Super Eagles Coaching Hunt Continues.....

On the night of February 11th, 2024,  referee Dahane Beida bore witness to an intense showdown by the Super Eagles.

Led by Jose Pesiero, the team found themselves in a grueling battle against Cote d’Ivoire.

For 24  of the 90-minute final, the Super Eagles held a lead until a revitalized Ivorian side surged, overpowering them and eventually equalizing.

It was a stark reminder of the consequences of overuse and tactical decisions, as Pesiero’s reliance on the  3-4-3 formation left the team with tired legs in the crucial moments of the match.

This defeat prompted a widespread reflection among Nigerian football faithful, signaling a need for change at the helm.

Yet, it reignited the age-old debate that has lingered in the air for generations: should the Super Eagles opt for a foreign coach or a Nigerian coach?

The loss underscored the potential risks of foreign leadership. Pesiero, despite his experience and pedigree, faced criticism for his tactical choices and squad management.

The reliance on a plethora of star players in a demanding formation ultimately backfired, leaving the team vulnerable and fatigued when it mattered the most.

For some, this served as a cautionary tale for trusting in foreign expertise without consideration for the unique dynamics of Nigerian football.

Only a few African teams evoke as much fervor and excitement as the Super Eagles of Nigeria. With a rich history steeped in both triumph and adversity, the Super Eagles symbolize the hopes and aspirations of a nation passionate about the beautiful game.

That’s why it can be one of the most sought-after jobs by coaches either foreign or Nigerian but this job comes with its never-ending complexities.

Here, we explore Nigeria’s coaching dilemma, the merits and demerits of foreign or indigenous coaching systems and the quest for a winning formula that will propel the Super Eagles to greater heights.

The allure of a foreign coach for the Super Eagles lies in their perceived expertise, tactical acumen, and exposure to diverse footballing cultures.

Coaches from abroad often bring with them a wealth of experience garnered from managing teams across various leagues and continents.

Their outsider perspective offers fresh insights and innovative strategies that can rejuvenate a team’s performance.

Moreover, a foreign coach may command greater respect and attention from players, thereby fostering a culture of discipline and professionalism within the squad.

One of the most iconic foreign coaches in Super Eagles’ history is Clemens Westerhof, the Dutch mastermind behind Nigeria’s triumph in the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations and its maiden FIFA World Cup appearance the same year.

Westerhof led the Super Eagles for 5 years from 1989 to 1994. In his spell as manager of the SuperEagles, the outspoken Dutchman led the country to fifth place in the FIFA world ranking in 1994 – the continent’s ever highest – and also completed the haul of African football success with the West African nation,  pushing Nigeria to a runners-up finish at the 1990 Africa Cup of Nations, third place in the 1992 edition before conquering the continent in 1994.

Westerhof’s tactical astuteness and man-management skills propelled Nigeria to unprecedented success on the international stage, showcasing the transformative impact a foreign coach can have on a national team. 

Since then Nigeria hasn’t seen a foreign coach matchup to  Westerhof’s success,  Lars Lagerback managed Nigeria for 7 games, won 2, lost 2, and had 2 draws having a 28.7% win ratio. Gernot Rohr, a Franco-German tactician, who comes close to Westerhof in terms of results,  steered the Super Eagles through a period of transition, guiding the team to qualification for major tournaments and a 3rd place finish at the  2019 AFCON.

Rohr led the charge for the Eagles in a total of 64 games, winning 35, drawing 16, and losing 13, with a win ratio of 54.69%. 

While Rohr’s pragmatic approach and focus on detail initially won him respect from some fans who valued results over flair, it eventually drew jeers as more fans began to yearn for a more attacking style of play. 

Most recently, Jose Peseiro, the former head coach of the Super Eagles of Nigeria, led the team in 22 games and to a silver medal at the 2023 AFCON.

Peseiro’s  3-4-3 system at the AFCON placed him under fire from some commentators and supporters for hampering the Super Eagles, leading them to an overly defensive play.

For Nigeria, Jose won 10 games, drew 5, and lost 7 having a win ratio of 45.54%.

Conversely, proponents in favour of local talent argue for the importance of indigenous understanding, cultural sensitivity, and a deeper connection with the players. 

