The Siasia misadventure
The brief stint of the people’s coach goes crashing as the anticipated dawn of a new era for Nigerian football turns to her worst nightmare with the ouster from AFCON 2012, landing on ground zero, Mike Osayimwen writes.
Siasia’s journey with the Super Eagles crashes before it really starts.
The aggrieved fans went berserk. After confirming reports from other match venues and livid that Nigeria had effectively been eliminated firm the 2012 AFCON to be co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, they took the law into their hands, terrifying everyone and destroying everything in sight.
While some threw water bottles filled with urine, stones, broken chairs and water sachets unto the pitch where Super Eagles players had converged, some others booed and continued to pelt them with anything that they could lay their hands on. Those who had been driven away by the anti-riot policemen then laid ambush outside the stadium gates, wielding all kinds of objects while awaiting the team bus.
Samson Siasia at his window seat understood their mood of the fans booing the team and raining abuses at him, and would be thankful of the windows that protected him and the players from the objects thrown by the mob as the bus tried to scurry them to safety. He knew Nigerians could be unforgiving -after all he had seen fans boo his team when they won a friendly match in Lagos, so he was not expecting anything different when they failed to win such a must-win competitive game.
Inside the stadium, fans carrying the Nigeria flag sang war songs, threw stones that shattered anything they could. Calling for his sack and blaming him for the team’s exit, they destroyed the media tribune’s sliding doors and were only prevented by the police from storming into the media center in an anticipated post-match conference which was cancelled for safety reasons.
Siasia said his team deserved all the insults thrown their way.
“We deserve all the insults we are getting. In the end, we failed to qualify and that hurt the fans, so they have a right to be angry. We are also hurt, because as much as the fans wanted to see us at the Nations Cup, it pains us more than it pains them. It is not in my hands now. Whatever the NFF decide, we will accept. If they want us to stay, we will carry on rebuilding this team in the right way. If they don’t, we will say thank you and move on. That is the way football works.”
He knew failure to qualify would lead to all these, and that could be read on his face less than an hour earlier as Guinea’s Ibrahim Traore sealed his fate when five minutes into added time, with the score at 2:1 for the Super Eagles, -a result that put them in pole position for the last qualification spot- he slot in the equalizer.
Siasia saw his fatigued players crumple on the turf, unable to lift themselves up after the big blow so late under the scorching sun, knowing they had barely seconds to prevent the impending doom – which ultimately was impossible.
The pulsating encounter which had commenced at 14:00 and watched by a half capacity Abuja national stadium crowd had seen the Super Eagles fluff several scoring chances in the first half with the main culptits; Osaze Odemwingie, Chinedu Obasi and Emmanuel Emenike failing to deliver in such a crucial tie.
Guinea which came with a clear intent to frustrate their opponents had broken the deadlock 10 minutes into the second half before Obinna Nsofor knocked home the equalizer in the 64th minute, followed by Ikechukwu Uche who put the super eagles ahead shortly after, raising 150 million hopes until Traore’s late equalizer struck Nigerians hearts.
The final whistle by referee Doue Normandiez from Cote d’ Ivoire signaled the unthinkable: Nigeria would not be qualifying for the African cup of nations for the first time since 1985, tossing the entire nation into agony.
There could hardly have been a more passing conclusion to the most chaotic of qualification campaigns that the country put up on this occasion. A campaign that started without any officially recognized soccer federation, substantive coach or plan, continued with the team learning they were banned by the government from all soccer activity for two years -then the quick reversal in the face of damning FIFA sanctions, and ending with fizzling in a game they did not quite know what result they needed.
Reactions were swift and furious.
In a post-match comment, former Secretary General of the then NFA Ahmed Sani Toro advised the Head Coach Siasia to take a way of honour by tendering his immediate resignation.
“Siasia should be able to accept responsibilities for the poor outing today. He should not wait for anyone to advice him, should resign immediately. Because he has succeeded in taking the country’s football 25 years backward, there is nothing again he can do than to resign. Nigeria failed to qualify last for the Nations cup in 1986, since then we have been to all the championship, even when we went with Coaches we believed are not worth the salt. Now that we all called for the employment of Siasia, thinking he is the messiah we are looking, but it had dawned on us that he is not, so he should resign immediately.”
The failure to qualify also triggered demands for consequences, passing the buck as well as search for scapegoats, and set a passionate national discourse that split the nation in two.
The chairman of the technical committee, Chris Green in his immediate reaction and calling Nigeria’s ouster an embarrassment, distanced Nigeria Football Federation from the failures of the national team. Upon announcing the issuance of a query to the head coach, he stated:
”We gave him everything he asked for including the free hand to pick his team. No indigenous coach in the history of Nigeria enjoyed the kind of support, both material and otherwise, that Mr Siasia got from the Nigeria Football Federation, said Green.
