It was an innocuous statement made in passing to a reporter, but the reverberations of that statement by Imama Amakapabo, the coach of the Nigeria U23 and CHAN Teams, will continue for a long time. The Super Eagles assistant coach told Babafemi Raji of Brila fm: “It is a difficult thing for Nigerian players; based in the country, to interpret tactics and formation: with due respect, even some of the coaches in the league don’t understand tactics and formation, so how do you give what you don’t have,”. Now, here are the implications of that statement:
The two CAF Champions League trophies won by Enyimba are lies: Kadiri Ikhana won the first ever Champions League trophy for Nigeria with Enyimba of Aba, playing arguably the best football Africa had seen in while. That Enyimba team was almost flawless: Ajibade Omolade and Obinna Nwaneri were outstanding in defence, Muri Ogunbiyi and Onyekachi Okonkwo ran things in the middle, and the forward line of Ndidi Anumunu, Emeka Nwanna, Joetex Frimpong ran riot. The only game Enyimba lost badly was the 6-1 defeat against Ismaili in Egypt at the Group Stage – the same Ismaili the Aba Elephants defeated to win the trophy. That final game in Egypt was a tactical masterpiece, planned by Ikhana, executed by the players…that was in 2003, and here is Imama in 2019, saying the ‘players and coaches are not teachable’
Then there is Gboyega Ogunbote. From Gateway football club Abeokuta, to Sunshine Stars of Akure, Shooting Stars of Ibadan and Rangers International of Enugu, where, in 2018, he ended 35 years of Cup drought for the Flying Antelopes, Ogunbote wielded his magic. But his greatest achievement was at Akure, where he took the less-fancied Sunshine Stars to back-to-back appearances in the semi-finals of CAF Club competitions: first in the Confederations Cup (2011) and the Champions League (2012). Was it the absorption of Ogunbote’s tactics by the players’, and their resilience in the face of opposition that led to these achievements, or is Imama saying there was something else at play?
The other implication concerns Imama himself. In 2015, Enugu Rangers, one of the most successful teams in Nigeria football history, were almost relegated for the first time. Following that scare, Imama, who had been identified as one of the fast-rising young coaches in the land, was appointed to help lead a revival. The Rivers State born coach did more than that, he led the Coal City team to their first Championship in over 30 years. Just like the Enyimba team that were crowned continental champions in 2003, Rangers played scintillating attacking football, and ended the season on high with a 4-0 dismantling of El Kanemi Warriors in Enugu: with that statement, Imama just rubbished the efforts of the players, and cancelled out the work he did, to get them to that Championship podium.
The statement will now bring to the fore, the (quietly) raging argument on who actually does the work that earns points and championships for teams that play in the Nigerian league: administrators, coaches or players. Administrators have often been quoted as saying to coaches, “we know what we did to ensure you won (the game, or the league)”. Imama’s statement therefore raises these questions: Does he know something we don’t? Is he agreeing that ‘the players are not teachable’ and therefore, cannot do what needs to be done tactically, to win a game?
Every teams Joe Erico coached, from Airways to Nationale, Alabi Aissien’s Bendel Insurance team of 1978, Godwin Uwua’s Lobi Stars team of 1999, all these, among many others, were teams made up of Nigerian players and coached by Nigerians: the coaches taught and the players interpreted tactics brilliantly.
Over the years, fans have witnessed many shocking things in football: star players have missed both glaring chances and penalties; great teams have lost scandalously, coaches have made horrible mistakes that have cost their teams – and all have been forgiven, people have moved on. It is here, in Nigeria, that a certain section has been demonized, and their mistakes continuously highlighted: even when those poor performances have administrative roots.
NB: It is noted that Imama said, ‘some coaches’, even that, is condescending, but the statement on players is wrong. Simple