Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Amodu Shuaibu and a new Super Eagles era

Coach Amodu Shuaibu

Despite the certainty of Keshi’s exit following widespread clamour for his sack, the surprise was the sympathy news of his removal drew from even his critics who believed he should have been allowed to finish the qualifiers before asked to vacate the office.
What was not surprising, however, was his replacement. Shuaibu Amodu carved out a niche for himself over the years as something of a “Mr-Fix-It” for the Super Eagles. He has on several occasions been called upon to manage the team in an interim capacity, which he has always dutifully obliged with the faithfulness of a spare tyre. As Keshi’s removal loomed, he was probably sitting by his phone, rubbing his palms and waiting for that (national) call...

Being a very experienced coach and having undertaken “rescue missions” of this nature in the past, Amodu is not exactly in an unknown territory and so should not have much problems settling in. However, the cause for concern is that in his previous stints with the Super Eagles, Amodu has, like his predecessor Keshi, been guilty of tactical and selection deficiencies despite having quality players like Kanu Nwankwo, Austin Okocha, Sunday Oliseh etc at his disposal. His support staff (Salisu and Ogunbote) do not inspire much confidence either. Going by this antecedent, it is difficult to say that Amodu will do much better than his predecessor so we can only but keep our fingers crossed how the current team, devoid of the aforementioned caliber of players, will fair under his tutelage.

Amodu may be taking up possibly the shortest managerial contract ever, but this mandate not only marks the beginning of a new era, but is very decisive to his future, that of the Super Eagles’ and perhaps, to Nigerian football as a whole. The probable outcomes of his appointment are many, varied and crucial, and will have a ripple effect on our national team in the coming months.

Should Amodu lead the team to successful qualification, he instantly will become a hero and there will be calls for his retention for the 2015 AFCON – even more so, as compensation for having been deprived the opportunity to lead teams he qualified, to major competitions in the past. Now, depending on the team’s performances in the two games, the NFF will be caught between retaining him and going with the original plan of appointing a foreign coach (if they actually secure one by then).
At that point, will the NFF deviate from the original arrangement and succumb to pressure by retaining Amodu for the AFCON (which will not be illogical considering that the competition will be barely two months after that)? Or will (yet) another man be appointed days to a major tournament to start afresh, further jeopardizing the team’s chances?

On the flip-side, if the Eagles fail to qualify for Morocco 2015, the Super Eagles will have missed out on a chance to play at another AFCON, thereby losing a chance to competitively regenerate. It will also mean the team will not be involved in any major competition for a full year or so, which will take a team, badly in need of development, back by several months. It is unthinkable how much damage this will do to its progress. So at this point, will Amodu be asked to leave as planned, or will the current interim arrangement be “extended to give more time to find a world-class coach”?

I say this because knowing the NFF’s ‘fire-brigade approach’ to even very sensitive issues, the search for a substantive coach will probably commence AFTER the qualifying matches. I challenge Amaju Pinnick and his new NFF board to do otherwise and prove they mean business.

Meanwhile, Congo and South Africa stand between the Eagles and a chance to defend the AFCON title. There is no need emphasizing the magnitude of the task that Amodu faces. To further complicate his task, he is inheriting a team low in confidence and self-belief, while the dressing room is not entirely tranquil.
Amodu must therefore dig deep and draw up a decisive plan of action to first, unite his fold and boost their confidence, before addressing the frailties within the team, most prominently the midfield’s lack of creativity and the unsteady defense.

For the two matches, Amodu will have to deploy only the best legs comprising experienced players who not only understand the task at hand, but who have the mental capacity to handle the pressure from the weight of expectation, and the physical capacity to get the job done. A glut of players egoistically alienated by the immediate past coach provides him with options. He must be accommodating, yet firm and bold enough to ring radical but progressive changes were necessary, irrespective of whose ox is gored.
I do not know for sure how or if he can go about all these, but what I know for sure is that he will need to do away with some of the players Keshi obviously was trying to market!

Methinks is that if the team qualifies, the tournament should not be viewed as a must-win just because we are defending champions (so as to reduce the pressure and expectations), but as a new beginning. Like Roy Hodgson and Didier Deschamps did with England and France respectively at this year’s World Cup, the team should be of a futuristic genre composed primarily of the younger players who have several more years to offer the team, with only a sprinkle of the old. The aim of which is to give the players as much exposure as possible, as we begin to build towards 2018 and beyond.

The challenge before the NFF now is to ensure that a new coach is recruited before the end of the qualifying series with a view to commencing work immediately after the game against Congo, whether the Eagles qualify for Morocco 2015 or not. In fact, if at all possible, the new man could be made to observe the team from a distance, during the next two games. The NFF should also make arrangements for a friendly match or two prior to the game against South Africa to aid Amodu’s bedding in process.

Aside its political connotation, the year 2015 should be viewed as a new era for Nigerian football where all concerned will have to repent of the mistakes of the past. With the Golden and Flying Eagles vying for glory internationally and the Under-23 side rebuilding towards the Olympics in 2016, this is a time for all and sundry to do the best in their various little corners of the system, with the collective focus being to build a viable Super Eagles team for the next World Cup in 2018.

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