BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
A stitch in time, saves nine is a popular adage. So also is another adage – “For want of a nail” which is a proverb reminding that seemingly unimportant acts or omissions can have grave and unforeseen consequences.
For those not too familiar with the primary school poem, it comes from a longer proverb about a battle during which the loss of a nail in a horseshoe leads to the loss of a horse, which leads to the loss of the rider, which leads to the loss of the battle, which in turn leads to the loss of a whole kingdom.
This is very apt in the current Super Eagles’ situations regarding the Africa Cup of Nations in January and the remaining eight matches of the 2026 World Cup qualification.
It is 10 years since Nigeria last won the prestigious continental title, the Africa Cup of Nations. Another edition is just 47 days away from this Monday 27 November.
Nigeria Super Eagles are in Group A along with hosts, Cote d’Ivoire and two of the three Guinea teams in the continent – Equatorial Guinea and Guinea Bissau.
In a normal equation, the Super Eagles are expected to revel along with hosts, take one of the group’s two slots, and advance to the knock-out stage.
Considering the Super Eagles’ match results in the last four matches since October, the signals are clear that nothing much should be expected.
The team barely struggled to escape possible defeats against lowly ranked football teams such as Saudi Arabia, Mozambique, Lesotho, and Zimbabwe. The previously lively side and pride of football connoisseurs have been turned into a laborious outfit.
The situation becomes a double jeopardy as not just Nigeria’s outing at the Africa Cup of Nations is a grave risk, but the possible non-qualification for the glamorous FIFA World Cup in 2026 looms large.
The major cause is the coach in charge, the Portuguese José Peseiro Vitor dos Santos Peseiro, unqualified personnel who has been saddled with what is easily the ‘second most important job in the country’ – apologies to Niall Edworthy, author of the book: “Second Most Important Job in the Country” -an account of England football managers.
Peseiro came as Nigeria’s first-ever Portuguese coach and in succession to Franco-German Gernot Rohr, the national team coach with the longest tenure. His pedigree at the appointment did not suggest his qualifications for the job.
He had only previously handled two lowly-rated national teams – Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Peseiro’s other jobs were being assistant to other coaches and handling clubs in the fourth-tier Portuguese league.
He possibly got the Nigerian job under the benefit of the doubt. The results have been largely disappointing. In 15 matches to date, his Super Eagles won just five matches across all competitions. Of the five, only two against Africa’s least-ranked team, Sao Tome e Principe were convincing.
The Super Eagles labored to narrow victories at home and on neutral ground to Sierra Leone (2-1 and 3-2) and had to depend on the fortuity of a penalty kick to beat Guinea Bissau who had earlier shocked Nigeria with a 1-0 defeat in Abuja.
The benefit of the doubt probably explains why Peseiro was given the Super Eagles’ job. But performances have not squared with expectations. The latest results have cast doubts on the possibility of Nigeria navigating what should have been their easiest path ever to the World Cup.
A supposedly easy task has turned a Greek puzzle. For the first time ever, Lesotho got a point in an encounter with Super Eagles. So also was Zimbabwe which only just returned to international football after being previously banned by FIFA.
The two teams were supposed to be the ‘softest’ of the five Nigeria was supposed to face on the road to World Cup 2026. From the call-up to camp to deployment of players to the field, Peseiro got all wrong.
He invited some players that have being sidelined even by their lowly clubs. An example was Joe Aribo who plays outside the English Premiership for Southampton in the lower division English Championship. He has had mere cameo appearances for his lower division club, but found good enough for Nigeria’s lead brand by Peseiro.
Goalkeeping is the weakest point of the Super Eagles. Yet, Peseiro, against all logic, stuck to just one out of the three he called up, even in friendly matches where he ought to have explored all options by giving playing time to the other two.
Taiwo Awoniyi, already injured and sidelined by his club, was called up by Peseiro who also fielded him as a starter in a World Cup qualifier. What was the justification? In the Lesotho match, the groin injury got aggravated and now the player is out of service for months!
It is needless to point out that the player is now out of the Africa Cup of Nations in January.
As it has turned out, the Super Eagles’ possibility of scaling the heights at the Afcon 2023 is highly doubtful under Peseiro.
The NFF may have to cough out some amount to terminate the short-term contract with Peseiro. This should not matter as the country stands to gain more from the termination of the contract whose current validity is February 2024.
Qualification for the World Cup guarantees the NFF, at least $2 million. Featuring and crashing out at the group stage is $10 million bringing to the coffers of the football federation a minimum of $12 million.
This and possibly more will only be realistic without the services of Peseiro. Why then hesitate to dispense off the services? After all, when the horse is too old or weak to pull the cart, the slaughter man decides its fate.
Looking at the antecedents, it is obvious that Peseiro did not have the right credentials to justify the conferment of the Super Eagles’ responsibility on him. He came to Nigeria just to improve his deficient CV.
He admitted in an interview with Sky Sports last month, that he missed silverware in his career as a player and as coach. But he expects to win his first-ever silverware by taking the Super Eagles to the Africa Cup of Nations in Cote d’Ivoire.
How do you expect a man who cannot get to the top of Olumo Rock in Abeokuta to climb Mount Everest?
Our expectations have reached a saturation point. No amount of planning and suggestion can improve Peseiro. It will constitute an unjustifiable drain on national resources to continue to retain him.
He has given Nigeria the worst start in a World Cup qualification in 50 years. The latest result means that for the first time ever, Nigeria has not won five World Cup qualifying matches in a row, even against a lowly-ranked team. The Super Eagles under him as become a global laughing stock.
The only team his technical knowledge is capable of overcoming is Sao Tome & Principe, one of the lowest-ranked teams in Africa.
Unlike his more successful predecessors like Father Tiko, Clemens Westerhoff, and Nigeria’s home-grown Stephen Keshi who scouted for local players and polished them to international prominence, Peseiro suffers from fixation against home-grown talents.
Before he pushes us further down the abyss, it is better we show him the red card. Without Peseiro, the Super Eagles can bounce back into the international reckoning. Let’s stop Peseiro before he destroys our precious national asset, the Super Eagles.
Nigeria Under Jose Peseiro
- 28 May 2022 Mexico 2-1 Nigeria
- 2 June 2022 Ecuador 1-0 Nigeria
- 9 June 2022 Nigeria 2-1 Sierra Leone
- 13 June 2022 Sao Tome & Principe 0-10 Nigeria
- 27 September 2022 Algeria 2-1 Nigeria
- 9 November 2022 Costa Rica 0-0 Nigeria
- 17 November 2022 Portugal 4-0 Nigeria
- 24 March 2023 Nigeria 0-1 Guinea Bissau
- 27 March 2023 Guinea Bissau 0-1 Nigeria
- 18 June 2023 Sierra Leone 2-3 Nigeria
- 10 September 2023 Nigeria 6-0 Sao Tome & Principe
- 13 October 2023 Nigeria 2-2 Saudi Arabia
- 16 October 2023 Mozambique 2-3 Nigeria
- 16 November 2023 Nigeria 1-1 Lesotho
- 19 November 2023 Zimbabwe 1-1 Nigeria