Nigerian football and the never ending rebuilding

By Patterson Mgbeoji

Very early in 2010, February 26th to be precise, The Nigeria Football Association signed Lars Lagerback.

Towards the end of the same year, football fans and lovers in the country were introduced or re-introduced to what has now become a household term in our football – ‘rebuilding’.

Hardly would you listen to a discussion on Nigerian football without hearing the term 'rebuild' in whatever tense - regardless the level of knowledge available in that stratosphere.

A 5-month (renewable) deal that saw Lagerback lead Nigeria to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. A man who had sworn to never return to football management, but of course, there were millions to be made.

Losses to Argentina and Greece a draw against South Korea, and Augustine Eguavoen was in temporary charge of the team. Then we got on a path to self-discovery. A path to greatness. A path to the once lofty heights attained by the Super Eagles.

Successful youth team coach - Samson Siasia was brought in to REBUILD. The rest, they say is history.

December 1st, 2010. A four year deal. 5 Million Naira monthly wage agreed. An official car. Contract signed. Siasia, tagged the 'messiah' of Nigerian football, at the time was the most successful and exposed coach (albeit at youth level) the country could afford from its embers.

“It is going to take two, three years for us to assemble a formidable team, right now, we just want to focus on how to rebuild the team.” words from Sia One as he was and still is fondly called.

Of course, that's what he could offer. Siasia had achieved relative success at youth levels by 'REBUILDING'. Starting from scratch, going around the nation, scouting for talents, monitoring, coaching and training his wards in camps.

Hence, not too many people picked holes in his utterances. Many Nigerians did expect that this 'rebuilding' process would be undertaken while meeting minimum expectations/requirements for the almighty Super Eagles.

Nigerians got introduced to players like Ahmed Musa, Brown Ideye, Joel Obi, Emmanuel Emenike, as well as local league players such as Ehigo Ehiosun and Chibuzor Okonkwo. Indeed it was a rebuilding process. The football looked good in general, many Nigerians were pleased.

Thirty two seconds to the end of an AFCON qualifier against Guinea and Siasia's fortune as head coach was changed. He didn't lose a competitive game, but he had done the unthinkable. He had desecrated and defecated in the Nigerian football temple. He had failed to qualify for the AFCON. A tournament many Nigerians alive at the time had never watched without the Super Eagles participating - as a function of failure to qualify. He had committed sacrilege.

Fair enough, he got sacked. Best believed to placate teeming fans who were baying for blood. A knee jerk reaction maybe. 'Rebuilding' had come to an abrupt end, but who cared? He had to go.

Since then, no other coach had been appointed without the word 'rebuilding' being one of his first few.

Maybe it is the way we've taken, received and accepted the word 'rebuilding', with smiles on our faces, but no one should really ever be excited about a 'rebuilding process'.

All that said. The job of a modern coach is to 'win short term and plan long term'.

Satisfy your employers while showing them there is hope for the foreseeable future. Rebuilding should imply that something would change, and most times it’s usually a whole lot of things. And from my vantage point, rebuilding should not be the job of a National team coach!

Building and rebuilding should be done by specialized 'youth team coaches'.

Coaching, practice, training and general development of footballers should be done primarily at youth levels.

National team coaches should be saddled with the task of identifying and blending 'professional' players to get results. Implementing knowledge of tactics, formations, systems, shape, scouting and analysis of opposition teams and players all included, and not 'rebuilding' teams, as it is defined above.

Of course, teams go into periods of wilderness where quality players, momentum and even confidence are at an all-time low. Usually, new coaches are recruited to bring a breath of fresh air, but to always insinuate that a ‘rebuilding process’ is underway is somewhat scary.

Now, with football teams, rebuilding is usually undertaken in two different styles. Either a younger generation is gradually blooded in with an ageing generation to soon be phased out or a team is wholly replaced with younger team. Disbanding is sometimes the word for the latter.

“The decision to disband the Eagles was taken in South Africa and everyone agreed to it.” That is a statement attributed to Eguavoen in July 2010.

Unfortunately, it would never be known how successful Samson Siasia's 'rebuilding' process was, as he was the first man saddled with the task in recent history.

For his successor, Stephen Keshi, the fact that he won the AFCON and took all but 8 players from that team to the subsequent World Cup in Brazil showed some form of continuity, fair enough; Echiejile got injured and was replaced by Uzoenyi who was also at the AFCON but earlier omitted for the World Cup.

Yes, there was an odd name or two or even three every now and again Stephen Keshi released a list for whatever purpose, but generally there was a method to his madness, the regulars in his squad were from here and there, not everywhere and nowhere. They were players we knew.

As usual, the present coach, Sunday Oliseh has also promised 'rebuilding', but it does seem to be a 'super robust style rebuilding', if at all it what his list has displayed should be termed or associated with 'rebuilding'.

After his first list, it seemed like we'd be getting players from everywhere and nowhere, but the second list has seen Oliseh come closer to home. Many of the usual players are back.
In the end, except the 'win short term' part of his job is overlooked by his employers, Sunday Oliseh will be judged by his results, and it doesn't take a brain surgery process to know that if a core isn't formed sooner than later, the results would continue to go south. Whether he retains the core that was at the last World cup or goes on to form a new one is left to be seen.

Rebuilding can be done but it requires time, a whole lot of time and unfortunately, patience is not particularly a virtue the average Nigerian football fans’ possesses.

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  1. Let's keep our fingers crossed for now! Still early days yet!

    Ghanaman signing out!