My brother, Ebere, is a guest writer for my blog today. He makes a case for Nigeria to stick to developing and hiring indigenous coaches from now on.
Fans like me realize that coaching is a professional discipline with a vast body of knowledge that has evolved and modernised right along with the game. It is a discipline that is now data driven and in which the role of technology has become more and more pronounced. Its practitioners now earn certifications not just as a means to an end but as a matter of course. For many these days, such certifications are integral to the qualification of a person to coach. In this context, coaching is a matter of serious academic study and a subject of intellectual endeavour to rival other well-regarded disciplines.
Most would readily acknowledge the centrality and importance of good coaching to successful outcomes. In that equation, it is a constant among many variables. Indeed, it is eminently arguable that the right coach can make world beaters out of teams made up of players lacking the individual distinction we readily applaud, admire and even idolize in star players. This value-added dynamic is at the heart and foundation of coaching. It is the quality that underlines the recent (now hopefully past) Egyptian dominance of football at the continental level. It is also, I believe, the single most important factor in our recent continental triumph after close to twenty years of relative mediocrity. Suffice it to say, it would be difficult to overstate the singular, strategic and emphatic importance of the art.
To be sincere, my thinking regarding this subject has not always been this categorical. I was (and still am) by disposition, pragmatic, sensible and well-intentioned. The germ of my opinion then was that, the best man (or woman) for the job, be he or she foreign or indigenous should be given the job, and allowed to do it. In so thinking, I was mindful of the need to develop local coaching talent and give befitting exponents of the same the opportunity to coach our various national teams. However, I did not think of it as an empirical imperative. Like most fans, I was more interested in the players than I was in the coach. I certainly did not subscribe to any philosophy, tenet or theory of coaching. Of course, my passion for our football included a keen interest in the coaches of our national teams and particularly, in their player selections and strategic and tactical bent. Countless rambling arguments have been had by this writer on such matters. However, the pattern of my thinking as regards coaching as a subject matter was situational rather than systematic, ad-hoc and therefore less fulsomely analytic.
Even so, it will not come as a surprise to many that the most successful countries in the game are those that have painstakingly, systematically and methodically developed a continuous and sustainable coaching program and continuum. The assertion is as basic as it is foundational and apt. The obvious extrapolation therefrom, that the strength, depth and systematic application of coaching expertise correlates directly with championship success is hardly arguable and should be a given.
To illustrate further, and here permit a dash of unavoidable and instructive pedantry,please consider. The FIFA World Cup, the ultimate prize of world football has been held and won 19 times between 1930, its first edition and 2010, the last one. Of those 19 times, 18 coaches have successfully guided winning teams to the summit of the game. Those men in historical order are Alberto Horatio Suppici (Uruguay, 1930), Vittorio Pozzo (Italy, 1934 & 1938), Juan Lopez Fontana (Uruguay, 1950), Josef “Sepp” Herberger (West Germany, 1954), VincenteFeola (Brazil, 1958), Aymore Moreira (Brazil, 1962), Alf Ramsey (England, 1966), Mario Zagallo (Brazil, 1970), Helmut Schon (Germany, 1974), Cesar Luis Menotti (Argentina, 1978), Enzo Bearzot (Italy, 1982), Carlos Bilardo (Argentina, 1986), Franz Beckenbauer (Germany, 1990), Carlos Alberto Parriera (Brazil, 1994), AimeJaquet (France, 1998), Luis Felipe Scolari (Brazil, 2002), Marcelo Lippi (Italy, 2006), Vincente del Bosque (Spain, 2010).
Apart from a membership in the elite pantheon of coaching, there is an altogether more striking similarity that all these men share. None of them is a foreigner to the country they coached to world cup glory. All the world cup winning coaches since the inception of the World Cup without exception are indigenous to the countries they coached. To this rule there is no exception. Not even one that proves the rule.The empirical exclusivity of the data-set is absolute and invariable. Having recourse to the foregoing, it would seem logical to assert that teams coached by non-indigenous coaches start from a significant position of disadvantage as far as winning the World Cup is concerned. The odds are certainly long at the very least. A fact this conclusive, ipso facto,ought to inform hiring decisions to a substantial and perhaps definitive degree.
Whereas, the dominant idea undergirding a philosophical preference for indigenous coaches is the building of elite coaching capacity in-country, with an aim to gradually raise collective standards by mere continuous accumulation, application and growth, the imperative asserted by the exclusivity of the data-set above cuts to the chase in a far more direct and confrontational manner. It is about winning, and indigenous coaches rule the roost.It would seem then, that the idea successfully runs the gamut of the long and short terms with a ruthless utilitarian essence.
A bit of further inquiry would reveal one of the strategic pillars that prop up the phenomenon. To wit, of the 19 times the World Cup has been contested, three countries have won it a combined total of 12 times. Brazil with 5 wins, Italy with 4 and Germany with 3 accounts for more than half of the total victories on record. It is on the strength of this historical dominance of the game that these countries are regarded and acclaimed as its super powers and best exponents. Lesser known however, is a singular and particular similarity that the accomplished triad share. None of them have ever employed a foreign coach. Never in the football history of Brazil, Italy or Germany has a foreign coach been hired.
The fact of this is understandably incredible and surprising to those of us reared in the recent past on a diet of Troussiers, Milutinovics, Vogts and Lagerbacks to name a few. And mind you, this represents approximately 306 years combined, when you add up the number of years the three countries have kept coaching records, of indigenous coaching. The successful outcomes of relative stability and continuity in hiring within as it were, going back a hundred years apiece is apparent. It would seem then that the bright idea of foreign coaches has only occurred to those countries further down the success scale and prestige pecking order. One wonders too, if this idea is that old and successful, why some nations are just catching on.
