Last week’s hiring of former captain Joseph Yobo as the Super Eagles assistant coach was bound to raise some eyebrows among Nigeria’s football faithful, and it definitely did.
To start with, second-guessing the NFF at every turn appears to have become a regular pastime with critics. So it is a ‘damned if they do, damned if they don’t’ situation for Amaju Pinnick and his troops.
However, there is a different — and altogether justifiable — take to this current state of affairs: For all his professional and international playing experience, Yobo still lacks a coaching badge of any kind.
That singular deficiency has become the biggest stick with which Pinnick and the NFF are being beaten with. Hard.
It was a red flag immediately pointed out by head coach Gernot Rohr in his first reaction to the appointment, while speaking with journalist Osasu Obayiuwana.
“I have the responsibility to develop coaches from Nigeria as agreed with the NFF. I am more than happy to do that. Joseph Yobo is welcome to the team, of course.
“I have heard that he has no coaching diplomas, so I will talk to him, about this. If what I have heard is correct, I will tell Yobo that he needs to do the training required, to grow as a coach,” Rohr said.
Tucked within that diplomatic response was another issue. Rohr was not consulted prior to the appointment, and even more puzzling, a member of his staff, Imama Amapakabo, was fired and replaced without his input.
Rohr has very high regard for Amapakabo, who earned his spurs — and the appointment — when he led Enugu Rangers to a historic first title in three decades.
But his failures with the B team, beaten by Togo and Cape Verde in the WAFU Cup of Nations, and then eliminated from African Nations Championship qualifying, as well as the under 23 team’s failure to qualify for the Olympic Games, were always going to cost him dear.
Beyond the direct coaching responsibilities however, Amapakabo served another, very important purpose for Rohr. His opposition scouting skills and intelligent presentations were very highly valued by the German, both pre-game and in-game.
At the 2018 World Cup, when FIFA provided match analysis tools to all the football federations, Amapakabo was part of Nigeria’s three-man team assessing in-game tactical options and providing half time feedback.
The NFF’s decision to hook him without consulting with Rohr, and only informing the coach of a fait accompli, is a continued indication of the broken relationship between the coach and his employers, even as they prepare to renew their vows.
It can almost be seen as a flexing of muscles by the NFF, letting Rohr know exactly who is boss.
And the German, if his subdued response to the situation his anything to go by, appears content to stay away from confrontation, at least publicly.
All of these leave Yobo, a consummate professional, as the grass being trampled beneath two fighting elephants.
To his credit, the former defender has never been one to shy away from a challenge. Whenever he has found himself under pressure, or seen his abilities questioned, Yobo has battled back courageously.
Nothing illustrates this better than his latter years in the Super Eagles when many believed his best years were behind him.
Dropped to the bench behind Kenneth Omeruo and Godwin Oboabona in the build-up to the 2013 Afcon, he was only expected to be a ceremonial captain. His dream of 100 appearances for the national team ranged from bleak to zero.
But an unfortunate injury to Omeruo at the start of the tournament proved fortuitous for Yobo, who did not just step in, but stepped up. By the time the tournament ended, he had become the first player in Super Eagles football history to hit the century mark.
Soon after his retirement, he was offered a job as a pundit. Despite never having been on television before, Yobo took time to do his homework, consulted former players and people in the media, and also took time to study analysts and commentators in studio.
By the time he finished his first day in a live studio, he looked like he was born to it.
It is the same single-minded focus he plans to bring to the current task.
Yobo told ESPN: “I never go into anything without being prepared, and when I get there, I always want to make sure I give my hundred and fifty percent.
“Like I said, it is an honour to be given this responsibility and I will do everything to help the team succeed.”
Already, some of his previous coaches have been in contact since the announcement was made, and Yobo will have no shortage of resources to call upon as he interns on the job.
He may not have those coaching badges, but that might only be a question of time. For the rest, his playing experience from Belgium, France, England, and Turkey should see him through.