From www.footballisafrica.com

When it comes to Sunday Oliseh, the former Nigeria captain and retired defensive midfielder, I admit it… I am completely biased.

Over the last 13 years, which began with a conversation at The Amsterdam Arena, whilst he was wearing the red and white strip of Ajax, our relationship has advanced to a level where we have deep, robust and meaningful conversations about football and the harsh swing of the unpredictable pendulum that is called life.

Having had the misfortune, on occasion, to interview footballers with no intellectual depth, it is always a breath of fresh air to chat with thinking athletes who understand the game, have an insightful perspective on its evolution and make a conscious effort to reinvent themselves, once the inevitable devil of retirement beckons.

When ‘Sunny’ received his UEFA Pro-Licence coaching diploma on the 2nd of July, at the De Veres Conference Centre in Reading, England, it was a fitting end to four years of hard work.

It is no mean feat to acquire the top coaching diploma in the world, one that several Nigerian and African ex-footballers have failed to obtain, simply because some lack the intellectual gravitas and others the presence of character to climb the ladder of the programme, which has many gruelling rungs.

It is sad that many ex-Nigerian and African professionals fail to understand the need to acquire the needed tools to make a successful transition into the treacherous and often unforgiving waters of coaching.

I still cannot forget, with dismay, how a very notable ex-Nigeria player (I will not describe him further or smart folks will read between the lines and figure out who he is) threw away the golden opportunity to be fast-tracked into the UEFA ‘A’ licence course, after I had a discussion, on his behalf, with The FA’s coaching department.

All he had to do, before joining the main course, was a two-week introductory programme at Warwick University. He would, by now, have had the Pro-Licence diploma, as he got the ‘A’ Licence waiver in 2006. How he made a mess of that chance is a story for another day.

Fortunately, that is not Sunday’s lot. His career in the Eredivisie, Serie A and the Bundesliga, where he was under the tutelage of coaches like Morten Olsen, Carlo Ancelotti and Bert Van Marwijk, the last one having guided Holland to the final of the 2010 World Cup, made the ex-midfielder acutely understand that success in the dugout comes not to those that foolishly leave their career progress to mere chance.

“I made up my mind to be a coach in 1999. The way I saw things done at Ajax Amsterdam, how players were built up and readied for matches, was intriguing,” he told me.

“Even though I played for top clubs [like Juventus and Borussia Dortmund], I knew I had a lot to learn… Coaching is a completely different job. You have no chance of succeeding if you are not an organised person.”

Before commencing, in June 2007, the journey to his present destination, Oliseh – who lives in the Belgian town of Eupen with Hafida, his Belgian-born wife of Moroccan origin and two children – pondered three options.

“Besides England, Germany and Holland were the other countries that I had the mind to train in, as their badges are the most reputable. But considering what I learnt in England and the quality of the classmates that I had there (Gianfranco Zola, Roberto Di Matteo, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville), I certainly made the right choice.”

“Learning from the Manchester United group on what makes Alex Ferguson so successful is something that you do not learn from a book.”

That knowledge was indeed fortuitous, as the Scotsman from Govan is one of Oliseh’s role models.

“I admire Alex Ferguson for his man management. Jose Mourinho, for his ability to grind out results in difficult situations and finally Pep Guardiola, because he plays the kind of offensive football that I believe in.”

“But all three share one thing – an insatiable hunger for success and the will to win, whatever the odds.”

Through his coaching apprenticeship, Oliseh had the fortune of interacting with several instructors, including Swede Lars Lagerback, who had a “very interesting” take on his 2010 World Cup work with Nigeria.

But it is England coach Fabio Capello and Dick Bates, one of the FA’s coaching instructors, whose thoughts were engraved into Sunny’s mind.

“Capello is very clear about what he wants and what he does not want as a coach. The way he answered questions, in the classroom, and in my private conversations with him, makes it clear why he has been a success as a club coach and I think as a national coach as well, even though some people may disagree.”

“Bates has exceptional insight on tactics and the way football is evolving. I will always carry what he has taught with me.”

Nigerian – and African – football certainly needs Oliseh in its coaching ranks. But is it ready for a man that many have labelled as a “difficult” character?

“I am labelled as difficult in Nigeria because I will never stand for anything that is dishonest. So being described as difficult is the greatest compliment I can be given.”

“If Nigerian football continues in the direction it is going, our game may be beyond redemption, as the last nine years have been very bad… But we still have the talent and all hope is not lost yet.”

I sincerely hope Sunny is right.

If you want to know more about what Sunday is up to, visit his website www.sundayoliseh.tv
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