Thursday, February 26, 2015

ZOOM IN: Nigeria's Top Local Coaches…..

There is no doubt that Nigeria has produced coaches who have gone on to prove their mettle in the continent as well as the world stages. This is often forgotten because there is a tendency to dismiss their quality because of the ubiquity of foreign coaches that handle many of Africa's top national teams and, thus, are more likely to win laurels on the law of proportionality alone. However, even in the midst of this, some Nigerian coaches have risen above the fray to etch their names in the sands of history. And they are legion -- Stephen Keshi, Samson Siasia, Shuaibu Amodu, Garba Manu, and several others.

However, this article does not focus on those Nigerian coaches who have gained notoriety beyond the borders of Nigeria. The focus here is strictly on those who toil in the premier local league and the Federation Cup and have made their marks doing so. What we do here is to investigate the local coaching scene since the turn of the millennium. Clearly, this is not the easiest comparison because of several problems that surround the league and more specifically allegations that the most corrupt teams often win. The fact, however, is that while there is evidence of match-fixing, the better teams often still finish in the top half of the league.

In any case, our method for investigation compares coaches on the basis of where their team is placed at season's end in two major nationwide competitions  -- the Premier League and the Federation Cup. We allocate points based on the top three placing annually. We have chosen these placings based on the fact that the top three ordinarily signifies positioning with value of medals and qualification for international competition. While winning the League and the Federation Cups are allocated five points each, second place in the league is worth 4 and in the Federation Cup it is worth 3 points. The rational here is that while runners up in the league earns positions a team to play in a continental competition, a similar placing in the Federation Cup earns a place in a regional competition. We then allocate 3 points for third in the league and 1 for third in the Federation Cup. The table below compares coaches since the beginning of the millennium as well as the last five years.

Since the Beginning of the Millennium

We have used the year 2000 as an arbitrary marker. It is a marker that produces eight coaches who have earned at least 10 points since. Coach Okey Emordi is way ahead of the rest! His pedigree is not on winning in Nigeria but he has also won the African Coach of Year after winning the Champions League with Enyimba in 2004. The second placed Kadiri Ikhana is a well known figure in the local coaching scene. He has also won the African Champions League.

The list, however, includes coaches who had not won recently either because they have been out of favor or no longer coaching. For instance, Onyedika and Uwua are no longer coaching at the top level in Nigeria while Musa Abdullahi recently died after a long period of illness.

In order to capture a clearer sense of who is at the top of his craft in much more current term, we have also broken down the data with a focus on the last five years (since 2010). Here, Emordi remains at the very top of his craft winning two league titles with both Enyimba (2010) and Pillars (2014). However, Salisu Yusuf moves ahead of Kadiri Ikhana. It must be noted, however, that Ikhana took a brief break from coaching during the studied period. But it is clear that the likes of Salisu Yusuf now at FC Taraba, Gbenga Ogungbote at Sharks, and Paul Aigbogun at Wolves are among the new masters at the local level.

Exposure at National Team Level

The Nigerian Football Federation (NFF)  has done relatively well in introducing these successful coaches to the national team level. However, Emordi has received only one opportunity at the national team level where he coached the National Team B during the African National Championship (CHAN) qualifiers back in 2008. Since then, he has been ignored in spite of his obvious success at the local levels. Ikhana was appointed to two stints, one with the U-23 team in 2004 and the other with the Female national team. Additionally, he served for a brief period as Technical Consultant for the Niger Republic's Football Federation. He also coached in Bangladesh and Malaysia.

The younger coaches, Yusuf, Ogbungbote, and Aigbogun have not received head coach or manager appointments at the national team levels unlike the case mentioned above pertaining to Emordi and Ikhana. However, Yusuf and Ogungbote were appointed to assist Shuaibu Amodu in the 2015 Cup of African Nations qualifiers but never served before Keshi was re-appointed.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Comparing Player Pairings in Heart Of Eagles Defense

Nigeria has historically built its defense on pairings in the center of its defense. The two players in the center often have exclusive defensive roles whereas wide defenders are allowed to attack with the rest of the team when necessary. We are interested in comparing several historic pairing of players in those central defensive positions since the mid-1970s. We have chosen the mid-1970s because this was the period when Nigeria became unquestionably among Africa's top teams. Prior to that Nigeria, the country's national team had done very little to be considered among Africa's best. Thus, we believe, at least theoretically, that the pairings played for similarly strong Nigerian teams. While they were not solely responsible for defensive results obtained by the team, it is clear that they had significant roles in achieving those results.

We looked at seven such pairings that meet the criteria of at least 10 games started together. The seven selected were Christian Chukwu/Godwin Odiye, Stephen Keshi/Sunday Eboigbe, Uche Okechukwu/Taribo West, Joseph Yobo/Daniel Shittu, Joseph Yobo/Obinna Nwaneri, Yobo/Enakharire, and Kenneth Omeruo/Godfrey Oboabona. We left off pairings such as Keshi/Okechukwu and Chukwu/Bamidele because those failed to meet the criterion of at least 10 games. Importantly, games played by selected pairs were left out if one of the players failed to play at least 50% of the said game e.g. Omeruo/Oboabona v Spain at the Confederation Cup of 2013.

We then compared these pairings on various measurements including the following: Goals conceded per game, minutes played per game, shutouts per game, number of goals conceded per game categorized on 0-3 or more goals. Then several of these measures were also compared on whether the game was competitive or non-competitive.

The Results

The results are surprising. The pairing of Yobo/Nwaneri, which is widely believed to be one of Nigeria's historically poor center back pairing, provided the best statistical results not just in goals conceded per game (Table 1) but also in percentage of total games with shutouts (Table 2), in all games or in competitive games. Also notable is the low number of goals conceded per game achieved by the pair of Yobo/Enakharire (Table 1). Many may attribute these results to the coach in most of their games i.e. Shuaibu Amodu who is widely reputed as a defensive coach. Nwaneri, as most remember, was not adept at bringing the ball upfield with a pass and he as well as Shittu were focused on clearing the ball to safety. However, the fact remains that pairing of Yobo/Nwaneri was successful in achieving the defensive results. But much more telling with the general results is that Nigeria was statistically conceding a goal per game no matter the pairing considered.

On the other hand, the much hyped Keshi/Eboigbe and Chukwu/Odiye pairings produced poor or middling statistical results, at best, when tested on goals conceded per game. However, they ranked better in shutout percentage during competitive games (Table 2). The least appealing pairing was the Okechukwu/West pairing that conceded almost two goals in each outing (Total games)! They also had three games where they conceded three or more goals (Table 3). Notably, the pair suffered major losses in the build up to the 1998 World Cup and the World Cup itself. This may well have skewed their results somewhat.

The graph shows at what point goals were conceded in games. This is based on percentages of total goals conceded across six timelines, three in the opening and three in the second half (Graph). A look at the data shows that most of the pairings conceded more goals after halftime except the Keshi/Eboigbe pairing which conceded more in the opening half. The Yobo/Shittu pairing did not show any particular inclination in terms of conceding goals.