Peseiro deliver on these, many fans will make him their football lord and personal savior.
4, Effective Man Management: very many will not be quick to forget the disaster that was Sunday Oliseh's tenure as Super Eagles coach between 2015 and 16. Heavyweights Enyeama and Emenike retired prematurely and Mikel was stripped of the captaincy. Love Troost-Ekong or hate him, the Watford defender will neither forget nor forgive Oliseh for saying mixed-race Nigerians do not make for solid defenders.
Very few find it hard to explain Eguavoen's shunning of Cyriel Dessers even when vacancy arose for his services.
Players like Emmanuel Dennis, Kevin Akpoguma and sensitive Maduka Okoye need the midas man-management touch to lure them in and bring out the best in them. Despite the backlash from a section of fans about the continued invitation of players like Ahmed Musa, it is incumbent upon Peseiro to manage these personnel challenges skillfully and in an avuncular manner.
Should he get it right, he would have easily nailed one of the vital components of success squarely on its head.
5, Back To Winning Ways: the last time Nigeria won a match was the 19th of January 2022 against Guinea Bissau. It has since been 5 months and 5 winless games for the Super Eagles which has made many fans to emotionally switch off anything Super Eagles.
Suffice to say Nigeria not only has to return to winning ways but needs a prolonged run of wins. Up and down games-to-win ratio will be called out by fans to be utterly rejected. It is a huge weight of expectation for Peseiro.
However, heavy lies the head that wears the coaching crown of the Super Eagles.
6, A Healthy Pool of Dependable Goalkeepers: for three years between 2018 and 2021, the trio of Uzoho, Akpeyi and Ezenwa goalkeeping capabilities gave Nigeria fans sleepless nights. To make matters worse, the introduction of rookie Okoye in the mix just raised many a blood pressure higher because he was seen as too premature to solve the immediate goalkeeping problems of the Super Eagles.
Whatever fans may feel about Eguavoen's coaching competencies, posterity will record goalkeeping blunders as playing pivotal roles in 2022 Afcon and World Cup qualifications woes.
Mercifully, Peseiro is inheriting an Okoye and an Uzoho that are slowly maturing into their roles and gradually becoming reputable goalkeepers. Coach Peseiro's goalkeeper trainers and scouts should help increase the stock of competent net minders for the Super Eagles. The fact that Nigeria does not boast of goalkeepers starting week in week out for high profile European clubs doesn't mean our stock of reliable goalkeepers across the globe is irredeemably depleted.
Should Peseiro's team increase the stock and shape the quality of Super Eagles goalkeepers, they would have played a blinder.
7, Fringe Homebased Players: in the last 6 years, there has never been a better time to tap into the pool of available decent home based players at the Super Eagles' disposal.
Yes, the Nigeria Professional Football League does not produce teams that do well in CAF competitions; yes Nigeria's best legs are undoubtedly abroad ; and yes countries like Morocco with a more professional league utilises more foreign based players in their national team. However, you can't escape the deafening yearnings from some invisible powerful stakeholders for the inclusion of homebased players in the Super Eagles.
The league is now stable, unlike some years ago and it is capable of producing decent fringe options like Anayo Iwuala and ones who featured in the recent friendly against Mexico.
If Peseiro is shrewd, intelligent and tactical in satisfying the demands of these faceless stakeholders - by injecting negligible numbers of homebased players into his Super Eagles squads (rather than just ignoring them), his days will be long and his tenure will be less uncomfortable and less unpalatable.
Give unto Caesar what is Caeser's; let my people go! A word is enough for the wise.
8, Attention to Rivalry: under Peseiro, Nigeria can lose to Central Africa Republic; Nigeria can lose to Luxembourg; Nigeria can even lose to Chad: fans will complain but fans will forgive afterwards. Whatever happens, Nigeria must never ever lose to the following countries: Ghana, Cameroon, South Africa and to some extent Ivory Coast. Fans of these countries never let us hear the last of it.
I remember a Cameroonian colleague that will never let me forget the 2000 painful Afcon final defeat in Lagos. When he left the organisation, I went to church to give thanks; God answers prayers. Super Eagles fans readers and contributors of various football platforms have to endure daily bombardment of ridicule from Ghana fans following their narrow world cup qualification victory against Nigeria.
Enough is enough!
Peseiro must prepare the Super Eagles as if they are going to war against these teams. Nothing but victory will do more as Nigeria has the players who can deliver the goods. If Peseiro defeats all of these teams during his tenure, a state in Nigeria will be renamed after him: Peseiro State.
9, Chances-to-Goals Conversion Rate: Nigeria has only scored 1 goal in open play across their last 5 games whilst having no less than 15 attempts at goal in those games. 15:1 chances-to-goals ratio is dire at best and appalling at worst.
It has to change.
Super Eagles fans gush over the club exploits of strikers like Ighalo, Awoniyi, Umar, Dessers, Iheanacho, Osimhen and Moffi only for them to become a shrinking violet in front of goal for the Super Eagles.
In fairness to Eguavoen, he got Nigerian strikers firing on all cylinders in his first Afcon 3 games in charge before the wheels came off spectacularly against Tunisia and Ghana.
Iheanacho, Simon, Umar, Awoniyi, Chukwueze and Ekong all struck gold in front of goal for Eguavoen in just 3 games whilst Ighalo was simply unstoppable under Gernot Rohr.
Peseiro needs to start moulding his elite force of ruthless goals-getters. Goals make fans happy, goals are the currency of success of any coach. After Eguavoen lost that currency, he lost it all with Super Eagles fans left to count the cost!
10, Avoid Several Scandalous Results: a lot of commentators blame the NFF for sacking Rohr in a reckless manner so close major and monumental Afcon world cup assignments. Whilst the NFF cannot be absolved of blame, a less discussed yet very damaging nature of results actually sealed Rohr's fate (despite meeting his target which in truth is the bigger picture).
Capitulation against Sierra Leone at home leading to a 4:4 draw from a winning position was already too much for most fans to stomach. Then the 1:0 home loss against part-timers Central Africa Republic in October last year was the final nail in Gernot Rohr's unpopularity coffin. From then on he was a dead man walking.
That loss to the Central Africa Republic then helped to resurrect the ghost of historical scandalous losses to Madagascar and South Africa.
Hence, although Rohr met his targets those criminal losses had mortally damaged the pride of many Super Eagles fans beyond redemption so much so they couldn't bear to look at themselves in the mirror.
Peseiro will do his legacy and tenure as Super Eagles coach a world of good if he can avoid such dishonourable, disgraceful and defamatory defeats. No matter how well he performed (or whether he meets his targets), such debacles would stick out like a sore thumb.
Rohr found out the hard way and the whole Super Eagles family are still currently paying dearly for these losses!
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