Nigeria’s coach, Jose Peseiro has narrated his dream of creating a new golden generation of the Super Eagles.
If his dream at the Africa Cup of Nations in January is to be realised, Peseiro may outdo the semi-final target given him by his employers, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).
In offering him a short-term contract renewal after the earlier one lapsed, the NFF expected the Portuguese to take the Super Eagles to the semi-finals, a position they had reached in 15 of their last 19 appearances in 33 editions.
Peseiro had a lengthy interview with Sky Sports, speaking on sundry issues including the Napoli treatment of Victor Osimhen and his own coaching career.
Peseiro remarked that he knew there would be challenges when he took over the Super Eagles – national team of a football-obsessed nation of over 200 million people.
He spoke about challenges of the job. “The structure and organisation is not like in Europe.” Peseiro has agreed a reduction to his salary so that he could stay on for a tournament originally scheduled for this summer. “The players pushed me to stay because they believe we can win.”
The 63 year old coach has travelled wide, but major silverware has eluded him. This, he thinks, is the big opportunity. His Nigeria team will play in the Africa Cup of Nations in January.
“The main goal is to win the AFCON,” he says. “We will need to be at our maximum because we know that there is good opposition. There is Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Ghana and Ivory Coast. But we believe we can do it. I believe. And the players believe.”
According to the report, Peseiro is trying to build something but was forced to select a number of domestic-based players for friendlies against Mexico and Ecuador last year, a frustration as he tries to foster a sense of togetherness. Not easy when players are coming together from around the world.
“I tried to explain that if you do not come for the friendly matches we cannot improve. Never will you create that connection, not only on the pitch but off it, because the spirit is important. If you meet up more often, you can create that spirit that you need.”
Osimhen has joined up with the squad in this international window, setting the example. But he is not alone. Nigeria’s depth is a point of difference with the other nations in Africa. “It is not easy for me to choose the strikers or the wingers,” laughs Peseiro.
Nottingham Forest’s Taiwo Awoniyi and Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho are in the squad. From Serie A, there is Milan’s Samuel Chukwueze and Atalanta’s Ademola Lookman. Victor Boniface is the leading scorer at Bayer Leverkusen, top of the Bundesliga.
But it is clear who is the star.
“When Osimhen goes to Nigeria, everybody wants to touch him or speak with him or wants a picture with him,” says Peseiro. “And not just in Nigeria. Everywhere.” In qualification for AFCON, he scored 10 goals – twice as many as anyone else for any other country.
“The only reason he did not score more was because he allowed his team-mates to take two penalties. My advice would be to take them! Other players would not allow that but if someone asks him to let them take a penalty, he allows it. He is a good guy.
“He is a strong guy, a smart guy and an amazing player, defensively and offensively. He can do everything. He pressures the centre-backs, he pressures the line by running in behind. He can attack the ball in the air and on the ground. He is motivated, quick and strong.”
It is why Nigeria are dreaming of that first AFCON success in over a decade. “We can win it,” adds Peseiro. “The players know it. They come with the same energy, the same belief, to fight for the Super Eagles.” With Victor Osimhen around, anything is possible.
And there is no chance of his national team manager forgetting it.
Peseiro also narrated his career path. A former second-tier striker in his native Portugal – “I did not play at a high level” – his coaching career took a turn after promotion to the top flight with Nacional. A job offer set him on a different trajectory.
‘I called Jose Mourinho’
“I was in Brazil scouting players when my old teacher Carlos Queiroz called me. He told me he was going to Real Madrid and wanted me as his assistant.” This was 2003, the summer that David Beckham joined the garlanded group that became known as Galacticos.
“I did not decide immediately, I called Jose Mourinho because he was my friend. Remember that he had been an assistant at Barcelona. I asked him what he thought because I was already a head coach. He told me, ‘Go. Because you can learn a lot there’.”
Suddenly, Peseiro was taking sessions with Raul, Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo, with Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo. “Until then, I was afraid. Never before had I shared a dressing room with big players. But it was not difficult because they are so smart. It was fantastic.”
The experience lasted only one season. “We had 11 good players and then the others.” The experiment of blending superstars with academy prospects – and selling the unheralded Claude Makelele – became an example of why great teams beats great individuals.
Peseiro has taken those learnings into a varied career that has seen him lead Sporting to the UEFA Cup final in 2005 before working in Greece and Romania. He has been in charge at Porto and head coach of the Venezuela national team. “You have to adapt,” he says.
“The Ajax team of the 1970s are still my main reference, their mobility in attack, their control of the ball. From this, I created my model. But the game has changed a lot. Arrigo Sacchi reduced the pitch to 40 or 50 metres and it reduced the space.
“The challenge is to find that space so players can show their skills, that is what people want to see. But the modern game is a game of transition. That is what decides the best teams because it is easier to train attacking and defensive organisation than the transitions.