Dec 5, 2009

Clemens Westerhorf is Nigeria’s Best Hope for South Africa 2010

Nigerians have often joked that God is a compatriot. The Super Eagles qualification to South Africa 2010 despite the seeming hopeless state of the events, has given this joke some meaning. The relevant question now is where we go from here.

After USA 94, Nigeria was rated as a nation with the capacity to win the World Cup. Fifteen years after USA 94, we appeared to have only drifted farther away from this possibility. In France 98, we carried a team that was obviously too fragile to the tournament despite the collection of big names in the team. We were disgraced out of the tournament by Denmark who beat us by 5 goals to 1. The story was the same in Japan/Korea 2002. Four years after that we failed to even qualify for the World Cup in Germany by loosing the window to Angola. Earnest observers agree that our failure to repeat the superlative performance of USA 94 was a result of bad administration.

Crucial to the success of any football team is a good coach. Though we have been able to qualify this time around, we know that it was a result of a miracle. In my opinion, Shuabu Amodu isn’t the coach that can take us to the world cup and come back with a reasonably good result. We should not go to the world cup for the sake of just showing our faces but to do something impressive thereby refusing to throw away the potential that we are known to have.

We need a better coach and there isn’t time to waste looking for a coach that will spend some months studying Nigerian players to see who is suitable and who isn’t. It is also pertinent to note that not all world class coaches can fit into the Nigerian environment in view of its peculiarity. We have seen the Milotinovic and the Vogts who have failed on the Nigerian soil despite their impeccable international background.

With little time on our hands we need to go for a coach that has been tested in Nigeria and proven that he can handle the Nigerian situation. Dutch Clemens Westerhorf is the most successful man ever to answer the name of a coach in Nigeria. During his time as Coach of the Super Eagles of Nigeria, we won the Nations Cup after having a test of it only once in 1980. We also went to the World Cup for the first time and performed so wonderfully that Nigeria’s potential to win the world cup was noted. Nigeria went to the fourth position on FIFA’s ranking, the highest ever. Our subsequent World Cup qualifications were based on the strength of the boys he discovered.

He is the only man who discovered talents locally and got them to play in the Super Eagles without necessarily playing in Europe first. People like Friday Elaho are typical examples of guys who made their impression in the Super Eagles alongside Europe based professionals without first playing in Europe. Westerhorf had the time to travel across the country in search of talents. The achievements of Westerhorf in Nigeria were made possible by players who played in lower leagues. Thus the argument that we do not have enough players in big clubs now is not relevant as the players are more exposed than they were before USA 94

One big trouble with foreign coaches is that they find it difficult to stay in Nigeria to do a Nigerian job. Berti Vogts chose to stay in Europe to do a job in Africa. Westerhorf on the other hand stayed in Nigeria full time, sometimes with members of his family. He never really left Nigeria even after parting ways with the Nigerian football authorities. Wherever he went, he eventually came back to Nigeria. Presently he is staying in Nigeria and has practically become a Nigerian. Thus he is the only world class coach who has been tracking Nigerian players. Employing Westerhorf to coach the Eagles will only amount to employing a local coach with a world class status.

Westerhorf is said to have openly expressed his willingness to coach the Super Eagles in order to rewrite history with the team. But since he is one who cannot compromise his conditions for a good job, he has fallen into the bad books of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF). He succeeded in the 90s by bypassing the Nigerian Football Association to the Presidency, where there was the willingness to provide for him what he needed to succeed and he did succeed.

Following President Yar’adua’s lost of hope in the coaching crew of the Super Eagles as a result of the 2-2 draw between the Nigerian team and the Tunisian counterpart the president was said to have directed the Minister of sports to start shopping for a replacement for Amodu in preparation for the Nations Cup. I do not think that the Minister should look too far. The answer to our problems lies in Westerhorf.

Yiro Abari, Jos Nigeria

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