Sports Chronicles: Next Super Eagles Gaffer – Who is the Best Man for the Job?
In this weekly column, Felix Egbomuche shares in-depth views on your favourite sports topics.
By Felix Egbomuche
It has been exactly a month since the sad day that saw the Super Eagles miss out on the 2022 FIFA World Cup which will hold later this year in Qatar. But the pains and disappointment that were felt and expressed in the Nigerian football fraternity in the aftermath of that game seem to have been washed off, with everyone swiftly re-focusing their gaze once again on club football. Everyone except the now-infamous Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) executive and technical committee who first had to respond to a summon by the Ministry of Sports a few days after that calamity in Abuja and have now been charged to find a new coach for the senior national team with just over a month to the commencement of another qualifier – this time AFCON 2023.
Two weeks ago, a leaked circular went viral on social media revealing that the NFF’s management committee had a meeting where the identity of the next Super Eagles gaffer was top on the agenda. In attendance at that meeting was Augustine Eguaveon, still in his capacity as the federation’s technical advisor. This was the man who displayed his tactical ineptitude at the AFCON in Cameroon and followed it up with another disaster two months later in the World Cup qualifiers against Ghana. Yet he was part of a committee deciding who will lead the Super Eagles next.
In saner climes, Eguaveon would have tendered his resignation from that position the morning after that game in Abuja but this is Nigeria, people don’t resign, they run down their contract and cite family as the reason they don’t want to continue even when it is glaring that they have failed. It’s the Nigerian way.
Three days after that circular surfaced online, an official statement announcing the new coaching structure of all the male national teams was released. From the U-17s to the U-23 and CHAN Eagles, coaches were appointed into positions while three assistants, Salisu Yusuf, Finidi George, and Usman Abdallah, a goalkeeper coach, Ike Shorunmu, and a match analyst, Eboboritse Uwejamomere were also drafted into the Super Eagles. Still, there was nothing on the man to lead the charge for our next qualifiers except for speculations around the four men who had been shortlisted previously.
For a nation that struggles to pay its coaches, I have a problem with the number of assistants that have been picked by the federation, especially as the incoming coach might want to come in with at least two of his trusted men. I also have issues with a couple of people the NFF handpicked for roles in the incoming backroom staff, but that’s a discussion for another day.
But away from the shenanigans in the Glass House (NFF Secretariat), who are the men that have been shortlisted for the position of head coach of the Super Eagles? What are their credentials? And most importantly, who is the best man to help start the process of taking the Super Eagles back to its glory days?
Jose Peseiro: The Journeyman
The NFF and Peseiro have been in negotiations for this role since December 2021 when Gernot Rohr was axed. About a week before the AFCON commenced, it was announced that an agreement had been reached with the 62-year-old Portuguese football tutor to become coach of the team, although he was to observe the team during the tournament and take over afterwards. That never happened, as the Amaju Pinnick-led NFF announced Eguaveon as coach of the team despite his failings in Cameroon. Peseiro on his part revealed that “contractual clauses and financial matters” were the reasons he didn’t accept the job.
Well, all of that seems sorted, as we hear that the well-traveled football tactician is the favourite to land the job after reaching another agreement with the NFF, although the Sports Ministry is pushing for the other candidates to be interviewed. Peseiro will become the first Portuguese to coach Nigeria if appointed and it will also be his first national team job on the continent after previously managing Saudi Arabia and Venezuela (his last job). The former Real Madrid assistant coach has also been in charge of Sporting Lisbon, Porto, Panathinaikos, and Al Ahly, where he won the Egyptian title in his only season. Peseiro has spent up to three years on a job only once in his 30-year coaching career and averages just over a year on the seventeen jobs he has had previously. So he is not a man for the long term.
Phillip Cocu: A Mixed Bag Worth Giving a Shot?
One of the surprise names that popped up on the shortlist for the Super Eagles coaching role was that of the PSV, Barcelona, and Netherlands legend. At 51, Cocu is the youngest of the four managers being considered for the position but he already has more than a decade of coaching experience at various levels and in different countries on his profile.
The former PSV and Barcelona player who won league titles with both sides has also enjoyed some success as a coach after leading PSV to three Eredivisie triumphs in his five years as manager. Cocu has, however, also had it bad in some of his past jobs. The former midfielder was sacked as coach of Fenerbahçe after just four months into his reign with the club languishing one place and one point above the relegation zone. He was also dismissed at Derby County in November 2020 with the club at the base of the English Championship, although he had led them to a respectable 10th place finish in his first season. Cocu started his coaching on the international stage and was among the Netherlands backroom staff that lost to Spain in the final of the 2010 World Cup.
Ernesto Valverde: The Conflicting One
To be honest, I didn’t think a title-winning coach at Barcelona would ever be interested in the Super Eagles coaching job, but here we are being linked with the man that won Barcelona their last league title (2018/2019 season), and it does not feel like it can’t happen.
Like the other coaches on this list, Valverde has had his ups and downs at the teams he has managed previously, but if placed on a scale, the positives would outweigh the negatives. The 58-year-old has five league titles in Greece and Spain, a UEFA Cup runners-up medal from his time at Espanyol, and a couple of domestic cup titles with both Olympiacos and Barcelona.
In his two decades of coaching, Valverde has only been sacked twice, in January 2010 at Villarreal and ten years later in January 2020 when he was dismissed by Barcelona despite winning the league in his first two seasons for the Catalans, being top of the La Liga table that season on goal difference and winning their Champions League group.
Laurent Blanc: Le Président
Surely, the biggest name on this list and probably the man most Nigerians would want to handle their team, Blanc is a former world champion with France during his playing days and the only manager to date to win three consecutive Ligue 1 titles with Paris Saint-Germain. He is also the most recently active of all four coaches, as he held a job until February this year when he was axed by Qatari club, Al-Rayyan.
The 56-year-old was also a former national team coach as he managed his nation to the 2012 European Championship where they were knocked out in the quarter-finals by eventual winners, Spain. As recent as last November, Blanc was linked with the interim coach role at Manchester United but the Red Devils instead appointed Ralf Rangnick. It is suggested in some quarters that Blanc rejected the offer as he wanted something more long-term than six months interim job. Maybe if United had signed him their predicament won’t be this bad.
To be fair to the NFF, the men listed in this article are top managers who have either played with or tutored some of the biggest names in the game. In fact, except for Peseiro, I wouldn’t have thought any of the other names would be interested in coaching a Super Eagles team that is probably at its lowest in recent years.
As stated earlier, Peseiro is the favourite to land the job, and it is clear why – the Portuguese will be more cost-effective for the federation than any of the other three. But if the funding was available and the other three were really interested in the job, then the former Porto coach will be down on my pecking order despite having Jose Mourinho’s recommendation.
Phillip Cocu will get my blessings if it came down to me. His previous exploits with young talents at PSV feels like something the current crop of Super Eagles players could use – a manager that understands their youthfulness and can develop them to become better while competing. Also, he is one from the Cryuff ‘total football’ school and that’s something that would excite the fans.
However, I might never get that opportunity to be in a position where I am picking the coach of a national team so it’s best to just leave this one to the NFF and hope that whoever they bring in does a decent job. At least, that’s how it has been under Amaju’s watch.
Felix Egbomuche is a multimedia sports journalist with years of experience working as a writer, radio personality, mobile vlogger, and graphic designer.
His sports articles have been published on many different online publications in Nigeria and across the globe, with his work receiving recognition and applause from readers.
Egbomuche is active on social media where he uses the moniker @Felixdgreat1 on all platforms and can be contacted through those channels or via his email firstname.lastname@example.org.