‘TANA AIYEJINA writes on the performance of Jose Peseiro as Super Eagles coach, amid calls for his sack, following the team’s poor results, the latest a 1-0 defeat to minnows Guinea-Bissau on Friday
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I never thought that in my lifetime Guinea-Bissau would come to Nigeria and beat us. I feel so bad because over N300m would have been spent on that game.
“This man has been one disaster waiting to happen. Those who gave us Jose Peseiro should explain to us the criteria that was used in hiring him. $70,000 monthly salary for this coach? Common.”
The above quote from sports journalist Godwin Enakhena, immediately after the Super Eagles’ shock 1-0 defeat to 118th ranked Guinea-Bissau in a 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Abuja on Friday, summed up the frustrations of the country’s teeming football populace.
For most, the ‘embarrassing’ defeat was the last straw.
And the team’s head coach Jose Peseiro had to go.
“He should just go away,” journalist Afolabi Gambari stated. “He is clueless and not desirable of the Eagles.”
“If I were in charge of the NFF, I’ll fire Peseiro before our last qualifying game, when I know the Eagles are leading the group comfortably,” Enakhena added.
For the country’s football fans, who had always craved for a top quality coach for the Eagles, one of Africa’s most successful sides, Peseiro emerged on the Nigerian scene as a virtually unknown man in football management.
“Jose who?,” stakeholders queried after his appointment May 15, 2022.
Even the country’s staunchest followers of global football hardly knew the Portuguese, who had taken over from the interim group of local coaches led by Austin Eguavoen, who in turn had succeeded the sacked German Gernot Rohr in December 2021.
A search on Google showed the 62-year-old’s last job was with the Venezuelan national team, with whom he parted ways in 2021, after he was owed over a year’s wages.
A further look at his credentials also revealed he had managed 18 clubs, mostly modest sides, and two countries (Saudi Arabia and Venezuela), with a one-year stint as assistant coach at Real Madrid (2003/04) in 29 years.
In terms of silverware, his biggest achievements were leading Portuguese side SP Sporting to the final of the UEFA Cup in the 2004/05 season, where they lost 3-1 to CSKA Moscow and winning the Egyptian Premier League with Al Ahly in 2015/16.
He also won the Portugues League Cup with Braga in the 2012/13 season.
However, top football officials allayed fears about the ‘unknown Portuguese’, saying he was introduced to the Nigeria Football Federation by compatriot Jose Mourinho, one of the biggest managers in world football.
“If he wasn’t good, he wouldn’t have been recommended by a top coach as Mourinho,” an official told our correspondent in December 2021, when Peseiro’s name was first mooted for the Eagles job alongside Serbian Mladen Krstajic.
“We spoke to three top coaches and Peseiro, whose name has been going around, is one of the coaches and I can tell you he is a top coach,” former NFF president Amaju Pinnick, whose board employed Peseiro, told journalists in Lagos.
But Enakhena denounced the Mourinho link as a “big lie.”
“When I heard he was recommended by Mourinho, I fact-checked and it was a big lie, one of the greatest lies ever told to anybody.
“I said it from the very first day his name popped up that Peseiro should be the last person to coach Nigeria.”
But the new coach began in floundering fashion in a friendly match against Mexico in Texas.
A first Eagles goal for striker Cyriel Dessers was not enough, as an own goal by captain William Troost-Ekong and a Santiago Jimenez strike condemned Peseiro to a losing start as the national team manager, exactly two weeks after his appointment.
The squad then concluded their US tour with another 1-0 defeat to Ecuador at the 25,000-capacity Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.
However, the Eagles managed to beat Sierra Leone 2-1 in their opening 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at the bumpy and patchy Moshood Abiola National Stadium in Abuja last June.
Peseiro’s team laboured from 1-0 down against the visitors, before eventually getting the winner just before half time.
Several close followers of the team loaded with stars from Europe blamed their uncoordinated display on the poor pitch and hoped to watch the side put up world-class displays in their following games.
And the European manager did it in style in their next fixture at the Grand Stade Agadir Stadium, Morocco, defeating minnows Sao Tome and Principe 10-0, the highest goals ever scored by the Eagles in a single game, with menacing striker Victor Osimhen grabbing four of them.
The win propelled the Eagles to the top of Group A of the AFCON qualifiers with maximum six points and Peseiro was praised to high heavens for his side’s attacking display.
But that has been the height of the Portuguese’s success in charge of the Eagles.
