My Recent Near Death Experience As Coach Of Nigeria
A day after the Late Stephen Keshi was relieved of his duties as coach of the Super eagles of Nigeria, I got a phone call from the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) offering me the job which I immediately rejected. The call lasted just 2 minutes!
I was to further refuse the offer twice again in the next 2 days that followed as they kept on calling. Their argument: With the new president Muhammadu Buhari in place, the Nff was ready for a change and was abandoning their old ‘Shady’ ways!
It took the intervention of a phone call from a highly Ranked federal government official for me to bulge. His point was simple “your country is in dire need of your services and the NFF promised me a change, put your terms in writing and if they do not accept it, let them go elsewhere”.
Which is what I did and we all eventually signed a working agreement. Thus began the adventure to coach the Super Eagles of Nigeria. Sometimes I wish I stood my grounds and refused their offer, but I guess the urge to help my country was just too much to ignore.
Vincent Enyeama, John Obi Mikel & Victor Moses
My first official act was to call the team Captain Vincent Enyeama (Lille OSC, France) to rub minds and fix an appointment to see him. Same act was accorded to John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses of Chelsea. All except for Obi Mikel picked up my call and Mikel even ignored my eventual sms.
Spent a lovely day at Lille with Enyeama, took him to lunch and shared my Philosophy with him and he seemed genuinely inspired to work together but kept on talking about pending retirement which we agreed he would shelve aside till after AFCON 2017 at least.
Went to London to see Mikel & Moses but could only see Moses as Mikel did not reply my calls & we could not get a hold of him.
Moses came 2 ½ half hours late to our meeting but none the less we had a productive talk in company of my assistant, Jean Francois Losciuto.
3 weeks to my first official game in charge of the Super Eagles, vs Tanzania, and the invitations were sent out to the clubs, 2 weeks to the game Victor Moses opted out citing fear of contracting an injury whilst playing for Nigeria in favour of his club via a written letter to the Team manager of the super eagles.
Most players reported to camp on Monday prior to the Tanzania game, Vincent Enyeama was supposed to fly in Tuesday Morning, only for me to be surprisingly informed via sms that he was skipping the game because he lost the mum some weeks earlier.
I called him up and made an agreement with him, as I needed not only my captain and such a good goalkeeper for my opening game, that if he came for the game on Friday I would release him to go to the village after the game and skip the friendly game versus Niger scheduled for 3 days later after the Tanzania encounter, which he agreed.
The team was scheduled to fly out on Thursday. On Wednesday afternoon Enyeama called to say he was not coming for the game, definitively.
I was shocked as we had an agreement, we needed his experience, leadership and I was aware he was yet to miss a training session for his club side talk less of a league game.
As faith will have it, with a brand new team that trained only for two days we were able to come out of the Tanzania game with a point and my newly discovered and talented goalkeeper, Carl Ikeme of Wolverhampton was the man of the match. A 2-0 resounding victory over Niger 3 days later gave a successful look to the first camping but cast questions on if we could count on the three above named players to help us proceed. I chose to build alternatives!
On the day I was unveiled, the very vocal president of the NFF, Amaju Pinnick boasted to the world that he was going to pay me 6 months’ salary in advance, we were never ever going to be owed as he had procured sponsorship from Zenith bank, that he knows I am the African Guardiola etc. declarations that not only added unnecessary pressure on us but made us hated by certain quarters as ‘prima Donnas’.
We now believe that, that was a ploy to make the world falsely believe that I was giving all the tools to succeed whilst intending to eventually starve us of tools to succeed in reality to have a scape goat and employ his dream foreign coach for obvious reasons, as was tried failingly recently!
This false claim was repeated often by the Nff in the following months whilst I was not only unpaid but so were my assistants too.
In October 2015, with the belief that I had millions from the Nff, kidnappers attacked a family member of mine’s home in Lagos, but thanks to God the intended victim was not at home.
Shaken at the news, I called Mr Amaju to inform him of my displeasure of his false public declarations in my regard and there and then the seed of Resignation started to grow in me. Is this worth my peaceful family suffering?
Unpaid Wages, FIFA and World Football Regulations
I signed my contract as Chief Coach Of the super Eagles in July 2015 and was paid in August for July and August but did no longer get any payments till January 2016.My assistants were worse off as they received just a month’s pay as at January 2016.The Nff and its allies in public claimed otherwise!
Whilst this was the case, the Nff still kept on telling the world I was paid in advance several months.
All equipment’s I used to coach, even as down to simple cones and tactics boards, I had to buy them all myself as the super eagles had none available!
In February 2016 I wrote an official demand letter to the Nff asking for payment of my owed wages otherwise I would act as the international law demands.
The International law states that if after serving your employer as a coach a demand letter of payment and they refuse to pay, you are still entitled to the total sum of the remaining totality of your contract should you resign!
As at today by my reckoning, I am still being owed wages and should it come up to CAS (The international Court of Arbitration of Sports) the NFF will be forced to pay me the sum of the contractual remaining 28 months’ salary in addition to the owed wages. I leave you to calculate how much that is. In my place what would you do today?
