As Nigerians await Eagles’ next coach

From left: Paul Le Guen, Yusuf and Saintfiet

IN the next couple of days, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), will name a substantive coach for the Super Eagles with three gladiators gunning for the plum job. Group Sports Editor, GANIYU SALMAN, in this piece, presents the profiles of the shortlists by the technical and development committee of the NFF headed by Barrister Chris Green, and the views expressed by stakeholders which could determine who gets the job to be announced next week.


The post of the Super Eagles chief coach has been vacant since February this year when ex-international, Sunday Oliseh resigned his appointment after about seven months in the saddle.

However, following the inability of the NFF to meet up with some of its financial obligations in the running of the game as some of its coaches are being owed salaries, some Nigerians believe this is not the time to go for a foreign coach.

This stance was also shared by the Minister of Sports, Barrister Solomon Dalung, as he gave a conditional approval to the hiring of a foreign coach provided the nation’s soccer ruling body could guarantee the payment of the coach’s remuneration

In a bid to ensure fair play in the course of hiring a substantive coach, the technical committee threw the job open and no fewer than 20 applications were received including from the interim coach, Salisu Yusuf, 54, who has been shorlisted alongside Paul Le Guen and Tom Saintfiet.

Other coaches who were said to have equally applied for the Eagles’ job are Giovanni Solinas, Hey Antoine, Mark Wotte, Ernesto Paulo Calvinho, Dorian Marin, Miodrag Jesic, Perry Hansen, Ove Pedersen, Adebayo Lateef Kola, Sylvanus Okpala, Peter Ijeh, Vladimir Petrovic-Pizon, Lodewijk de Kruif, Kenichi Yatsuhashi, Bjorn Frank Peters and Ricki Herbert, according to the Green-led committee.

The technical committee is expected to meet later this week to arrive at the choice of the best candidate among the trio and present its recommendation to the NFF executive committee by July 18 for ratification.

Nigeria is scheduled to begin its campaign to qualify for the 2018 World Cup on October 3 this year against Zambia and later face Algeria and Cameroon in a group dubbed the ‘group of death’.

Many football stakeholders in Nigeria believe only a foreign coach could lead the Super Eagles to the promised land.

Salisu, who has been calling the shots since April 21 this year on interim capacity, is having the support of the majority of his colleagues in the home front, who see the decision of the NFF to be considering an expatriate  for the job as  a misplaced priority.

Interestingly, Salisu, who assisted the late Stephen Keshi from May 2015 and also worked under Oliseh and Samson Siasia, equally enjoys the support of the players after leading Nigeria to victories over Mali and Luxembourg in friendlies in May this year given the remarks of Ogenyi Onazi.

The Lazio of Italy midfielder who captained the Eagles to the two friendlies said Yusuf deserves a permanent appointment.

“Coach Salisu Yusuf has been fantastic, and we would be more than happy for him to get the job.

“He’s a humble professional and we [the players] told the NFF officials in Luxembourg that they should support these coaches (including Imama Amapakabo and Kennedy Boboye)   by handing them at least two years’ contracts.

“The players are very happy with him – if you see the team fighting hard for each other and staying disciplined in positions during those two friendlies, he’s the reason behind it,” Onazi had told BBC Sport after the friendlies.

Perhaps, Yusuf, a former Ranchers Bees and El-Kanemi Warriors player has also made a mark in coaching having led Kano Pillars to win the Nigeria Premier League title in 2008 and Enyimba to win the Federation Cup in 2013.

He was among the personnel who attended a coaching seminar recently in London courtesy of the NFF, and he remains the only ambassador of the indigenous coaches vying for the plum job.

Yusuf believes he has what it takes to be in the driver’s seat having understudied three coaches in the senior national team coupled with his wealth of experience.

“I feel honoured that the players find me worthy of the job because they played with freedom under this coaching set-up.

“I shared my philosophy with the players, we made them responsible for the success of the team on the pitch and they enjoyed it.

“I was assistant coach for three previous managers and I have managed all the top teams in Nigeria. Personally I think it’s all about the opportunity to do it – so why not?”, ” Yusuf had told BBC Sport.

Plateau United veteran handler, Zachary Baraje opposed to the decision of the NFF to go for a foreign trainer.

“I am not in support of bringing a foreign coach to lead the Eagles when we have coaches who are qualified and have gone through the necessary training to be equipped for the challenge of coaching the senior national team.

“Salisu Yusuf was part of the coaches sent to the United Kingdom not too long ago for a training course and he has worked with past Super Eagles coaches as an assistant. He should be given the chance to lead the team now.

“We are still struggling to pay the salaries of national team coaches in­cluding the ones who are dead. How are we going to offset the salaries of a foreign coach?,” Baraje had lamented last week.

Also, ex-international, Tijani Babangida, believes Yusuf is okay for the plum job saying he has proved his coaching credentials with domestic clubs.

“Yusuf has the edge over other Nigerian coaches because he understands the national team players. He discovered some of them including Ahmed Musa.  We don’t need a foreign coach because Yusuf is good enough for the job,” said the Atlanta ‘96 Olympic gold medallist.

However, Paul Le Guen is highly favoured for the job given his rich pedigree.

The 54-year-old Frenchman, once coached Rennes, Lyon, PSG all of France and Glasgow Rangers before his first international job where he led the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals. He also coached Oman national team from 2010 to 2015.

Perhaps, Saintfiet, remains a candidate that suits the Eagles job given his experience with African teams.

The 43-year-old Belgian, once coached Namibia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Yemen, Malawi and Togo, while he also handled the Qatar national U-17 side, Young Africans FC of Tanzania and Free State Stars FC in South Africa.

However, ex-international, Jonathan Akpoborie, believes only a foreigner can make the Super Eagles regain lost glory after failed attempts to qualify for the 2015 and 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals.

“The truth of the matter is that we have good coaches in Nigeria, but the pressure in the Eagles is different from other national teams. European coaches can deal with sentiments better than indigenous coaches. We should only bring someone with a big reputation in Europe. We have the money, “Akpoborie, a FIFA U-17 World Cup winner in 1985 had expressed.

Also, another ex-international, Felix Owolabi (MON), said the NFF shoud go for a very successful and reputable coach with a little bit of African culture.

“If the NFF feels hiring a foreign coach for the Super Eagles is the only way to secure the World Cup ticket, so be it. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t see any Nigerian coach that can take us to the promised land at least for now. It is not out of play to ask the NFF to hire a foreign coach,” Owolabi had told Tribunesport in an interview.

Already, the NFF is said to have secured a $1.5 million bond from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), and this if actualised, would douse the apprehension as regards the remuneration of a foreign coach, if eventually announced for the Eagles in the  days ahead.