Samson Siasia’s role in Nigerian football is legendary. He succeeded as a player and achieved a lot as a coach and manager. Siasia scored Nigeria’s goal against Argentina at the FIFA 1994 World Cup and scored 18 goals in 42 international caps since playing against Ivory Coast in January 1987.
The 50-year old coached almost all Nigerian national teams but had challenges with the football authorities. The issues ranged from inconsistent salary to not being given a free hands in the selection of players. In this interview with TheCable, he opened up on his coaching career and also spoke extensively on why he may never coach a national team again.
TheCable: What can you say about the passion Nigerians have for football?
Siasia: When it comes to football, Nigerians are very crazy. With the Super Eagles, they are even crazier. In Nigeria, we want to win but we don’t want to prepare well. It’s only when we prepare well that we will have a better chance of winning something. We are so crazy and passionate about football that when the Super Eagles are playing, everything and everywhere is being shut down.
TheCable: The World Cup is weeks away, are the expectations of football fans about the Super Eagles realistic?
Siasia: I don’t think we are that prepared to win the World Cup. We are not in that category yet; we aren’t in that place to win it. We have a very young team with some old players. I don’t think this we are going win the World Cup with this Super Eagles team. I am hoping that they will supersede what we (’94 squad) did. That will be a good thing.
TheCable: Can you, please, rate Nigeria’s chances in the World Cup?
Siasia: I think fair. Every country that has qualified for the World Cup stands the chance of winning the World Cup. But from all indications, our team is not the strongest team. The coach will have to work with the crop of players he has. It won’t be easy picking 23 at the end of it all. But he has to make sure we have a strong team that can compete well in Russia.
TheCable: Is this Super Eagles defence strong enough to face the best strikers in the World Cup?
Siasia: I think we have a good defence because without that defence, they wouldn’t have qualified. They wouldn’t have been where they are today. Though, they struggled a bit in goalkeeping but I think the defence is very solid. Troost-Ekong and Balogun, very solid defenders. Shehu Abdullahi is doing very well, a left back I think struggled a bit but I believe he is going to pick up hopefully before the World Cup. If he doesn’t, I think they will have to find a replacement. I think the defence is alright.
TheCable: How confident are you, as a former striker for the national team, that Super Eagles will be able to sort out their striking issues and actually score goals in Russia?
Siasia: I don’t think we have too much problem with the strikers. They are not bad. Odion Ighalo, Iheanacho, Moses and Moses Simon. Then Iwobi. Movement from the defence to the midfield and attack matters. You know if strikers don’t get fed with good balls, they cannot score. Ighalo is a very good finisher. It’s team work. The strikers will only be able to perform if they get passes to convert their chances.
TheCable: What do you think are the challenges that could hinder the Super Eagles from winning the World Cup?
Siasia: The challenges with Nigerian national teams is the preparation. They all come down from their various clubs, stay for about three days together before playing games. As a young team, it will be very difficult to expect so much from them. Why we did well in 1994 was because the same team that did not qualify in 1990 were still the ones that was in 1994 squad. But with this team and their clubs engagement never allowed for much bonding and time. Their last two games, how many times were they together? Maybe six days or so. So, it’s going to be very difficult for any coach to put up a very strong team in less than two years to perform extraordinarily at the World Cup or a major tournament.
I have played and coached couple of teams, the preparation is the major headache and challenge. Take for instance, the Flying Eagles just came in about two weeks ago and they have a qualification game to play next month. So, tell me, how do you expect such a team to do well? We need time to prepare. We need to start on time. That’s where the NFF is not doing a good job. They have to make some team start on time to prepare well. What they do is psyche coaches and nothing else. But if you don’t prepare well, how do you win a game? The other teams you are playing against, they’ve started preparing four years for the Olympics. So, we need to change our ways otherwise we won’t go anywhere.
TheCable: It is no secret that the NFF has been plagued by corruption and mismanagement. How has this affected the performance of the national team over the years?
Siasia: I think things are even getting worse than they used to be. Money problems. They don’t pay coaches. Allowances owed. You have players that are in camp, even when they win games, like the under 17 and the woman teams, they don’t pay them. Where do you expect them to get that motivation from? You know everything you do in life, there must be some kind of compensation or encouragement. We don’t have it. So, it’s very difficult for teams to win games without encouragement.
TheCable: The NFF says these systematic problems have been resolved; do you have faith in the federation under Amaju Pinnick?
Siasia: You see, what happened in Brazil shouldn’t happen at all. Inspite of the fact that our preparation wasn’t that good enough, we flew in the same day we were to play to Brazil and still won the game. That has never happened anywhere in the world before. They keep saying we can’t win but we can if we put our heads together; if we start on time, we do what other countries are doing; we can. Countries going for the World Cup as well as the Olympics have started preparing, we’ve not even started thinking about 2020. We cannot succeed like this. We need to prepare well. Nobody will keep a team for two years and expect other teams to come and beat them. Even God won’t allow it. Because without adequate preparation you won’t win anything. If we continue this way, we will only keep going to the World Cup to only participate and not win anything. We need to change our approach to how we prepare for tournaments.
TheCable: Can you comment on your first tenure as head coach of the Super Eagles (2010-2011); a period when Nigeria didn’t qualify for AFCON?
