Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Beyond Egypt and Nations Cup

One of the things that we now know is that the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) does not learn from history nor does it learn from data. One can only hope that NFF’s attitude towards history and data changes, particularly in an era of the much-vaunted “capacity building.” Perhaps, “capacity building” will include NFF building its own capacity to utilize data and plan with data in mind. Following the defeat in Alexandria and Nigeria’s elimination from the Cup for African Nations (CAN), it is important to point to a few things that make a difference in whether or not the Nigerian national team is often successful.

An explanation for Nigeria’s biggest successes come from long term planning and sustained work by coaches appointed to lead the full national team. While it is clear that some of the nation’s problem transcends coaching or technical management, there is an aspect of that problem that is attributable to the team’s lack of sustainable technical management. These problems are not easily solved by merely appointing a foreign coach as the current noise for appointment of foreign coaches argue. Instead, it comes from the willingness of the NFF to allow the coach, local or foreign, to work independently and with support and not sabotage as was the case during the tail end of Keshi and then Oliseh’s tenure. Further, the NFF has to allow the coach time to build a very competitive team as demonstrated under Westerhoff and then Stephen Keshi when Nigeria not only won the CAN but on each occasion reached the elimination round of the FIFA World Cup.

There is already a growing cry to sack Samson Siasia, whereas the more logical decision is to keep him since the qualification for the 2018 World Cup is around the corner. Siasia has demonstrated his ability with the Olympic team back in 2012 and with the U20 team and there is no major reason to discard him because of Nigeria’s failure to qualify for the 2017 CAN. After all, as you look at the data on Table below the coaches who were appointed just before a major tournament, local or foreign coach, have usually performed poorly for Nigeria at least in the last 10 years. Such appointments are quick trigger actions that explain Nigeria’s inability to perform to potential in major tournaments. The table shows, with two explainable exceptions, that coaches appointment less than 12 months before a tournament are likely to perform poorly. That exception is Eguavoen’s appointment in July 2005. However, Eguavoen, though new as head coach, had already served on the prior coaching crew for over a year. In essence, he knew the players and he knew what to work on. The other exception is Keshi’s failure in the CAN qualifiers for 2015. Again, this can be explained as the NFF was publicly working against the head coach whom they saw as acquiring more power than the NFF. The NFF sabotage of the coach’s efforts included removing his staff, forcing him to pay others from his wages, reportedly renting a protest crowd in one of the games, and firing and then reinstating him, among other measures. In essence they created a disabling environment for the coach that most likely affected the on-field product.

POINTS: World Cup: Winner (22), Finalist (20), Third (18), Fourth (16), Quarterfinalist (14), Second Round (10), Group (2). Note Lagerback earns 0 points as he did not qualify the team for the World Cup. CAN: Winner (12), Finalist (10), Third (8), Fourth (6), quarterfinalist (4), Group (2). CHAN: Winner (8), Finalist (6), Third (5), Fourth (4), quarterfinalist (3), Group (2).

Therefore, I argue that staying with Siasia is more likely to give Nigeria and its current team a better chance of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup finals. Watching the match in Egypt it is easy to observe how the Egyptian team appeared superior in tactically countering the Nigerian team. This perhaps denotes the fact that the Coach, Samson Siasia, needs more time to apply his tactics and ensure its adoption by his team. He had less than a week to work with the team and that is certainly not enough time to counter a competitive Egyptian team that had months of tutelage under Hector Cuper. Yet, Siasia’s team showed enough signs of competitiveness to promise a better future. The upcoming June international window could be used to play multiple international friendlies in preparation for the World Cup qualifiers that begin early in October. The same can be done during the September window when Nigeria will also play its last and meaningless CAN qualifier against Tanzania.