Osasu Obayiuwana: The real art of management in Nigeria is keeping the job

In the sensible regions of planet football, a manager that does the tough work of qualifying a team for a World Cup finals has earned the right to manage the team at it.

But what is obviously the logical, common-sense thing, is certainly not the established rule in Nigerian football, where they operate from a different playbook.

Over the last 20 years, as well as in the four tournaments the Super Eagles have played in (1994, 1998, 2002 and 2010), only once has a coach seen the team through World Cup qualification and subsequently led the team to the tournament.

Clemens Westerhof, the Dutchman who managed Nigeria for five years and led them to an impressive debut in 1994, is the member of that exclusive club of one.

Frenchman Philippe Troussier, who went on to manage Burkina Faso, South Africa and Japan, earned the ticket for the 1998 finals only to be dismissed and replaced by Serbian Bora Milutinovic.

And the unluckiest manager of all has been Amodu Shaibu.

Having qualified the team for the 2002 and 2010 finals, the Nigerian was sacked, on both occasions, with just four months to each tournament.

In 2002, Amodu was replaced by Adegboye Onigbinde, who became the first Nigerian to manage a team at the World Cup finals. Swede Lars Lagerback was the one that took his place in 2010.

The old saying, that lightening does not strike twice, at the same spot, hadn’t taken the misfortunes of Amodu into account.

Should Stephen Keshi lead the team to Brazil, as every reasonable person expects him to, he will become the first Nigeria manager in two decades not to fall victim to this unenviable tradition.

But even the former Nigeria captain has swallowed the bitter pill of World Cup disappointment on two occasions.

Keshi was Amodu’s assistant in 2002, which meant that he also lost his job – and an appearance in Korea/Japan – when his old boss was shown the door.

But his biggest disappointment was in 2006.

In his first substantive manager’s job, Keshi did the impossible and earned World Cup qualification for little-fancied Togo in 2005, ahead of bigger teams on the continent.

After a run-in with Rock Gnassingbe, the erratic president of the country’s federation at the time, Keshi unfairly got the boot and was replaced by Otto Pfister, who, not unsurprisingly, had a disastrous outing with a very disgruntled team in Germany.

Back to Nigeria…With less than four months to the World Cup finals, it appears that the need for coaching stability has not been learnt.

Some officials of the Nigeria Football Federation, (NFF) who clearly do not realise that a head coach is the one to select his own assistants, have ‘suggested’ to Keshi that he needs to employ some more and have stated there is money available for their wages.

When Keshi asked for the re-employment of Sylvanus Okpala, a key assistant sacked after the country Nations Cup win, as he is very keen to have him back on his staff, the NFF bluntly refused.

They accused Okpala of being rude to its top officials.

His offence? Okpala complained about his unpaid wages and allowances, going back several months, to a leading official of the country’s ministry of sport, which top federation officials regarded as an act of insubordination.

But when Okpala was ‘let go’ last year, the official excuse the NFF gave was that they lacked the funds to pay his wages.

The prevailing state of affairs only reinforces what informed people within the Nigerian football community acutely know – that the terse relationship between Keshi and officials of the federation, even though both sides diplomatically claim they have a ‘good working relationship’, is not creating the ideal environment in which to prepare for a World Cup.

No one has forgotten the very strained relations between Keshi and some NFF officials during the last Nations Cup, which led to his dramatic resignation on South African radio, 24 hours after he had won the trophy. It took the intervention of the Nigerian government to reverse that.

If the country is to achieve an improved performance at the World Cup – which is, at the bare minimum, getting to the quarter-finals (Nigeria has never gone beyond the second round), Keshi must manage the team in the way he wants and work with the players and support staff he believes will help him achieve the goals he’s set for his team in Brazil – which is, obviously, to compete at the finals for as long as they can.

Too many cooks – that includes meddlesome NFF officials, who always think they know better than the manager they appoint – have always spoilt the broth.

As the saying goes, it is stupid to repeat the same mistake, time and time again, and yet expect to get a different result.

The NFF should let the buck stop at the manager’s table for a change.

Osasu Obayiuwana, a lawyer and BBC broadcaster, as well as the Associate Editor of NewAfrican magazine, is one of the world’s leading journalists on African football. His regular commentary on the state of the African game can also be read at footballisafrica.com. Contact him at moc.l1685858641labto1685858641ofdlr1685858641owedi1685858641sni@a1685858641nawui1685858641yabo.1685858641usaso1685858641

Osasu is also a member of FIFA’s anti-discrimination task force.