Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Working From Europe? Questions Surrounding NFF's agenda for Nigeria

Reading recently that Nigeria's new national team coach, Sunday Oliseh, will be primarily based in Europe came as a shock to me for several reasons. Conventionally, the primary residence of Nigeria's national team coach has always  been controversial, particularly when the appointee is someone without Nigerian citizenship. In fact, there has always been an insistence that the coach maintain primary residence in Nigeria and often a long-term accommodation for the coach becomes part of the contract. Often, a Nigerian-born appointee (such as Oliseh) is expected to reside in Nigeria and thus the issue is mute. Thus, it was a surprise to read that Oliseh will be resident in Europe.

Of course, one could argue that most of Nigeria's internationals reside in Europe and, thus, it makes little sense for the national team coach to be based in Nigeria. That, of course, is a perfectly reasonable argument but only sustainable if Oliseh's charge was merely to coach the Nigerian national team. But it isn't and that is exactly where the problem lies.

Oliseh's Charge
The NFF announced to Nigerians that Oliseh's charge goes well beyond the regular charge for previous Nigerian national team coaches. He will not only coach the Super Eagles. He will do much more.

The charge includes: (1) Developing a 5-year development plan "to fashion a unique playing and coaching philosophy for all the National Teams, and will for this purpose, interface regularly with coaches of those teams," and (2) through his assistant, Jean Losciuto, he would work with youth teams in Nigeria to build a unified football culture across the various age groups. Oliseh is to oversee the tasks listed above, at least according to the NFF and issued via NFF Website on July 8. As far as I am aware, that has not changed.

In fact, on the NFF website this is exactly the statement attributed to Chair of NFF Technical Department, Mr. Felix Anyansi-Agwu:

"We are looking at how he will periodically organize clinics and seminars for coaches of clubs in the Nigeria Professional Football League, probably once in a month, so as to strengthen the playing philosophy across board. A robust youth development program, elite player development strategy and performance programs to drive higher standards, among other core sustainable development programs, are also part of the proposal."

Given the above and with the frequency of meeting/interaction highlighted above, Oliseh just cannot reside primarily abroad in order to accomplish the stated goals. That just does not seem feasible. Now, of course, if the NFF has the funds they can fly Oliseh down to Nigeria quite frequently to conduct the affairs listed above. However, would that make sense for a Federation that has regularly lamented its lack of funds?

Make no mistake about it, the charge given to Sunday Oliseh is monumental and has the potential to change Nigeria's football deeply but only if the task is taken seriously by the NFF. Let's break down some of these tasks.

1. Five-Year Plan: For effectiveness, this plan must be diligently crafted. A plan for Nigerian football is not one that can be crafted sitting down in a room in Belgium. Such a plan requires significant input from those that the plan intends to serve i.e the various national teams and teams that feed into it. In essence, such a plan requires interfacing regularly with stakeholders to learn about their problems which will help develop an effective plan. As Anyansi's quote above indicates, this will require numerous seminars and training workshops with scores of Nigerian coaches.

2. Youth Development Program: While this task will primarily go to Losciuto as indicated by the NFF, Oliseh still oversees it. Will Losciuto reside in Nigeria? or will he also reside in Belgium? This is a major task requiring a lot of time meeting with youth coaches and the academies.

It seems to me that the NFF may have made a huge mistake if it signed off on this arrangement to have the coaches reside abroad when there are critical tasks requiring a huge expense of time and relationship building in Nigeria. It is either a huge mistake or that the NFF never considered it important to develop an effective 5-year Plan and Youth Program in the first place. Or perhaps, the NFF will source funds from somewhere to cover frequent travels of Oliseh and his crew to and from Nigeria. Which is which?