The gold medal winning feat at the Atlanta ’96 Olympic Games was good for Nigeria but what followed marked the beginning of the plunge Nigeria’s football took after the era of Clemens Westerhof.
The boys who won in Atlanta became so popular that they felt the Atlanta team (Under 23 players with three senior players) should hold sway in the Eagles. They had their way.
Phillip Troyussier had done a great job, qualifying Nigeria to the World Cup. But as it has always been with Nigerians, they mistake their passion for the game for knowledge of the game.
The sports ministry felt that Troussier was no world class coach and the Football Association, unfortunately, reasoned with them.
Troussier was disengaged and Bora Militinovic hired few months to the World Cup finals in France. His record of three World Cup appearances impressed those who hired him.
But little did they take into consideration the fact that Milutinovic did not qualify those teams to the World Cup finals. Mexico in 1986 and USA in 1994 were hosts and did not have to play qualifying matches and Costa Rica in Italia 1990 fired the coach that qualified them to the World Cup and engaged him.
And by the time he led Nigeria to France ’98 World Cup, he was appearing in his fourth World Cup without the rigours of qualifying games which would have put his competence to test.
Bora was a jolly good fellow but he was certainly overrated in terms of managerial and technical abilities.
He fell to the politics some players played and stuck to the Olympic team when some other players could have made a lot of difference. Again, moving Mutiu Adepoju to the right back position when the guy was the engine of the Nigerian midfield killed the team against Denmark who mauled Nigeria 4-1 to send us out of the tournament in the second round.
The team could not match the resilience and flair of USA ’94 squad although the 3-2 victory against Spain was a classic spectacle and it remains memorable.
France ’98 Squad.
Coach Clemens Westerhof