They say when life gives you lemons, you make lemonades. For new Nigeria coach Sunday Oliseh, it is the optimism he needs as he travels to Dar es Salaam for his first competitive game in charge of the Super Eagles.
After taking over from Stephen Keshi in July, the 40-year-old former national team captain faces a real test of his credentials against the Taifa Stars.
Though ranked 87 places below the Super Eagles, Tanzania will no doubt provide a key challenge to the former African champions, who are building again under a new manager.
Visibly concerned about his team’s performance during a warm-up game on Wednesday evening against a well-drilled Abuja Football Academy side at the National Stadium, Oliseh paced up and down the sidelines, regularly turning towards his assistant Francois Vainker muttering disappointment in French.
At half time he questioned his attacking players’ positioning, especially laying into striker Emmanuel Emenike who did not have a spectacular game despite tapping in for the team’s first goal.
Oliseh’s passion was unmistakable as he reminded the players of their game plan, whipping out the tactics board to ensure they realized the enormity of their lack of gel in a game against mainly school boys.
The former defensive midfielder heads into Saturday’s game without the team’s most experienced player, the 101-cap Vincent Enyeama, who asked to be dropped from the team due to what has emerged as the death of his mother.
n his place, Oliseh’s point man is winger Ahmed Musa, the team’s next most-capped player, who has not been known for his commanding leadership presence.
In goal would be debutant Carl Ikeme of Wolverhampton Wanderers, a physically impressive man who is making his international bow at the rather old age of 29.
Playing in front of the goalkeeper would be William Troost-Ekong, who is earning just his second Nigeria cap, and Afcon winner Kenneth Omeruo and returning full backs Kingsley Madu and Solomon Kwambe.
However, it is in midfield that Oliseh’s team would struggle to get going as Obiorah Nwankwo did not show enough dexterity in holding play for his side, a role in which the coach excelled pretty well in his day.
However, there was impressive running by Moses Simon on the left wing while Musa showed glimpses of magic but needs a lot more consistency in his play on the right.
When this writer asked the coach about his philosophy going into the game, Oliseh reiterated that in the absence of a highly talented player in the mould of Lionel Messi in his present squad, he is focusing on joint effort.
“My philosophy is based on the team being the star and not individual players being the star. We have to be able to cope if a player falls sick or gets injured or is out of form,” Oliseh said in response to Goal’s question.
“People need to be able to see that the team is doing well because every player is doing their job.
“I must confess that I’m seeing the understanding and the belief that they are beginning to enjoy working together,” he said.
With six players chosen from the Nigeria Professional Football League to travel with the side to Dar es Salaam, Oliseh is hopeful that the progress he saw in training would be able to help the team at the battle front.
As a football crazy nation expects nothing short of victory in Dar es Salaam, Oliseh attempted to dampen expectations when a journalist baited him about the number of goals he expects from his team.
“We’re building, the players are almost completely new together but I’m very optimistic. I’m not looking at just winning, but my team going out to play well and whatever the result, we’ll take it like that.
“Our objective is to qualify. If we win on Saturday we don’t qualify, we still have games to play. If we lose we’re not out, if we win our job is not done, the journey is just starting,” he said.
Oliseh will be keeping an eye on the other Group G game between Egypt and Chad in N’Djamena. The Pharaohs lead the group on goal difference.
For the new coach, time would stand still as he takes charge of his most important football game. How he makes good use of the opening act would be key to his future acceptance and success.
Oliseh’s time has started ticking.