Five games in and Oliseh at crisis point


With barely a handful of games under his belt as Nigeria coach it seems a little harsh to talk of a crisis for Sunday Oliseh, but that is where Nigeria finds herself.

It was always going to be a risk appointing a rooky coach to one of the most demanding jobs in world football. The Nigeria Football Federation have always been the most difficult of employers, the media can be rabid at times and the general public are hyper-critical. Despite all this, on paper Oliseh had perfect credentials with one glaring omission: experience on the pitch.

Nigeria are rebuilding. The team that won the African Cup of Nations in 2013 and qualified for the 2014 World Cup did not train on. The forwards stopped scoring. The lack of a creative midfielder or a strategy to compensate for that lack of creativity continued. The World Cup showed desperate problems at full back and nearly 18 months later the same problems remain.

All these problems have to be solved within a winning framework because the minimum expected of a Nigeria coach is the semi-finals of the Cup of Nations and World Cup qualification. Anything less will mean your head and if you asked Shaibu Amodu he'd tell you that wouldn't be enough.

That remit would test the most experienced of coaches, let alone one just cutting his teeth in the role. It's not impossible for great players to move into national team coaching with no experience. Franz Beckenbauer with Germany, Michel Platini of France and Wales' Mark Hughes are three positive examples.

With Nigeria it's not just winning but also about style. The fans want the beautiful game as well, but of course if you can't do that then at least win.

There was so much optimism after the Super Eagles thumped Cameroon last time out, but that was a friendly. Now Swaziland were at the pointy end of football. A serious qualifier and Oliseh needed to show that the skills he portrayed on tv as an analyst could be transferred to the real world and one of the bugbears of the end of the Keshi regime could be overcome.

However like Keshi, Oliseh seems set on putting square pegs in round holes. Just why the game becomes difficult when coaches take off their suits and put on a tracksuit I don't know.

Shehu Abdullahi can't be the best right-back in Nigeria, especially since he offers nothing going forward. Elderson Echiejile, at his very best is hardly swashbuckling, on the opposite flank..

Lets talk substitutions. Desperate for a goal, Oliseh threw on the cavalry in the second half, replacing half-time substitute Rabiu Ibrahim with Kelechi Iheanacho. Obafemi Martins followed in place of John Mikel Obi. It was a change that made a mockery of the coach's much-vaunted tactical acumen.

Even this scribe would have advocated taking off an ineffective  full-back and moving to a 3-2-3-2 shape, with Iheanacho behind Ighalo and Martins. Instead, Oliseh’s decision left the team tremendously open through the middle, with only Ogenyi Onazi providing central cover.

The two recent retirees in Vincent Enyeama and Emmanuel Emenike won't be mised for differing reasons. Carl Ikeme has quickly settled down as the heir to Enyeama between the sticks and Emenike's form for the Super Eagles since November 2013 has been so poor he simply won't be missed. What is more alarming are the man management issues the retirements threw up, questions you hoped Oliseh with his history with Super Eagles management would have been able to provoke a different response.

Nigeria have two outstanding crops of U-17 World Cup winners to harness in the first team. Perhaps somewhere here will be the long term answer to some of the personnel problems, although the reality is that only a handful of players from these squads will make the step up to the senior ranks.

All this adds up to a test not only for Oliseh but also NFF president Amaju Pinnick. Oliseh is his appointment and the man to whom he has firmly nailed his colours, No number of youth tournament wins will compensate for a failing Super Eagles. Pinnick will want and have to be decisive if things do not show signs of improvement, The first team is the brand that brings in the cash and nothing should be allowed to interfere with that.

Nigeria should beat Swaziland in the second leg on Tuesday, but the third round of World Cup qualifiers puts the teams in groups of four with the winner takes all. Six games with no room for a slip up and a tough Afcon qualifying group that includes Egypt. Nigeria won't want to miss two Afcons in a row.

A certain Herve Renard, the winner of two of the last three afcons has just become available. Oliseh will have to improve and fast.

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