Sunday, August 28, 2016

Siasia:The long fight, frustrations, and accomplishments

Samson Siasia's recent announcement that he is quitting management of Nigerian football was a surprise to some people especially after he had incredibly taken an emotionally-beaten team to Nigeria's only medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Siasia is arguably Nigeria's most successful age-grade manager. In four national managerial stints, he has placed at the medal stage three times. That is a huge return for any coach. However, in none of those campaigns has he had it easy with the football federation. He had been frustrated every inch of the way and those frustrations have taken their toll.

In spite of the whispers about his business dealings, there is no question that Siasia is a man who fights for the welfare of his players. It is his willingness and commitment to fight for his charges, in the face of administrative oppression, that has often put him in harm's way. However, he remained unbowed in several of those occasions and his charges have often played their hearts out for him.

For those who have forgotten, we take them back to each of those four stints as manager of Nigeria's age grade teams.

2005 World Youth Cup
Siasia was appointed in May of the previous year, replacing Ganiyu Salami. Immediately, he became embroiled with the Head of the Federation's Technical Committee, Kashimawo Laloko, on several issues. This was Siasia's first appointment in Nigeria and Laloko apparently thought that he could lord it over the rookie. First, Laloko attempted to pay players less than half of their allowances but Siasia was adamant that the players receive the previously agreed sum. Then he balked at Laloko sending numerous players to his camp and some of these players had been previously decamped by the coach. Further, Laloko attempted to replace him (Siasia) with Assistant Abdul Sule after the coach left for the USA to see his family during a break. Finally, Siasia rejected Laloko's move to appoint Adegboye Onigbinde to supervise him (Siasia).

Of course, Siasia's refusal to be lorded had numerous consequences. His team had no transportation to training. He was forced to pay custodians to mow the field at the Liberty Stadium in Ibadan where his team trained. Then Secretary Ogunjobi sent him an official query over his media complaints against NFA's maltreatment of him and his team. Later, he reportedly reached a deal with Russell Suites in Abuja for the team to pay only for meals. NFA failed to pay for the meals and the team faced daily threats of eviction. By February of 2005, the NFA was owing him for 8 months! To make matters worse, Siasia seized N7 million donated to the team by the Bayelsa State government in spite of NFA's insistence that the money should be sent to the NFA. Siasia reasoned that he needed the money to camp his team and there was no guarantee that the NFA would make money available if he channeled the money to the NFA. However, he eventually released money to the NFA but only after the NFA handed over funds for the team's camping.

Yet.....Result: He won the African Youth Championship beating Egypt 2-0 in Cotonou and then lost to Lionel Messi and Argentina 1-2 at the final game of the World Youth Cup. His final record with this U20 team was 9-4-3 (Won-Drew-Lost).

2008 Beijing Olympics
A year before, Siasia was named manager. A few weeks into this stint, he led the team to reject N750 bonus for each player. He insisted that only N2500 was commensurate for a U23 team. NFA Chairman, Ismaila Lulu, publicly condemned his actions and advised him to quit if he would not support N750 for the players. Then Globacom accused him of blackmailing the company after Siasia frequently contacted them to redeem the pledge the company made to the 2005 U20 team that was never redeemed. His battles for overdue wages, late payment of allowances, and others continued.

Yet.....Results: He won second place and the silver medal at the Beijing Olympics losing 0-1 to Lionel Messi and Argentina under scorching temperature. His final record with the Olympic team was 11-6-2.

2009 World Youth Cup
Cease was named late, replacing Ladan Bosso. The African Youth Championship was already completed without Siasia and the team had only few friendlies to prepare for the World Youth Cup. Unfortunately for him there were some problem players in the squad but very little time to groom a new squad. Well, he tried some new players and there were whispers of sharp practices in camp. In any case, he had agreed to just N1 million monthly for six months, which was a major drop from the N4.25 million monthly that he reportedly received in 2005 to coach the same U20 team. He faced similar frustrations that he faced previously i.e. allowances and bonuses not being paid.

Results? Disaster. The team failed to medal and was fortunate to get to the elimination round as one of the best third placed teams at the group stage. That fortune derived from the fact that Tahiti was in Nigeria's group. His final record with the team was 3-3-4. He announced then that he was done coaching any Nigerian youth team and criticized local players for the lack of tactical intelligence.

2016 Rio Olympics
This time, he was appointed early in late 2014. However, frustrations working with the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) continued. By October 2015, Siasia was complaining about non-payment of allowances and the owing of coaches for months. At the height of the problem, the team was transported to the Olympics barely six hours to its opening game against Japan. Then the team boycotted training in Rio over nonpayment of allowances and bonuses. After a Japanese philanthropist presented checks of hundreds of thousands USD, the federation attempted to take the checks. Siasia refused and he is still owed months of salary.

Yet.....Results: The team went on to overcome Japan in the opener, won its group with a game to spare and then ended up with a bronze medal, the only medal won by the entire Nigerian contingent to the Olympics! His final record was 15-6-7 which included winning the African U23 Championship in Senegal where Nigeria beat Algeria 2-1 in the final game.