Siasia: When I came in as the Super Eagles coach, I never started with them. I was doing something else. I think Austin Eguavoen was the one in charge before he was sacked. And the NFF asked me to come in a month before the game or so. And whenever I don’t start with a team, that’s always the problem. I have done it twice now, I don’t think I want to do it anymore. This is not the team you started with. These are not the players you picked. Those players are there for you to work with. Every coach know the kind of players he wants. So, it’s always difficult to coach the Super Eagles because Nigerians always want you to win. I just jumped in there hoping to do a better job. I didn’t lose any game aside the one we lost in Egypt for the Nations Cup qualifier. It’s a very difficult terrain for a coach to actually succeed with the problems we are having everywhere. So, it’s tough.
TheCable: Why did you agree to take charge of the team after Sunday Oliseh left in 2016?
Siasia: They came to me; I was with the Olympic team then. I actually never wanted to go with the team after Oliseh was sacked. Late Shaibu Amodu said ‘look coach, we don’t have anybody’ and I asked him if he was not a coach to, that he could take the team as well. He told me his heart was not too good. That I needed to take that job. It wasn’t what I was prepared for. I wasn’t prepared for that job. What could I do then? I just felt I could help out from a very difficult situation. Unfortunately, it didn’t go out well. But I have gained experiences and you have to learn from that. So, from now on, I will never take any Super Eagles job if I don’t start from the beginning with the team. That has always been the problem I have.
TheCable: In spite of all you and your team went through before the last Olympic games, you won the bronze medal. What was the secret?
Siasia: Well, to start with it was a very difficult time. We had no bus. We had now accommodation. So, we had to use goal project for the screening. We can’t go to the Nigerian League because most are already old. So, we had to do this screening. We screened for almost two months, stayed here till we picked the players that we took to the camp. We didn’t even have water to drink. With my connection, I did all I could to make sure that the players were a little bit more comfortable. Thank God we qualified but it wasn’t easy. And we didn’t do bad in the Olympics either. It wasn’t easy because there was no enabling environment to succeed. So, I am hoping the NFF will do a better job by involving former players, coming into the teams. Trust me, I don’t want to go in there to coach anymore if that’s how they will continue to do things. Right now, I am looking outside. I have done it for how many years now and I think I have done a very good job. We need to change to do a better job to be successful as a team.
TheCable: Shortly after the Olympics you quit the job, saying it was because of “a disrespectful system”. What did you mean by that?
Siasia: I thought they will change to give us enabling environment as coaches. They don’t treat Nigerian coaches well at all. When I was there, they gave me a car. They took it back when I left. I don’t know what they are doing to this white man[Rohr] now. For you to succeed, you have to be given at least four years. Westerhof was here for almost five years before he got it right to have succeeded in all he did. No Nigerian coach has been in that position for two years. How do they expect us to perform if we don’t have that time to do what’s needed to be done? They keep saying we are not good. We are good enough but they don’t give the chance to build a team that can actually make Nigeria proud. That’s the truth and there’s nothing else I can say about that.
TheCable: So, what job are we going to see Samson Siasia start soon?
Siasia: I am looking outside Nigeria in coaching right now. I don’t want to coach in the Nigerian League because I don’t want to be going to matches by road. And they don’t pay you. I am working right now with some sponsors, I mean about my academy. The academy is doing very well now. My focus now is the grassroots. Working with the youth.
TheCable: We heard about Cameroon
Siasia: I have offers from other countries like Rwanda, South Africa couple of months ago, club sides, Tanzania, a lot of other countries. You know that you are as good as your last game. You will want to go to where you will succeed too. So, why not if I have the chance to go to Cameroon? It will be a blessing because they have a lot of good players.
TheCable: Does it worry you that twice you missed the opportunity to win the Olympic games gold?
Siasia: I think I have won one bronze and a silver. Maybe next one will be gold. I am not worried about it because it is not easy going to the Olympics and win a medal. I am pleased and happy about it. And hope to do better. It wasn’t a bad outing compared to how we struggled, how we got to Brazil. I don’t think the players are the problem. I think NFF should do things properly.
TheCable: What does the World Cup mean to you?
Siasia: You know the World Cup is the biggest stage and dream of every player to be part of. It’s a big platform any player can showcase their talents. Where you can go to Arsenal, Barcelona and the big clubs in the world. A lot of players moved to biggest clubs after playing at the World Cup. That’s where you have to show yourself and as a big player you cannot mess yourself up. See like Jay Jay Okocha, he went Paris St. Germain because he had a very good World Cup.
TheCable: Will you say that as a player that sweet goal that you scored against Argentina was one of the best moments in your football career?
Siasia: I think playing at the World Cup, I have written my name in the history book. I scored and you could say it’s one of the best World Cup goal. But for me playing at the World Cup itself was it for me. I have scored lots of goals but that goal against Argentina was off from the textbook and I could say it’s one of the best I have scored for Nigeria.
TheCable: For your coaching career, what moment will you say you cherish most and why?
Siasia: I’ll say the Olympics 2008 because we had a chance of winning the gold. We created a lot of chances but we couldn’t finish them. And that was my best moment as a coach because we came close to winning the gold medal. All the same I didn’t feel bad about that. I am proud of what I have done so far with all the players I have coached along the way too. I am happy with every thing so far.