Siasia’s fate became the most hotly discussed and disputed topic all over the country in the month of October. While some pundits tried to find reasons and excuses for the embattled coach by stating that he was undefeated in his four competitive games till date, and that continuity would ensure that the encouraging signs by the new young team should be giving a chance, some were however less patronizing. Ex International, Segun Odegbami (MON) in his blog predictably laid the blame at the feet of the soccer authorities. He labeled Siasia as the scapegoat of a failed system and amongst other factors listed the dearth of high quality players and key figures in this generation as a reason the Super Eagles are no more a force to be reckoned with. Tony Ubani saw it differently. In his piece ‘Heads or tails, Siasia is history’ he was uncompromising and went ahead to question the coach’s competence when handling adults:
”Siasia’s coaching record at club level further cast doubt on his tactical and technical abilities. His stints with JUTH FC of Jos, Ocean Boys of Brass and Heartland of Owerri, left soar tests in the mouths of football followers in the country. Interestingly, his last club assignment was with Heartland, where he played a total of seven (6) matches and won only one. He eventually wrote off the team as lacking quality players,’’ he noted.
He did not stop there. ”Ironically, the same Siasia invited seven of the Heartland players to the home-based Super Eagles and used them to prosecute his failed WAFU Cup competition. It would be recalled that in recent time, Heartland had about 14 players in the various national teams. To underline the fact that Siasia’s tactical ability leaves much to be desired, Dutchman Lodewijk de Kruif, in his few months as the technical adviser of the Owerri side, led Heartland to its first trophy in more than 18 years with virtually the same crop of players he inherited from Siasia.”
Former Super Eagles coach Clemence Westerhof went further to pick holes with decisions the coach took that eventually proved costly. Making reference to the decision to drop Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama from the key last ties, Westerhof voiced:
”It is important to get discipline in a team. But you don’t suspend your good players to make them unavailable for key games. When you suspend them, who will win the game for you? That means you are burning your finger.” He said. “As a coach, you are the father of the children (players). You don’t cut their fingers because they erred, no. But you find a way to correct them so you don’t harm their emotions which will affect the family (team). I think that’s what Siasia should have done.”
At the root of the matter was the implication of the failure regarding the terms of the contract signed by the coach at the commencement of his tenure which was spelt out by Barrister Green to the media last December:
“He must qualify the Eagles for the Nations Cup and get to the semi- final. This is the precondition for renewing his contract. It is not just that, Siasia has been given a mandate to build a solid national team. We want to have a team of 22 talented players whether home base or foreign based.”
The clear terms of the contract effectively meant Siasia’s tenure ended on the 8th of October 2011.
In Nigeria, not everything is quite black or white. Trying to hang on to his job, and knowing he had a huge fan base as well as favorable support in high places, the coach tendered an apology and pleaded to be given the chance to continue. In an impassioned plea he asked to be given more time in the job, issuing a strong defense of his record in the ten months he has been in charge:
“I love this job and I know what I’m doing – I just need some time,” He told the BBC in an exclusive interview. The coach also spoke on the problems he has faced in trying to manage the squad, especially regarding discipline, admitting he had difficulties with some members of the camp.
‘‘Players want to take over the camp and I won’t let them. Let [Nigeria fans] look at what we have been doing, let them look at the games we have played and compare them with videos of before I took over -they can see improvements, they can see changes. They can see the players running -not what we saw at the World Cup. I don’t need to tell them -let them go and look,” Siasia added.
“Most of the players causing the problems are the ones who have been there for more than 5 years – they just want to take over the camp and I won’t let them. I am not a brutal person or a dictator, I try to compromise – but I am the head coach and whatever happens I will take responsibility. I. We know Nigerians are hurting but it takes time to build a team – give us some time. It takes a lot of courage and hard work to get these boys back to play the way they played and I thank them for trying to look forward not backwards,” the coach said.
Discipline was just one of the several issues that led to his downfall.
Trying to enforce his hard stance, the coach had run-ins with Osaze Odenmwingie – who was reprimanded for absconding from the team, John Mikel Obi and Vincent Enyeama, issuing them suspensions and bans. First choice Enyeama, arguably Africa’s best goaltender was relegated in Nigeria’s matches against Madagascar and Argentina (friendly) in Bangladesh, and was dropped against Guinea. Many attribute some of the goals conceded in this encounters to the incompetence of the replacement -Dele Aiyenugba, while some went as far as accusing some of the players he fell out with of sabotage.