Nigerian coaches are intimately familiar with the footballing landscape in Nigeria, understanding the unique challenges, talents, and traditions that shape the game in the country.

They can communicate more effectively with players, bridging any language or cultural barriers that may exist.

Stephen Keshi stands as a towering figure in the annals of Nigerian football, epitomizing the potential of indigenous coaching talent.

Keshi led the Super Eagles to glory in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, becoming only the second person to win the tournament as both a player and a coach.

His understanding of Nigerian football culture and his ability to galvanize the team were instrumental in their success, underscoring the value of local knowledge and experience.

Keshi had 49 games under his belt, won 22, lost 12, and had  15 draws with a win percentage of 44.8%

Sunday Oliseh, another former Super Eagles player turned coach, also tried to make waves during his tenure, advocating for a more disciplined and structured approach to the game.

Oliseh’s time with the Super Eagles didn’t go well as there were infractions between the NFF and the players, his brief stint saw him coach the Eagles in only 7 games with 3 wins, 3 draws and a loss.

Several  Nigerian coaches from Augustine Eguaveon, to Amodu Shuaibu and Festus ‘Adegboye’ Onigbinde have all led the Super Eagles to a World Cup, won an AFCON, or finished 3rd place in the African continental tournament.

The NFF have hired foreign coaches, some of whom have been less competent.  However, it might be a good idea to look within.

A coach deeply rooted in Nigerian football culture could be the key to unlocking the team’s true potential.

Nigerian coaches, like the late Stephen Keshi, understood the Nigerian way of playing. Keshi, for example, achieved as much as or more than the most respected foreign coaches Nigeria hired.

Many local coaches have either played in or coached the domestic league, giving them firsthand experience of the unique style and talent among homegrown players. This familiarity builds a strong bond with the team, fostering national pride and a deep understanding of what it means to wear the green and white jersey.

Furthermore, local coaches don’t need time to adapt to the Nigerian style of play. They already know the strengths and weaknesses of the domestic league, making it easier to implement tactics that suit the players’ natural abilities.

Their knowledge of the country’s talent pool would be invaluable for finding and integrating these players into the national team. This doesn’t mean foreign coaches aren’t qualified.

However, having a  Nigerian coach in charge could give the Super Eagles a leader who embodies the spirit and passion that Nigerian fans deeply connect with. It’s time to give a local hero the chance to lead the Super Eagles to success.

Alternatively, it might be worth finding a balance between the best foreign coaches and local ones. A hybrid approach, where a top foreign head coach works alongside a top local assistant or technical director, could offer the best of both worlds.

This setup allows for international expertise while maintaining cultural alignment and mentorship from a local perspective.

Investing in Nigerian Coaching Talent

Beyond the debate over foreign versus Nigerian coaches, there is a pressing need to invest in the development of local coaching talent within Nigeria.

Initiatives such as coaching education programs, mentorship schemes, and talent identification initiatives can help nurture a new generation of Nigerian coaches equipped with both local insights and global perspectives.

By providing opportunities for growth and advancement within the coaching ranks, the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) can cultivate a sustainable coaching ecosystem that serves the best interests of Nigerian football.

Moreover, creating pathways for former players to transition into coaching roles can harness their experience and passion for the game, further enriching the pool of coaching talent available to the Super Eagles.

As Nigeria navigates the complexities of its coaching dilemma, there are challenges to overcome and opportunities to seize.

Administrative interference, limited resources, and a lack of support structures have hindered the progress of local coaches in the past. However, with concerted efforts and strategic planning, these obstacles can be overcome.

The Super Eagles have the potential to soar to greater heights, provided they strike a balance between foreign expertise and local knowledge.

By fostering collaboration, nurturing talent, and prioritizing meritocracy, Nigeria can chart a course toward footballing excellence that reflects the diversity, passion, and resilience of the Super Eagles and their fans.

In conclusion, the coaching dilemma facing the Super Eagles of Nigeria is a multifaceted issue that requires careful consideration and strategic planning.

While both foreign and local coaches bring unique strengths to the table, a balanced approach that leverages the best of both worlds is essential for the team’s success.

By embracing a hybrid model, investing in local coaching talent, and navigating challenges with determination and foresight, Nigeria can unlock the full potential of its footballing prowess and continue to inspire generations of fans at home and abroad

By Oluwatobi Ayinde