Assessing Shuaibu Amodu’s Super Eagles legacy
Assessing Shuaibu Amodu’s Super Eagles legacy
The former Nigeria coach was one of the finest the country ever produced, but despite being reliable and available, he never got his due in life
There have been few coaches as deeply entwined with the Nigeria national team as Shuaibu Amodu.
Over the course of three separate spells (and a half, if one is inclined to include an interim brief in 2015), the former BCC Lions and Orlando Pirates boss became the quintessential midwife; like the Biblical Moses – delivering but never quite establishing, seeing but prevented from grasping.
The lede here is obviously the fact that, while on two occasions in the 2000s Amodu qualified Nigeria for the World Cup, he never actually led the Super Eagles to the Mundial. However, even his first stint in charge – between 1995 and 1997 – was ended in a fashion that seemed to presage what would follow: a falling out with erstwhile Sports minister Jim Nwobodo saw him replaced after two matches of the 1998 World Cup qualifying series.
That two-year tenure also kicked off a theme that defined his association with the national team, coming as it did with Nigeria in limbo internationally, unable to compete at the Africa Cup of Nations in 1996 and therefore an unattractive proposition to prospective coaches. Always on hand, ever willing to step into the breach, Amodu was, depending on who you ask, either the biggest patriot of all or the ultimate spare tire.
It was not always that way. Before stepping up to the national team, a suave Amodu made waves on home soil, winning the FA Cup five times with two clubs: BCC Lions and El Kanemi Warriors, as well as the Caf Cup Winners Cup (with the former club) in 1990. Therefore, when Clemens Westerhof stepped down from the role following the 1994 World Cup, he was a logical choice to replace the Dutchman at the helm of the national team.
Though replaced in 1997 by Frenchman Philippe Troussier, following a brief spell in South Africa with Orlando Pirates (whom he guided to the Cup final), he returned to the national team as an assistant to Jo Bonfrere in late 1999.
When the Dutchman was relieved with Nigeria in a perilous position in 2002 World Cup qualifying, Amodu stepped up to the role, instituting new discipline and masterminding three wins from three to see the Super Eagles through to the Mundial.
Perhaps carrying some wariness still from his first spell in charge, as well as the manner in which his predecessor Troussier had been dispensed with after qualifying for the World Cup in 1998, Amodu evinced paranoia when, in August 2001, he demanded clarity from the Nigeria Football Association (NFA) regarding his contract.
“People have asked me why I am bothered, but my experience in and out of the national team for seven years now has taught me to do things properly.
“The brief we were given was for us to qualify for the Nations Cup and the World Cup. There is now need for the authorities to come out clearly and let us know what’s next. Until that is ironed out, anything can happen because this is Nigeria.”
His wariness would prove remarkably prescient.
Nigeria’s preparation for the Africa Cup of Nations in Mali was typically troubled: a number of tune-up matches were scheduled and canceled, and Amodu was deeply dissatisfied with the physical conditioning of some of the players. Ahead of a preparatory friendly against Ivory Coast in Bouake, he had submitted an initial list to the FA, but being uncertain as to the fitness of certain individuals, he made it clear that list was only a placeholder.
“I had given a tentative list before, but I warned ‘Please, don’t register that list so that when I play that game (vs Ivory Coast), I could make alterations even if we would have to pay a fine (to Caf for late submission). In an attempt to dodge paying a fine, they registered the list anyway,” Amodu explained in a National Assembly debrief.
Nigeria would reach the semi-finals in Mali, losing to Senegal. The consensus though, despite a third-place finish, was that the team’s performances had been disappointing and so Amodu’s place came under threat.
His decision to side with the players in a row with the Sports Minister Ishaya Mark Aku over air ticket refunds ultimately sealed his fate. He was dismissed, the team disbanded and Fifa technical instructor Adegboye Onigbinde was drafted in just three months to the World Cup.
In spite of the disappointment, Amodu had no regrets. “I did not expect to be judged on the Nations Cup, but Nigeria is not an easy place to work in,” he said.
He also threw down the gauntlet to the incoming Onigbinde, expressing scepticism with the idea he would be able to revamp the squad in any significant way.
He was proven right: of the 23-man 2002 World Cup squad, only five were players who had never been involved before under Amodu, and only one of that number – Vincent Enyeama – was part of the Nigeria squad to the 2004 and/or 2006 Africa Nations Cups.
Even worse, there was no upgrade in terms of technical input or training methodology. “Truth is that Amodu and his team of coaches who took us to the Nations Cup were better than Onigbinde’s group,” Joseph Yobo acknowledged afterwards.
In 2008, following Berti Vogts’ expensive and short-lived spell in charge of the Super Eagles, Amodu was once more appointed to lead the team ahead of Samson Siasia and Stephen Keshi. While he had spent much of the intervening period with Port Harcourt club Sharks, guiding them to promotion from the second-tier as well as an FA Cup Final, a return to the national team in a dark moment, however, offered him a chance at some redemption.
Amid widespread pessimism, he again delivered a ticket to the World Cup, a come-from-behind 3-2 win over Kenya in Nairobi enough to edge out Tunisia at the last and book a place in South Africa.
Once more, performance at the Afcon would prove a sticking point. Despite another third-place finish, Amodu was relieved, again for the perceived dour nature of the play, and with only three months to go before the commencement of the 2010 World Cup.
For all that his teams were never able to sustain the spirit of attacking that Nigeria has come to be enamoured with, it is interesting that the decisions to sack him were never borne out by what came after. That has, looking back, lent him an almost saintly air, especially in light of the apparent injustice of those decisions.
There are also few who have a stronger body of work with the national team.
Keshi, Westerhof and Otto Gloria, certainly. Outside of these three, Amodu stands alone—few nursed the Super Eagles through as many scrapes as he did, and no one did it with as much patience and humility.
That is how he deserves to be remembered.