The coach also underrated his adversaries and probably did not realize the enormity of the challenge to grab a qualifying spot after picking the team with 2 match days played and 3 points behind. He had passed on the chance to handle the senoir national team on several occasions after the last world cup by listing conditions that made discussions arduous such as demanding a monthly salary of $100,000.–. A six month contract with Heartland did not stand in the way but the negotiations between him and the NFF eventually broke down then, and the post was declared open. Augustine Eguavoen executed those two games on a caretaker basis, losing in Conakry – which meant Siasia who eventually settled for a third of the initial salary demands, had to play catch up from the word go. The rest they say is history.
He was quoted as saying Nigeria would beat the Syli stars of Guinea ‘silly’, forgetting that Nigeria has never had it easy against them. Ethiopia proved to be the beginning of the tragedy with his inability to pick the same three points Guinea had bagged there. Nigeria was actually fortunate then to pick a very late equalizer through Captain Joseph Yoho. A chance for qualification actually demanded beating Ethiopia in Addis-Ababa, but Samson Siasia had not achieved that in the past both as a junior player (1985) and as a Super Eagles player (1993). He could also not produce that on this occasion.
There was the issue of the flying arrangements that saw that the team arrived Ethiopia on match day, as well as the purported effects on the players by a prediction made a week before by controversial Lagos Prophet TB Joshua who declared that the team that scored first would carry the day, after revealing that he did not foresee any favorable outcome for Nigeria.
The direst issues however were what transpired on match day. The team started well, forced play and created several chances that went begging. In search of a third goal, he bizarrely substituted youngster Joel Obi – one of the only two holding midfielders in the team for a fifth striker -Ekigho Ehiosun. That proved deadly for just John Mikel Obi was left as the only natural ball winning player against an organized Guinea team that came with a robust midfield formation.
The need for that tactical move it was later revealed by team captain Joseph Yobo was based on information passed from an unnamed football federation official that Nigeria needed to win the game with a two goal margin to have a chance of qualifying -which was the same requirement at the beginning of the game. Defending the 2:1 lead they thought was not adequate for a best runner up spot, hence the frantic search of the extra goal. The Guinea equalizer came from a perfect counter attack when they found inadequate resistance from a bye-passed middle.
While many felt the information that led to the desperate reaction was a wrong one -since the 2:1 score ultimately would have seen the Super eagles through in hindsight, the fact is that it was accurate for as at the end of Saturday 08.10.2011, the hopes would still have remained on the balance since there were 2 games in another group the next day -where fellow contender for the last spot, Central Africa Republic were taking 5 points to Algeria. A win for the CAR there would have made them pick the spot since Nigeria’s 6 points against the bottom placed Madagascar would be struck off in the reckoning.
The Indecision of the Football federation to take a stand weeks after the encounter led to a cacophony of events that could rival any Nollywood blockbuster script.
A divided soccer-mad nation gradually took sides. While some were calling for his sack, others were mobilizing for retention of the coach, and rumours of all possible replacements started making the rounds.
Bayelsa State Commissioner for Sports, Hon. Opukiri Jones-Ere, announced four Geo-political zones: the South South, South East, North East and North Central had thrown their weight behind the coach -in an attempt to trivialize a football issue to a national one.
“There is no sentiments attached to our stand on this national issue, except that these geo-political zones are toeing the path of wisdom as demonstrated by the Hon. Minister of Sports, Alhaji Yusuf Suleiman, who called on the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) not to sack the embattled coach,” said the commissioner.
“As stakeholders in this matter, we view it that sacking of the coach might not be the possible solution to the problems confronting Nigerian football. We, therefore, appeal to the football authorities to allow the coach to continue with the re-building process he began a few months ago, more so, now that the World Cup qualifier will soon kick off in a few months time.
Another strange headline was a report that the Army and police dismissed Siasia’s sack.
Chief of Administration of the Nigerian Air Force, Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Ibrahim A. Kure, who represented the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Mohammed Dikko Umar, was quoted by the Daily Sunsports that the federation should not sack Coach Siasia.
“I was really disappointed with the players’ performances during the match against Guinea. As a Nigerian, I felt sad and pained that we would not be in next year’s Africa Cup of Nations, but there is nothing we can do to change the situation now. The reality is that we are out of the tournament, but beyond that, it will give us the opportunity to reappraise the future of our football in order to chart a new course for the game in the country,” AVM Kure stated.
Answering if Siasia should be sacked over the incidence, the Air Force chief was plain: “My answer to your question is capital no! Siasia has done well in repackaging the senior national team since he became the manager. The NFF should not sack him, but allow him to continue with his reformation agenda in the team.”
