“Charity begins from home!”
“A leopard cannot change its spots.”
These were some of the reactions that inundated the Nigerian football media sphere when news came in on St Valentine’s Day that the strained affection between Sunday Oliseh and Fortuna Sittard; a second division club in the Netherlands had ended in an unfortunate manner.
There have been many names given to disengagement in football in recent years. Ranging from ‘mutual consent’ to ‘placed on gardening leave’ or ‘advised to step down’ and even sometimes in Nigerian league term, once you’re suspended for three games, you have only a 10% chance of returning.
The term used by Fortuna is clearly not the crux of this matter but how the coaching career of one of Nigeria’s brightest footballers is shaping up, reminding one of an enigmatic manager in the world’s game; Jose Mario Mourinho.
While Mourinho achieved little as a professional footballer, Oliseh was an accomplished footballer! Won the Africa Cup of Nations and the Olympics with Nigeria, played in two World Cup finals and featured for some of the greatest clubs in history; FC Ajax, Borussia Dortmund and Juventus.
Ogochukwu Oliseh was also a charismatic captain of the Super Eagles within the two years he led the team. His tears on the eve of Valentine’s Day in 2000 remain unforgettable with Nigerian fans when being presented with the Fair Play trophy of the 2000 AFCON after Nigeria had lost to Cameroon rather controversially.
His leadership style which is that of a principled, sometimes strong-willed personality transcends from his playing days to the present days of being Coach Sunday Oliseh.
These characteristics are not foreign to the ones possessed by Mourinho; the Portuguese who confidently gave himself a proud alias ‘The Special One’ at his very first press conference in England back in 2004.
Oliseh might have worked at tongue-twisting lower division clubs in Belgium but his baptism of fire as a coach would come as the head coach of Nigeria’s senior national team – notoriously one of the toughest jobs in the world.
Oliseh started work as the head coach in August 2015 and by February 2016, he resigned!
That was not what Nigeria’s Football Federation President Amaju Pinnick bargained for when he infamously called the 43-year old ‘African Guardiola’ during his unveiling as the Eagles coach.
Within that period of five months, the team’s legendary goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama had called time on his international career after a seeming disagreement with Sunday. Also, one of the team’s most influential figure, John Obi Mikel was reduced to a squad player and dropped to the bench for an important qualification game against Swaziland.
All too sudden, Oliseh was eager to stamp his authority on the team and it all came down crashing when the Super Eagles B bowed out of the 2016 African Nations Championship at the group stage.
Oliseh’s tumultuous first major work was not far away from Jose Mourinho’s who left Benfica after just three months in his first job in 2000. With the club excelling at that stage, Mourinho resigned after his demand for a new contract was rejected by the club’s President. He was in charge for just nine league matches.
One thing that cannot be questioned about the subject duo in this article is their wealth of knowledge about the Sport. This may not be unconnected to their formal education. Mourinho dropped out of a business school, opting to study Sports Science in Lisbon’s Technical University while Oliseh spent a couple of years at the Lagos State University (LASU) Ojo, studying Physical and Health Education.
While Jose’s in-depth knowledge captivated legendary coaches like Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal with whom he graduated from being a mere translator to a proper coach, Oliseh wowed many Nigerians with his punditry during the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa where he worked as a TV analyst for SuperSport.
The former Super Eagles star has also worked with the FIFA Technical Study group, a panel of respected former players and coaches which takes cursory look at players’ and teams’ performances in major competitions.
The End of the beginning
Since Mourinho had a short playing career, it was easier for him to start his coaching work earlier than Oliseh did but at 43 (Oliseh’s present age), Mourinho started having issues at Chelsea due to players recruitment and by 44, he left the club rather unexpectedly by mutual consent.
Oliseh achieved giant strides at Fortuna, where he took the reins at a very dire period in their history; flirting with relegation to the third tier of Dutch football. He masterminded a turnaround in fortune for the club as they comfortably avoided relegation. The highlight of his reign was to come the following season – the current one – where he guided the club to a run of seven consecutive victories, the seventh which won the club their first title in 23 years coming on January 13, 2018.
Just about a month later, the relationship became irreparable and both parties had to go separate ways. This followed a run of four straight losses trailed by accusations and counter-accusations between Oliseh and the board.
Oliseh’s knowledge is never in doubt. While Mourinho led Chelsea to their first title in 50 years within a year of taking over at Stamford Bridge, Oliseh led Sittard to their first in 23 years within a year.
It may not have ended the way he wanted but regardless of whatever circumstances that led to his exit, Oliseh will not be short of offers. Many clubs will be waiting to take on a manager who could change the placement of such a club with limited resources within a short period of time.
Like Mourinho, one can only either embrace or reject Oliseh’s style of management – there is no middle ground – and as long as he is capable of producing results on the pitch if given the next opportunity, it will not matter; even if his next job ends in the same rancorous fashion.
In a world where it is increasingly difficult for ‘Black’ men to get coaching jobs, Oliseh’s ability to speak many languages like Mourinho is one that can as well work for him as he can easily take up jobs in France, Germany, Italy, England and Belgium without needing interpreters.
One of the many testimonies about Mourinho from his former players is his uprightness and honesty when dealing with players and staff. This is what Oliseh has been known for since his playing days and like Jose, takes team effort to be more paramount than any individual.
In the midst of the cries for Sunday Ogochukwu Oliseh to change his principles to align to a world of mediocrity, what lies inside of him will become more apparent – soon.