Oliseh: Don't expect miracles
The famous name of Sunday Oliseh has long been mentioned in connection with the Nigeria national team coaching position, and the former Super Eagles star is now in the hot seat just as the Super Eagles are about to begin their quest to not only reach - but make their mark - on the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. “For some years now, there have been offers and discussions about me taking over. It has been on the table, but it has not yet happened because the timing was off,” Oliseh told AFM.

The 40-year-old admitted that even though he finally felt ready for the job, he hesitated to accept the challenging offer. “To coach Nigeria is not the easiest job in the world and one is only as good as the players. Nigeria at the moment has a lot of potential, but we don't have a lot of confirmed players in the top clubs in the top leagues, so taking over the national team now means we have to remake the whole team and introduce a new philosophy of playing style, of culture and mentality. That is very difficult to do when you are the national team coach because you have very limited time with the players unlike when you coach a club. So that is why I was very hesitant.”

Oliseh, who played for a number of well-known clubs in Europe including UEFA Champions League winners Ajax Amsterdam, Juventus and Borussia Dortmund, said that from the moment he started negotiating with Nigerian officials he felt wanted by football fans. “When I came into Nigeria to have talks, I came out of the airport and I knew there was no going back because all the way from the airport, my countrymen where saying: 'You have to take the job, you have to take the job.' So I did.”

Famous World Cup name
Whenever the World Cup is discussed in Nigeria, Oliseh's name is one of the first to be mentioned. The midfielder scored what is arguably the side's best goal at the Mundial. His long-range wonder-goal gave the Super Eagles a 3-2 victory over Spain and saw them qualify for the knock-out stages as group winners at France 98. Oliseh will now go into his third World Cup campaign, but his first as a coach. The Super Eagles will face the winners of the first round match between Djibouti and Swaziland for a place in the group phase and Oliseh says he is confident they will take the first hurdle but that the road to Russia will be tough. “It is going to be very, very difficult, but I believe we can qualify. All we have to do is look at ourselves, try to improve our game and hopefully we will qualify.”

Oliseh has had little previous coaching experience, being in charge of a Belgian third division club. “I don't think that is a drawback though," he states. "Time will tell, but I took the job to be successful.” And he says that he is confident his players can benefit from his World Cup experience, adding: “But first we have to qualify.”

To do that, Oliseh will be looking at combining local with overseas-based players. Surprisingly the coach has publicly stated that he will consider only players who are playing in the first division for the national team – youth players being the only exception. “Our ambition is to get the best to play for Nigeria, and football is getting faster these days and it keeps getting faster and faster. The tempo is different now, and we can see in the first division of most nations that is where the tempo is.”

The coach, who has signed a three-year contract and will continue to live in Belgium but travel to Nigeria as often as is necessary, reiterated that he was embarking on a difficult path. “We are practically starting from scratch, so that is why I am saying that people should not expect miracles from us.”

Whether come 2018 Nigerian fans speak as glowingly of Sunday Oliseh the coach as the goalscorer against Spain in 1998 – only history can say. These are his expectations: “We all have dreams, and I am hoping I will be as successful as I can be. But one has to be realistic also. We have just started, and our first step is to hopefully just win the [AFCON qualifier] against Tanzania. That is what I am praying for. Game by game.”