Though it has become usual to associate administrative problems to Nigeria's failures to reach the finals of the Cup for African Nations (CAN), it is time to acknowledge other factors. Of course, this does not dismiss the importance of administrative bungling in the team's failures. Surely, there is no denying that such bungling was responsible for Nigeria's failure to reach the finals under Stephen Keshi in 2015. In that instance, Keshi and NFF battle for power was evident all through the qualifiers.
However, below we show that the use of a single coach throughout the qualifiers compared to use of multiple coaches may provide another clue to the failures.
The data below are best understood by breaking Nigeria's international football performance into two separate periods. These periods are delineated by the start of national league play in Nigeria in 1972, which improved the fitness of players invited to the national team and raised performance of the national team. Prior to the national league, Nigeria was not a footballing power in the continent and though Nigeria reached the finals of the Olympics in 1968 and the last stages of the qualifiers for the World Cup finals in 1970, that was largely attributed to the aberrant emergence of a crop of young influential players from the 1965/66 Academicals -- Peter O. Anieke, Sam Garba-Okoye, Tony Igwe, Shamsideen Olowo-Oshodi, Clement Obojememe, Muyiwa Oshodi, and Tunde Disu.
Nigeria participated in just four qualifiers for the CAN. Each was under a single coach but the country reached just one final and the absence of a national league has to be taken into account when analyzing the failure (see Figure 1).
Here the expectation for qualification to the finals of the CAN increases because the impact of the national league is evident (see Figure 2) with remarkable improvement of Nigerian clubs in continental competition and the rise in profile of the national team. Nigeria road this improvement to reach 17 CAN finals.
However, Nigeria still failed to reach the CAN finals in 1986, 2012, 2015, and 2017. The task is to see whether the use of a single coach throughout the qualifiers has any appreciable association with qualification. We explore the association with the four failures listed above and then with successes in other years.
In only one of the failures (2015) did Nigeria use a single coach in the qualifiers (see Figure 3). However, we have pointed out the possible impact of the repeated power struggle between coach Keshi and the federation during that failed qualifying series. For the other three, there were coaching changes in the middle of the qualifiers. In 2012 and 2017, the changes involved bringing in a coach that was not part of the previous qualifying games. Only in 1986 did a coaching change take place with the assistant taking over for one game that Nigeria failed to win against Zambia, a critical reason for non-qualification.
In 2012, Eguavoen began the qualifiers but was replaced by Siasia who was not part of Eguavoen's coaching crew. In 2017, there were three coaching changes! However, each of them involved the retention of assistant Salisu Yusuf across the period of the qualifiers. Notably, Salisu was not the highest ranking assistant under each of the first two coaches during those qualifiers. This is a point to consider.
Here, we have data across far more years -- 1974, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2013. That is a total of 17 competitions. Of the 17, Nigeria qualified automatically in 1980, 1982, and 2000. In 1980 and 2000 Nigeria qualified as host nation and in 1982 Nigeria qualified as defending champion.
Out of the other 14 competitions, Nigeria used multiple coaches in three (2002, 2006, and 2008) but still found success. This success rate is barely 50% considering failures in 1986, 2012, and 2017 when multiple coaches were also used (see Figure 3).
However, let us examine those three where success occurred. In each case, a member of the existing coaching crew assumed control of the team and, perhaps, neither playing philosophy nor player personnel changed significantly. In fact, in 2002 though Coach Bonfrere was sacked midway in the qualifiers, he had left management of the qualifying team to his assistants from the start of the qualifiers. Thus, it could be argued that the same coaches took charge of qualifiers from the start. In 2006, Chukwu was replaced by assistant Eguavoen. In 2008, Vogts took charge midway but retain Eguavoen who had coached the team from the start of the qualifiers.
First, it has to be acknowledged that the federation's management and support of the team is important in helping the Nigerian national team qualify for the CAN finals. What we find, additionally, is that the use of the same coaching team appears important to a team's chances of making it to the CAN finals. Adverse to team's chances of reaching the finals is replacing the head coach with a coach that is not part of the coaching crew or with an assistant that is not the most important under the replaced coach (see Figure 4). Such a change may be too disruptive in several critical areas of the team.
The importance of the incoming coach may well be based on the need for continuity in the team during a period where there is little time to successfully overhaul a team. In a sense the change may be one that is simply made to improve the working climate for the team which is affected, usually, by the personality of the head coach. This explains successes achieved in changes made in 2002, 2006, and 2008 and the failures of 2012 and 2017 (see Figure 4).