Super Eagles’ Assistant Coach Jean François Losciuto’s near death experience.
After the first round of CHAN training preparations in Abuja Nigeria, the team landed Pretoria for the final stage of the CHAN preparations.
2 days later my assistant coach Jean Francois Losciuto collapsed in the lobby of the hotel and was rushed to the hospital. The doctors refused to operate unless payment was paid in advance.
The Nff had failed to inform the Embassy of Nigeria in South Africa of our presence hence we were all on our own and jean François was facing probable death.
I therefore had to put up a deposit payment that allowed the hospital to admit and stabilize him before operation. Eventually he was operated on and what was dug out from his stomach was the scariest experience we ever saw till then. There it is above………… the metal was 4.8centimeters long!
Had he not been timely operated on he would have died and how that 4.8 centimeters piece of metal got into his stomach was a mystery to the doctors and still is to us till date, but the most painful part of it was barely was this made public knowledge to our country we were serving by our so called sports editors.
Imagine near death and the people you serve are not intentionally well informed by the press? Scary no?
The NFF ‘s Infamous Technical committee
A day to the Unveiling, the Nff’s technical committee called me for a meeting, headed by Dr Felix Ayansi of Enyimba. To our shocking surprise we were so aggressively received, attacked and Mr Paul Bassey almost blew his top when I refused their demand to participate in team selection of the super eagles.
I could see Bassey still held the grudge from the 90’s: He categorically stated a dislike that my inclusion into the super eagles cost Friday Ekpo, a tribesman his place in the super Eagles. I believe that’s a grievance he should have towards the then coach Clemence Westerhoff, no?
In all fairness Dr Felix Ayansi was so calm, matured and relatively positive with his management of affairs.
All through my almost 1 year in charge, there was no help received from this committee and all technical information we asked of via telephone, emails were all ignored. We never saw them.
This committee’s composition for a technical committee is the most awkward one I have ever seen, ever!
Being myself a member of the technical sector of the world’s football governing body,FIFA, I found it quite strange to see people whose knowledge of the game are limited to what they learnt as spectators and not from first-hand experience as ex-players of the super Eagles or graduates of football educations.
The 3 ex super Eagles players members of this group were ones who during our playing days were either the most hated egoistic trouble making team mate we ever had, or ones who were not leaders or regulars of the team.
Had it being with the likes of Edema Foludu for example, we could understand instead of colleagues who have problems reading or pronouncing Chelsea for example!
How they now have to charter the technical progression of a national team like Nigeria I don’t know.
I believe if you ever had any doubt as to regards how disjointed this group is, I believe their role in the now worldwide famous humiliation of Nigeria with the Coach Paul Le Guen saga, has put them to rest!
Poor Super Eagles Players Welfare
In my entire 23 years of involvement with the super eagles, never has the working conditions and player welfare been as bad as it was when I was in charge. The team stood out like beggars!
For a team like the legendary super eagles, our players were not furnished with as little as bathroom slippers from NIKE. The training equipment’s had to be bought from local stores in Aba and Lagos.
Football shoes were not available and on the camp in South Africa during CHAN, I had to buy 2 football shoes for my players.
Even the barest minimum like food was lacking. Feeding was unsuitable to put it lightly and had to pay for the feeding of the team. Little did I know that not only will I not be reimbursed, it would be contested by the Nff and I would be criticized for it?
The Nigerian ambassador to South Africa was rightfully incensed as to why the Nff failed to notify him of the team’s arrival to south Africa and be left to fender in such a sorry state!
I had organized via my South African friends the world standard performance centre in Pretoria for the super eagles and the on the only thing the Nff was left to do was the accommodation and transportation, and those were the areas we saw hell!
Problems From the Nigerian Press. (This applies to just some & not all pressmen)
i Believe If you want to be praised in the Nigerian press as a coach you need to be shady, accept the blackmail from certain sectors or get attacked non-stop.
Surprising as it may sound, we do have some good talented and honest journalist, it is however unfortunate that from my experience of over 23 years involvement with the super Eagles, we have perhaps some of the most “Shady” sports editors in the history of the world football.
I believe Our country,Nigeria’s President Buhari is aware of this, take a look at this quote from the sitting sports minister Solomon Dalung : “Sports Journalists Are Part of the Corruption in NFF”…
“Nigeria’s sports minister, Solomon Dalung, blames the crisis in Nigerian football on corrupt journalists whom he said collect bribes from the leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF”
Two days after I started training in Abuja, I was approached with an illicit proposal to trade exclusive inside and preferential information for in return positive write-ups or get slaughtered in the press. I obviously refused and till date that popular website praises a national embezzler of public funds than Oliseh Sunday.
During our Belgian tour, Vincent Enyeama’s insubordination at a team meeting was not accepted by me and I asked him to leave the camp and go home.
Some of the Nigerian press reported that I ordered security in the Belgian hotel camp to strip him naked, drag him out of the hotel on the floor. Even some daytime TV.