In a related development, Inspector General of Police, Hafiz Ringim, who was represented by the Chief Security Officer of the national team, Police Commissioner Gideon Akinsola, it was also published, warned that Siasia’s sack would be counter-productive, begging the federation to try and retain his services as coach of the Super Eagles.
“If we should be honest with ourselves, Siasia has really rebranded the Super Eagles since he came on board. Therefore, I want to appeal to the NFF to give him another chance. What happened should rather serve as a lesson for us to reappraise the future of football in Nigeria,” Akinsola said.
The issue was taking a very different dimension as the federation then announced that a decision would be made on the fate of the coach after the national senior female team – the Super Falcons returned from their 2012 Olympic qualifying second leg encounter in Cameroun.
The outcome of that Olympic qualifier was as disastrous: for the first time, the Nigerian team -that lost on penalty kicks to their Cameroonian rivals- would be failing to qualify for a major female event since the inception of these events. The terms of contract of the Falcons coach also stipulated that renewal was based on qualification, so it also appeared all but sorted out as both national senior team coaches now awaited their fate.
The Executive committee of the Nigeria Football Federation finally rose from a meeting held on Friday 28.10.2011 with a statement ratifying the decision of its Technical Committee, which recommended that the coach be fired for failing to meet a minimum target of reaching the African Nations Cup semifinals.
The statement said Siasia and his assistants “breached a key provision in their contract with the NFF and their services are therefore promptly dispensed with, in line with the contractual agreement.”
The NFF then mandated the Technical Committee to meet on Tuesday 01.11.2011 to recommend a replacement that was to be named the next day. Super Falcons coach Uche Eucharia’s removal was also confirmed, with the technical committee also mandated to recommend a candidates for the position of Head Coach of the Women’s team
With that went Samson Siasia’s final hope of a chance at redemption.
The hoped great soccer revival that could only be achieved by the messiah himself turned to be his greatest nightmare. A misadventure. He started well but in football you are only as goofed as your last result.
He phased out some older players and replaced with youthful ones, added some urgency to the team and was never reluctant to experiment. In his total 8 ‘A’ grade matches in charge, he posted four wins and three draws. The only loss was against a Lionel Messi inspired Argentina in a friendly match in Bangladesh. He had previously recorded an impressive 4:1 win over a second rate Argentina team in Abuja early in June.
He also handled the home based eagles to the 2011 WAFU nations’ cup hosted in Nigeria, where he led them to the final, falling to Togo. That was Nigeria’s first loss on home soil in regulation time in any competitive senior game since 1981. Daniel Amokachi had won the same event the previous year while in charge of the same home based team.
Nigeria’s 47th coach, Samson Siasia leaves a legacy, albeit not a good one. As the writer penned in the last issue, Nigeria is a tournament team that not only expects to qualify for the AFCON; in 12 from 14 occasions since their first appearance in 1976, they went all the way to win medals. Qualification was beyond their reach on only one occasion: 1986 when a disillusioned team led by Patrick Ekeji (after Udumezue called sick following the WC ouster in Tunisia the previous week) fell in Zambia. Then there were only 6 qualification slots available as the hosts and defending champions qualified automatically, unlike the 2012 edition with 14 slots. The country did not appear at the 1996 and 1998 editions due to a CAF ban.
He will be remembered as a coach that failed to qualify Nigeria for the nations cup.
He is a young coach that might yet get another chance, but that all depends on how well he manages or mismanages the aftermath. On the day his replacement, Stephen Keshi, -whom he beat to the job last November- was named, Siasia promptly sued the NFF, challenging it’s legality and demanded 1 billion naira as damages for a several breaches of the contract: including nonpayment of two month salaries as well as for failure to be served a 30 day sack notice. He also asked the court to declare the position of the Nigeria head coach vacant.
The legal suit on the NFF is the 18th court case against the football ruling body.
While it is perfectly within his rights to fight for his financial entitlements, time will tell if using the law courts was the best option in dealing with a body he had never had the most cordial of relationships.
His immediate career plans are unknown although it will be in his interest to pick a new senior challenge and try and work his way back to reckoning, but it is important he gets this misadventure behind him, learn from the mistakes and look up to the future.
With the 2012 nation’s cup around the corner, the initial shock of missing out is gradually waning out, and the disillusionment transforming into tapering of expectations -with the knowledge that there is only one direction the country’s soccer fortunes can head towards; since it cannot get any lower. His countrymen wish him the best and thank him for his stewardship.
Siasia’s successor, Stephen Keshi