There is however an often overlooked home-grown corollary that is of particular instructive value to this debate. With the victory of the 2013 generation of Golden Eaglets in the United Arab Emirates just a few months ago, Nigeria entered the record books as the nation with the most FIFA Under-17 World Cup triumphs with four wins to date. The first triumph in 1985 was achieved under the guidance of Sebastian Brodrick-Imasuen, the second in 1993 by coach Fanny Amun, the third in 2007 by coach Yemi Tella and the fourth by coach Manu Garba. Arguments about age controversies and age grade level coaching aside, Nigeria’s football history at this level in which she has outperformed every other nation speaks eloquently to the viability of Nigerian coaches on the world stage.
In Stephen Keshi, the reigning African Coach of the Year, the case for indigenous coaches has its best advocate yet. A brief iteration of Keshi’s achievements to date is pertinent. Just over a year after taking over a team that did not qualify for the previous edition of the African Cup of Nations, Keshi’s Super Eagles won the tournament soundly, beating the acknowledged favourites for the title Cote d’Ivoire, enroute. He became the first ever indigenous (Nigerian) coach to win the title, the first Nigerian to win it as both coach and player and only the second African to win as player and coach.
In the World Cup qualifying campaign which ended late last year, Nigeria under Keshi were the only African country and one of very few in the entire world to complete the qualifying series without losing a game. Before the loss to Uruguay in the Confederations Cup last year, Keshi’s team had gone on an 18-game stretch without losing a game, the longest such streak in the history of Nigerian football. Other historic feats such as qualifying Nigeria for its first ever African Nations Championship, the home-based equivalent of the African Cup of Nations, and going on to win bronze in that competition, as well as being the first and only coach to qualify neighbouring Togo for the World Cup in 2006, a tournament Nigeria incidentally failed to qualify for, exist merely to round off his achievements.
The value of Keshi’s contribution to Nigerian football can also be measured in pecuniary terms. In a hasty agreement to coach Nigeria for about five months in early 2010, Coach Lars Lagerback was contracted for the whopping sum of $1.5 million amounting to about $300,000 per month. Keshi by comparison is paid N5 million a month or about $31,000, almost exactly one tenth of what Lars Lagerback was paid. It would take Keshi another 2 years and a total of 4 years all told, to earn as much as Lagerback earned in 5 months! After digesting the mind-boggling disparity and the obscene affinity and gross overvaluation of all things foreign it unequivocally portends, Keshi’s Return on Investment is just massive, perhaps the best in the world. As a matter of accidental fiscal prudence, Keshi is a historic bargain.
However, the real value of Keshi’s appointment is in his deep and abiding patriotism and his protestant work ethic. To the latter assertion, readers should be reminded that in just over two years, Keshi has successfully completed three qualification series and competed in three tournaments. Approaching the matter of patriotism from the periphery, it is a matter of recent widely publicised vintage that Keshi was owed for seven months immediately following his historic African Cup of Nations triumph. It should not be forgotten also that he was owed for four months leading into the same tournament. Only a patriotic commitment to one’s nation can surmount being owed almost a year’s wages cumulatively over a period of two years. So, while being owed for roughly half of the time he has been in charge, Keshi has worked harder, for far less, than any foreign coach Nigeria has ever had. And he has been arguably more successful to boot.
But then, Keshi’s commitment to Nigerian football goes farther than mere remuneration. His determination to source players with international potential from the local league has given the league a rare fillip and boosted the confidence of players therein. Hitherto, the senior national side was the exclusive province of Nigerian’s playing abroad, while many deserving young men plying their trade on these shores were largely ignored. Keshi single-handedly changed that by taking as many as eight locally based players as part of his twenty-three man playing staff to the African Nations Cup in South Africa.
The exploits of players like Sunday Mba who scored Nigeria’s winning goal in the final of that tournament and Godfrey Oboabona who provided a large measure of Nigeria’s defensive mettle is an enduring testament to the skill and graft of locally based players and their ability to deliver big performances in big games if given the opportunity. Such is the enthusiasm and confidence amongst locally based players who now joyfully realize that playing in Nigeria is not a disqualification from representing Nigeria at the senior level and that such opportunities are eminently realizable. Of course, the contribution of this factor to making the local league more viable and attractive should not be taken lightly.
In spite of all this, rumbles of the likely appointment of a foreign coach in the guise of a Technical Advisor and lately in that of a “Technical Assistant” persist. It is to the great credit of the Honourable Minister of Sports who has pronounced categorically on the issue, saying that no Technical Advisor will be appointed except if Keshi requests one. More recently, in comments attributed to Paul Bassey, a Spokesman for the Technical Committee of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), Keshi demurred on the offer of a foreign Technical Assistant. Also in the news is the report that the NFF is making plans to extend Keshi’s contract to 2018, beyond the World Cup in Russia, a rare vote of confidence and an acknowledgement of his historic achievements. It might also have something to do with reports that certain African countries are sniffing around in a bid to poach Keshi at the slightest opportunity. Should the mooted contract extension pan out, the NFF would be deserving of some plaudits for strategic and forward thinking.
If his recent antecedents are anything to go by, Coach Stephen Keshi in short order is about to become Nigeria’s most successful coach at the senior level and perhaps ever, and therefore the reflexive need for foreign expertise in our football has been rendered redundant and should never arise again.