Three further friendly losses to Algeria (2-1), Costa Rica (2-0) and
Portugal (4-0) followed.
However, Friday’s 1-0 defeat to minnows Guinea-Bissau, who are ranked 118th, in Abuja, was a pill too bitter to swallow for Nigerian fans, who had expected their team, ranked 35th, to stroll past the visitors, who were comfortably beaten 2-0 by the Eagles at the 2021 AFCON in Cameroon last year.
The defeat meant the Eagles, with six points, lost the leadership of Group A to the Bissau Guineans, who are now top with seven points.
It always looked like a time bomb waiting to explode following Peseiro’s penchant for regular invitation of benchwarmers and inactive players in European clubs.
The invitation of goalkeeper Chijioke Aniagboso, who features for second-tier Giant Brillars on the domestic scene, and hasn’t tasted league action since last year, as well as that of Flying Eagles captain Daniel Bameyi of unknown amateur side YumYum FC, also raised eyebrows.
“There are good goalkeepers in the NPFL who should have been invited other than Aniagboso,” SuperSport analyst Ralph Chidozie-George told SUNDAY PUNCH.
“Bameyi is an average player. If he was that good, he wouldn’t be playing for YumYum FC, a team that only exists in name. That team is non-existent. So, such a player with average talent doesn’t not belong to the Super Eagles.”
Meanwhile, the Portuguese gaffer left out Bendel Insurance safe hands Amas Obasogie, the best keeper in the topflight NPFL, and top scorers Chukwuemeka Obioma (Enyimba) and Imade Osarenkhoe (Insurance).
Chidozie-George also rued Peseiro’s list of invited overseas-based players.
He said, “It’s very funny that a foreign coach like Peseiro will do this kind of thing in Nigeria, something that is not done in his own country.
“Even the captain, Ahmed Musa, has no place in the Eagles. I have said it before, the list of players looks like the one done last year. It doesn’t look like a list done in 2023, a year we have Nigerian players performing optimally around the world, especially in the attack, where Musa is listed.
“What football has Aribo played in recent times to merit an invitation to the national team. Same for Onuachu, his last performance was in Belgium. So, did we invite him based on that?”
Peseiro’s tactics and the team’s uncoordinated displays in their games, bar the mauling of Sao Tome and Principe, has also come under scathing criticisms.
On Friday, creative midfielder Alex Iwobi was played in a deeper role with Wilfred Ndidi, which ensured the attack lacked the needed supply.
Osimhen, on several occasions, found himself roaming around, and was often caught offside, when he managed to get the ball.
Central defenders Kevin Akpoguma and Calvin Bassey, the duo playing together in that position for the first time, were in no man’s land when Guinea-Bissau’s Mama Samba Balde swept past them for the gut-wrenching 26th minute winner that irked the entire populace.
Take an opinion poll of Nigerian fans and the majority will tell you that was the moment their tide of support shifted from under Peseiro’s feet.
Calls for Peseiro’s sack are justified after the team’s latest disastrous outing, which ended their two-game unbeaten run in the AFCON qualifiers and taking the coach’s defeats to five in seven games.
The entire nation was left shell-shocked; it was also the first time in 42 years that the Eagles lost four matches in a row.
The constant struggle in every game, including perceived lower opposition like Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau, and the laboured performances, also vexed Nigerians.
And in the end, this could cost Peseiro his job.
“You can’t win all the time, but when you see a quality coach, you’ll know,” Enakhena stated.
But the coach is adamant and doesn’t believe he’ll be sacked after another lethargic display by his side.
“I don’t understand, why will I be sacked? This is just a qualification match and we are still in the position to qualify for the AFCON.
“In football, today you lose, the next game you win. This is one match and any team can lose,” he said.
But he’ll do well to learn a few football tips from his opposite number, Baciro Cande, on inviting the right players on present form and not on past glory.
“We respect all the Nigerian players, but big names don’t play football on the pitch,” the Guinea-Bissau coach said at the post-match press conference.
Sacking Peseiro or allowing him to run down his one-year contract, which ends May 15, is a huge decision the NFF would have to take soon.
NFF boss Ibrahim Gusau and his board members now find themselves in a go big or go home situation.
No doubt, the knives will be out again on Monday, if Peseiro’s men put up another insipid display in the reverse fixture in Bissau.
Nigerians are tired of nail-biting last minute permutations to decide qualification for competitions. At least not in a group that has Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and Sao Tome and Principe.