The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has done a good job of ensuring that Super Eagles, currently undergoing another rebuilding process under new coach Sunday Oliseh, utilizes the last FIFA international window of the year by organizing two friendly games against DR Congo on Thursday, October 8 and Cameroon on Sunday, October 11 in Belgium.
Preparations for these matches have however been marred by unrest in the team’s camp following a bust-up between coach Sunday Oliseh and goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.
It is alleged that erstwhile captain, Vincent Enyeama joined up with the team in Belgium after Monday’s deadline, having been permitted to report late following the funeral of his mother back home in Nigeria the preceding Saturday (just two days earlier). Coach Sunday Oliseh was angry over the keeper’s late arrival and ordered security operatives to get the keeper out of the Hotel Verviers camp site of the Eagles despite his (Enyeama’s) apologies. NFF Officials waded into the matter and persuaded Enyeama to remain in camp.
This development is not unconnected with the coach’s decision to name CSKA Moscow forward, Ahmed Musa as his substantial team captain, since, in his words, “I need a player who is a regular in the team…not somebody who is thinking of retirement.”
It is certain that coach Sunday Oliseh and Vincent Enyeama both have the interest of the Super Eagles and the Nation at heart, but this altercation between the duo is clearly not in the best interest of the team.
It is the coach’s prerogative to select who he deems fit to lead his team as captain and there are various criteria: seniority, influence, commitment and talent. These gives coach Oliseh the exclusive right on his choice of team captain.
In defending his choice, Oliseh remarked that, “there has been a new government and the president has picked new ministers. And that is what I have also done,” citing Musa’s stewardship ‘under difficult circumstances’ during the AFCON qualifier against Tanzania as well as his longevity and outfield playing position, as the factors he considered.
Oliseh’s stand can be supported by the argument that Brazilian coach Dunga stripped Thiago Silva of captaincy and handed it to Neymar even ahead of Marcelo, Dani Alves etc., and that Lionel Messi is not the most senior player in the Argentine team he captains. However, these scenarios are different from what has been the norm in the Nigerian setting.
Over the years, the choice of the Super Eagles’ captain has always been predominantly with recourse to seniority. Oliseh’s stint as captain was occasioned by the retirement of senior players like Uche Okechukwu, Mutiu Adepoju. Knowing his temperament during his playing days, Oliseh would most definitely have been outrightly offended if, say, Kanu Nwankwo (who was even more level-headed, popular and influential in the team especially after the Atlanta Olympic feat) was made captain.
Enyeama was, for several years, Joseph Yobo’s deputy. He only became the substantial captain after the latter retired, and so it is only customary any other player should act as a deputy or in an interim capacity until his purported “retirement”.
For all intents and purposes, Enyeama will be better remembered for his modesty regarding the issue of captaincy where he, on numerous occasions, publicly declared that he was “acting” in the absence of captain for the entire period between the 2013 AFCON and the 2014 World Cup when coach Keshi alienated Joseph Yobo from the Eagles.
Enyeama missed the Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Tanzania last month following the death of his mother and so he is yet to feature for Nigeria under coach Oliseh. If this prompted the manager’s remarks about needing “a player who is regular in the team…” then it is most unfair and insensitive of Oliseh to strip Enyeama of the captainship.
If Coach Oliseh considers Enyeama surplus to requirements in his team, he would do better by refusing to invite him, rather than subject an extremely talented player who has served (and on many occasions, SAVED) the team diligently for several years to such inhumanity and embarrassment in his time of bereavement.
Before his appointment, questions were rife about Oliseh’s managerial capability which transcends what transpires on the field of play. Former Super Eagles coach Clemens Westerhoff specifically noted that Oliseh is as yet “too inexperienced to manage Super Eagles.” Oliseh has an opportunity to refute or affirm this postulation by the way he handles not just the Enyeama situation, but in his overall interface with players, especially in times of conflict.
The Super Eagles has many times in the past paid the price of disharmony. It is too early in coach Oliseh’s reign for such problems to surface within his team. Sunday Oliseh needs to manage his players a lot better, if he is to derive optimum performance levels from his team as well as disprove the notion that all his playing experience, exposure and coaching certifications, does not make him good enough to manage the senior national team. As a former player, he should know too well that in most national teams, players generally have a longer life span than coaches.