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Reviving the sleeping giants

April 23, 2008
HushBy Andrew Hush

Just over a month before the two countries meet in a match that serves as a qualifier for both the World Cup and African Cup of Nations, Nigeria and South Africa find themselves in a state of flux following upheaval in their respective coaching departments.

Shaibu Amodu
GettyImages / PhilColeShaibu Amodu during his last spell in charge of Nigeria before the 2002 World Cup

The Super Eagles have a new man at the helm, with Shaibu Amodu having been appointed to replace Berti Vogts, the German whose reign was cut short following Nigeria's dismal showing at January's Cup of Nations. By his side, Amodu will have three assistants: Daniel Amokachi, Alloy Agu and Fatai Amoo.

Bafana Bafana, meanwhile, are reeling from the resignation of Carlos Alberto Parreira, the Brazilian who led his homeland to World Cup glory in 1994. Parreira has quit to return to Brazil to care for his wife, who is suffering from cancer. His replacement has not been officially named but is rumoured to be his fellow countryman, Joel Santana.

Given that, as hosts, South Africa are already assured of a place at the next World Cup, the need to quickly settle the choppy coaching waters is arguably greater for Nigeria. With the qualifying campaign to decide who plays at both of Africa's 2010 tournaments imminent, the pressure is on Amodu to deliver instant results.

Bafana face a different kind of pressure. With many doubters still not satisfied that South Africa as a country is capable of successfully hosting an event such as the World Cup, any perception that the team representing the home nation on the field is rudderless without a head coach is one that the South African Football Association is keen to avoid.

At the start of 2007, within a month of each other, the national associations of both Nigeria and South Africa appointed high-profile, foreign coaches to lead their teams through to the next World Cup. Vogts and Parreira each signed lucrative contracts and pledged to return their new teams from the doldrums into which they had fallen, back to the top table of African football and into the minds of followers of the game outside the continent.

The turn of the century represented a golden period for both nations. Having lifted the Cup of Nations in 1994, Nigeria captured the world's attention at USA '94 and would also go on to qualify for the next two World Cups. Incidentally, it bodes well for those craving a return to those glories that, during that era of success, Amodu was in charge of the side twice, from 1996-97 and 2000-02.

A decade ago, South Africa was also a buoyant footballing nation. Following readmittance to the world game after the end of Apartheid, the Rainbow Nation rode the crest of a wave to succeed Nigeria as African champions in 1996. As defending champions, they reached the final in 1998, a year in which Bafana Bafana also made the first of two consecutive World Cup finals appearances.

Since those glory days, however, Nigeria and South Africa have endured ongoing lulls, both of which were highlighted by disappointing showings in Ghana at the 2008 Cup of Nations. Nigeria, tipped by many as pre-tournament favourites, never resembled a team worthy of those accolades and, despite their many star names, were dismissed emphatically by the host nation in a quarter-final for which they barely qualified.

Thanks in the main to Parreira's squad selection, which saw the likes of Benni McCarthy and Delron Buckley omitted, South African expectations were never as lofty and so it could be said that two draws and one defeat in their three group games were neither delightful nor depressing. Parreira's aim was to measure the depth with which he would have to work in the build-up to 2010. Of course, recent events may render this approach somewhat pointless.

And so, having seen their household name approach fail, the NFA and SAFA have gone back to their drawing boards. However, whereas there were similarities in their previous coaching appointments, it seems that the respective organizations have opted to go in differing directions with their new men.

Joel Santana
AFP / PictureJoel Santana has somewhat reluctantly swapped Flamengo for South Africa

In Amodu, Nigeria have made a conservative choice. More crucially, given his past experience in the role, they have appointed a man who understands the way the game works in the West African nation. During his contentious reign, Vogts was outspoken in his criticism of the NFA, at one point suggesting that, if he could combine the talent of his players with German infrastructure, he would have a team capable of winning the World Cup.

Not that Amodu's return is a guarantee of success. The decision to appoint him at the head of a four-man coaching team is open to question. Amodu must be strong leader, both towards his assistants and his bosses, to ensure his is the way that is followed.

A cautionary tale was told recently by Sunday Oliseh, who was also in the running to replace Vogts. Speaking in the aftermath of his talks with the NFA, the former Nigeria captain said that he asked 'to have control over team selection, training location (and) friendly organisation' only to be told 'it was obvious this would not have been possible.'

While Amodu returns to a position with which he is familiar, South Africa look set to take a chance on an unknown quantity. Santana has no experience as an international coach and has only managed club teams outside Brazil twice, with brief spells in Japan and Saudi Arabia on his CV. In a bid to smooth the transition, Parreira will remain as an advisor although, given his family situation, that role is likely to be less than hands-on.

In a further attempt to smooth the transition from one Brazilian to another, SAFA will keep incumbent assistants, Jairo Leal and Pitso Mosimane, on its coaching staff. Their knowledge will be invaluable, providing Santana can work with them and does not demand to bring his own support staff.

It is an uncertain time for South Africa fans, who may not find much comfort in quotes attributed to Santana, in which he spoke of being 'heartbroken' at leaving Flamengo. Furthermore, questions may be asked regarding his motives for taking the job following a comment from his soon-to-be former boss, vice-president, Kleber Leite, who said he understood Santana 'will earn in thirty months more than he has earned in the last thirty years.'

While Nigeria waited two months to appoint Amodu, it is not unreasonable to question whether this is a knee-jerk reaction from SAFA. As Germany showed in 2004 with Jürgen Klinsmann, appointing a coach less than two years before hosting a World Cup is a move that can be successful, provided the man in question is the right one for the job. It must be hoped that Santana has taken the job for more than the money.

Given the quality of talent at his disposal, Amodu will be expected to not only qualify Nigeria for the World Cup but to guide his team to success at the finals themselves. Meanwhile, the very fact that no host nation has ever failed to advance beyond the group stages at the world's biggest football tournament means that the pressure is on Santana to deliver too.

The need to qualify means that Nigeria's aims must be of a more short-term variety than are South Africa's but the fact is that, at present, two of Africa's powerhouses are in the midst of periods of transition that must soon be left behind.

With the countdown to 2010 well underway, both the NFA and SAFA must hope against hope they have selected the right men to rouse these two sleeping giants from their lengthy slumbers.

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