Nigeria’s national teams, especially the Super Eagles, have been handled by foreign coaches at different times.
While the argument several years ago was that these foreign coaches possess superior knowledge, Nigerian coaches now claim to possess the same if not better know-how than their foreign counterparts
Also, while some of the indigenous coaches have been given opportunities to prove their worth and have done well on the job, the cravings for foreign managers are still very high.
Presently, the debate is on as to whether the Nigeria Football Federation should hire a foreign coach for the country’s female national team, the Super Falcons.
Going by the results achieved by the first foreign Super Falcons coach, Thomas Dennerby, one may argue that the experiment did not yield any substantial reward as the Swede did not surpass any previous feats attained by the local coaches he succeeded.
In the midst of all these, Tajudeen Disu, a former Nigerian player, believes there is more than meets the eye in football administrators’ obsession for foreign coaches.
PT: You’ve been unexpectedly quiet as far as Nigerian sports is concerned. What have you been up to lately?
Disu: Thank you very much. It’s not been easy because once you’re not doing what gives joy, it becomes difficult to cope. Football being a unifying sport that brings joy to everyone was seriously missed. The lockdown denied us from enjoying football. I hope the lockdown will be lifted and we get back to our normal way of life once again.
PT: You now have a new portfolio as chairman of Youth Sports Federation Of Nigeria (YSFON) Lagos chapter. How do you intend to resurrect YSFON, a body responsible for grassroots football in the country?
Disu: If you have been following our programmes very well, you will realise that we have been doing our bit to ensure football gets to where it used to be.
In our days, we played football for passion but you can’t blame players who now demand for their bonuses. I can’t blame the players but I think the problem is from the management who failed to give players their dues. Corruption has eaten deep into our football and that explains why the standard of the game has dropped drastically.
In the past, football administration was more concerned with football development, but nowadays making money is the main thing among administrators. Once you put money first in football administration, then expect that work to suffer a setback. Everybody abandoned their responsibilities and focused on money-making.
The government did not help matters too; over the years they have been having square pegs in round holes by appointing lawyers, engineers, and doctors to manage sports. Until that changes, the problems of our football will persist.
PT: You were a member of bronze-winning Flying Eagles that featured in the Moscow ’83 U-20 World Cup. How would you compare scouting back then with YSFON in place to what we have today?
Disu: That is why I am very happy with the responsibility I have been saddled with as chairman of YSFON Lagos chapter. Our problem started when we abandoned our youth football. But we have to go back to the grassroots and encourage the youth. We cannot take up all the responsibility but we will go there and get the youth football working again.
In my time, Principals’ Cup made our football vibrant, we must restore Principals’ Cup and age-grade football. We must focus on grassroots football to make our football vibrant again.
In those days, Principals’ Cup was like today’s version of the FA Cup in terms of spectators, and the stadium was always packed full as fans turned out to watch pupils play.
Tony Eke was one of the pioneers of YSFON while late MKO Abiola took care of financing every YSFON tournament. Eke and Chief MKO are no more and the government is no longer interested in developing the game.
PT: Super Eagles manager Gernot Rohr believes the league itself is not producing the right talent needed in the national team. Do you agree with him?
Disu: How can he say that? Well, I will blame him for what is happening as the national team coach. Also the kind of management we have now are more interested in making money. Once the FA is not doing the right thing, the foreign coach will do what suits him. That statement is a slap on our faces.
In our time, maybe one player plays in Europe while most players play in the league and you needed to get to the stadium by 2 pm or forget even getting a seat inside the stadium during Challenge Cup games, but corruption has brought the game to its knees. The problem will persist until something drastic is done.
PT: Do you think bringing in a foreign coach is the best way to improve Super Falcons?
Disu: It is not right and that’s my personal opinion. The truth is that bringing a foreign coach to Nigeria is big business for administrators. We have qualified coaches in Nigeria.
Take a close look at the national team coaches and tell me how many foreign coaches have matched the success of local coaches except Westerhof. Maybe two or three but we have a higher percentage of local coaches who performed better than their foreign counterparts.
Keshi won the Nations Cup and qualified for World Cup while Amodu also qualified for World Cup too, and Siasia did not do badly. The truth is that administrators make money from foreign coaches and you journalists know about this and you don’t talk about it. I’m not a coach and I will never be a coach in Nigeria.
The truth is that Nigerian coaches are not respected since NFF know they can’t benefit financially from them. They will hire a foreign coach because of the cut they get from their money and until journalists start talking about it, nothing will change.
PT: Nigerian coaches have been accused of demanding money from players to play for the national team
Disu: That is a lie and I challenge them to fish out anyone if they have the proof. The management imposes players on local coaches and once you raise any eyebrow, they remove you. But once he’s white they know it’s purely business and they’re getting a percentage from their salary. That’s the main reason why they don’t want local coaches in charge.
PT: What is your general assessment of the current crop of Super Eagles players compared to what you had in your days?
Disu: The only comparison now is that in our days, we played for passion while players now play for the money because they know quite alright that administrators make money, so they must demand their bonuses. Also in our time, players are picked on merit.
PT: (Cuts In) I meant how far can the current Super Eagles go as far as next AFCON in Cameroon is concerned?
Disu: Well you know football is not mathematics but once these guys chose to be committed, they will do well.
The players have been winning matches not because we motivate them enough but simply because they know that by playing well, agents will watch them play and they can get offers abroad. I believe any team assembled to represent Nigeria can win the Nations Cup because they also want to sell themselves.
PT: Finally, what should Nigerian expect from YSFON
Disu: It’s not going to be an easy task but I know what to do. I know those I need to bring on board to make things work. The body will comprise ex-internationals with much experience in the game. I have benefited from YSFON and most of us are graduates too.
I remember vividly the first time I boarded a plane was when I was picked during the Principals’ Cup. And YSFON gave us opportunities after we travelled to the US and won Dallas Cup, won Gotha Cup in Sweden, won Danish Cup and the Brazilian Cup in Denmark and Brazil respectively.
We later graduated to Flying Eagles and qualified the country for its first major FIFA tournament. I have contacted most of my colleagues in the US, Germany, and UK to inform them that we want to bring YSFON back. God willing we shall succeed in bringing back our grassroots football.