The most humiliating experience for the press was the response they got from the Swaziland Coach, Coach Harris Bulugna, whom they pestered to criticize the Super Eagles after defeat, only for the man to raise up his hat for the immense work I had put up on the team that totally broke their game plans down. You should have seen how foolish our press were made to look, pitiful.
Since I obviously refused to be blackmailed and play along it was non-stop criticisms and at the height of it I put out this video on YouTube, now called the famous Super Eagles coach Rant on critics.
The camping and tournament proper of CHAN lasted more or less 5 weeks, first stage in Nigeria, to South Africa (Pretoria) and then finally, Rwanda. All through this period not only were the coaches, players and staff unpaid and uncared for but we were completely abandoned. In a 2 star hotel, poor nutrition, room states and dangerous conditions.
When as a coach I tried to enquire for a change we were instructed not to share this with the public as the Nff was cash strapped.
That would have been acceptable if the whole federation were not at the same period on a paid holiday trip of over 60 officials for over a week to expensive London hotels whilst we barely had food to eat on a national mission 6,000 kilometres away from home.
The training equipment’s were all lacking, 2 sets of jerseys and though Nff is sponsored by NIKE, the players barely had bathroom slippers to walk around in but also no football shoes.
I had no choice seeing the sorry state of these poor boys but to arrange for feeding at my own expense and buy football shoes for some of the players whose shoes became damaged.
The accommodating conditions chosen by the federation were worse in Rwanda and though we were leading the Group heading off to the Final group game versus Guinea, the boys awaited some form of aid financially from the Nff to ease up but all promises were never honoured.
The disappointing Phone call from the Nff President Pinnick just hours to the game that he would be coming over with the player’s remunerations only when the team got to the finals broke down the morale of the boys and obviously we lost the game and faced elimination.
Till date these boys are yet to be paid their owed allowances in full 6 months later.
It should be noted that Nigeria was the only team at this tournament without leading federation members present. Only Mr Chris Green of the technical committee stayed behind but he lodged in a 500 dollars a night 5 star hotel and we barely ever saw him!
Having played, captained and now coached the super Eagles I could read the Nff easily .The crisis that now exists today I saw it coming way back as in November 2015 when we camped and beat Swaziland to qualify into the world cup qualifiers group stage in port Harcourt.
The signs were everywhere to see but funny enough many, even the so called experienced pappy ex coaches and analysts were blind to it.
The infighting and imminent power struggle was so evident that my players, coaches were asking some questions.
The sacking of Tijani Babangida as my assistant was because he was a friend to Mr Giwa the presumptuous NFF president from the other faction nothing else but that. Just weeks to an important AFCON qualifier.
The moment Ayansi was replaced as head of the infamous technical committee by Mr Chris Green, we all knew that disaster and chaos was on the way.
Chris Green is a man who late Stephen Keshi almost beat up just midway into the 2013 AFCON adventure in South Africa and eventually was going around all of Rwanda telling all who cared to listen that he won the 2013 AFCON for Nigeria and the 2014 world cup qualification and not Keshi.
How? I leave you to guess as I don’t remember him ever scoring one goal or being a player or coach at these events. The implications of his statements were what any sane human being would distant themselves from. So we avoided him like the flu!
My Near Death Experience As Coach
One day whilst coaching the super Eagles in Abuja stadium prior to the Burkina Faso game I all of a sudden felt dizziness, light headedness, headache and could barely stand. I managed to finish the session before calling on the doctor into my room who was clueless to what was happening.
From then on it was sleepless nights, loss of appetite, high blood pressure and before I knew it I started losing weight.
After several visits to doctors abroad nothing was found though the doctors found anomalies they couldn’t pin point the actual illness to.
Prior to the away trip to Burkina Faso for the final CHAN qualifier game in Port Harcourt after lunch I was struck with the worst feat of this illness again. Could not walk, talk, dizzy and felt like I was going to pass out.
I quickly demanded to be rushed to the airport and with the evening flight travelled to Germany to see specialists .After 2 days of non-stop tests I was diagnosed to have narrowly escaped a total collapse in Nigeria.
For weeks I was bed ridden, lost 7 kilos and could barely walk 5 metres without sitting down. My family was petrified and all feared the worst. One thing was for sure though: had I not taking that evening flight to Germany when I did, there was a strong possibility of a far worse outcome. Thank God for his mercies.
All through the last 4 months of my tenure as coach I was far from my complete healthy self and coached the team and stayed in my bedroom. Often on my bed or sofa.
Imagine how betrayed and pained I must have felt with the lack of support at these life threatening times from my employers, the NFF and the shady pressmen who made it a duty not to report the gravity of the illnesses that befell me and my assistant to the Nigerian people and kind of like wished us the worst!
On the day I put in my resignation letter I was still far from my best health wise and I guess it is better staying alive than getting embroiled with these people who have no interest of Nigeria at heart.
In my entire life, I have never felt so deeply unfairly treated, betrayed, wickedness, ingratitude and fear of my dear life as was the case when I coached the super Eagles of Nigeria.
All because I refused to be corrupt and elected to do things the rightful, honest and professional way for the benefit of my country in need.
Thank God I came out of this alive with hindsight!