A saint for Nigerian football By Ose Oyamendan

Permit for coming late to the party. At first, I thought it was a joke, like some unending April fool’s joke. Then, I realized this is the real stuff and I’ve been trying hard to find the addresses of the geniuses that made this happen so I can send them flowers 

You knew it was going to take a miracle to clean the mess that is Nigeria’s football. But, raise your hand if you ever thought it would take a saint to sort it out. Now, you can put your hands down and go confess your lying sin to a clergy.

Ready or not, Nigeria’s football is moving forward. Finally, through a FIFA nudge in the form of a grant, Nigeria has appointed a modern day savior to rescue her football from the gutters.

And, the man to fix it is a scraggly dude from Belgium whose biggest job to date is, you guess it right, putting Nigeria’s football house in order. England and most of the serious footballing nations are thinking of appointing technical directors for their countries and the lists are filled with veteran coaches with a resume that’s longer than most people’s two arms. 

Nigeria, the giant of African football that has not won the African cup in almost twenty years and failed to qualify for the last one has found its magic man. His name is Tom Saintfiet, a Belgian whose experience in football is highlighted by stints in Kazakhstan, Jordan, Namibia and in the Dutch lower division.

Makes you wonder what happened to the wonderful candidates with experiences in Faroe Island, Guyana and Guam 

Nigeria desires a football culture that would produce champions, restore Nigeria’s place at the apex of African football and make the Eagles a permanent fixture at the world cup. They have gone to Belgium, a country that has not qualified for the world cup since 2002 for a man to create that culture. And, that man is so great at his job no one in his own country will entrust him with any kind of team.  

And, here I was, thinking the problem with Nigerian football is that it’s managed by a bunch of incompetents who give the word a bad name. Little did I know that Nigerian football and indeed sports is led by geniuses whose problem is that they think in reverse, starting in the 19th century.

I think the appointment is inspired. I don’t know why people are knocking this saint of a coach. He’s perfect for what Nigerian football has become. In a country long suspected for falsifying players’ age in age-group tournaments, it’s perfect that the new national technical director, according to his Wikipedia entry, started playing football at the ripe age of ten, playing at such high level he retired at the ripe old age of 24.

And, he’s experienced too. He was technical director of FC Emmen, a Dutch lower division team. In between that, he has coached football giants Namibia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, RoPS, the giants of the Finish league whose major achievement was reaching the European Cup winners cup quarterfinals when Saintfiet was a gangling 13 year old soccer prodigy in some unknown Belgian village and the Jordanian world beaters, Shabab Al-Ordon. You get a feeling that had Nigeria not interrupted the splendid career of Saintfiet, he’ll probably be coaching Guyana or the Faroe Island right about now.

Saintfiet was such a hit in Namibia a newspaper tagged him “The Messiah”. That must have pricked the ears of Nigerian football lords. You can blame them for everything that ails Nigerian football but, in a very spiritual country, even they know it would be suicidal if they miss out on the messiah. And, just so they know what a hit he would be, Samson Siasia’s Eagles validated him when his undermanned Ethiopian team made the Eagles look like eleven pregnant women in a game as interesting as watching the paint dry. If there was ever a sign for the Nigerian football lords, that was it.

You would think the job of the technical director requires a man with experience, a man who knows the country and a man who will set down the stones for a great footballing culture. Who knew I could have applied for the job. After all, I’ve coached a bunch of ten year olds?

If Nigeria was a serious country with any ambition, the list for the Nigerian technical director should have two names on it. Festus Onigbinde and Shuaibu Amodu. Both men have coached the Nigerian national team. Both men have extensive experience in Nigerian football. Both men have more passion for Nigerian football in their pinkie finger than Sainfiet has in his whole body. And, Onigbinde knows so much about football, FIFA and CAF have been availing themselves of his technical expertise for years.

But, this is Nigeria. A journeyman from Belgium is better than the tested Nigerian coaches. Sometimes, it’s not all about football. In the house of cards that is Nigerian football. Sometimes the man that is easily compromised is better for the job that the competent one who is all about his job.

Of course you can’t say anything to the Nigerian football lords. They have the biggest lie in all of sports in their back pockets. FIFA will ban us.



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