Coaching in Nigeria is difficult, tough for the indigenous coaches, tougher for the foreigners. This is unconnected with the fact that about 80 per cent of the total population are either active or passive followers of the game and with Nigeria being the most populated black country in the world, it is safe to say that Nigerians are the highest followers of football in Africa and one of the highest in the world, no wonder some people refer to football as a ‘religion’ that cuts across other religions in Nigeria.
With this overwhelming interest comes overwhelming pressure on whoever takes up a job as a coach in Nigeria, so while there are three results in football (win, draw and lost), a typical Nigerian football fan recognizes only one – a win and anything short of that is not good enough and so the “coach should be fired.” If its difficult for indigenous coaches to keep up with this huge expectation, what shall the foreigners do?
For the second time in the history of the football club, Akwa United has hired a foreigner in the person of Rafael Everton Lira, a Brazilian to take charge of the team as the Head Coach for the 2018/2019 Nigeria Professional Football League season. Needless to ask if the club’s choice of Everton was generally accepted by the stakeholders and fans, the answer is obvious because no matter the pedigree and experience of the coach, no coach has ever and will never enjoy general acceptability by the fans.
In football the fans must always talk, that is why they are fans and this must be respected but never allowed to becloud the decision of the management or the coach.
The task before Everton, a young, ambitious and charismatic coach is enormous following the current pedigree of the club in Nigerian football today.
In the last five years, football culture in Akwa Ibom has risen to an all-time high, followership and interest triples as fans weekly throng the magnificent Godswill Akpabio International Stadium to watch the Promise Keepers and always want to get the three maximum points which makes Everton’s job even more demanding.
While he is not entirely new to football system in Nigeria following his experience with FC Ifeanyi Ubah where he won the Aiteo Cup and Abia Warriors where he finished 12th, the Brazilian is entirely new to the growing passion of a typical Akwa United football fan who believes the Promise Keepers must always keep to the promise of winning especially home matches, no thanks to the “Must Win Home Matches” syndrome of the league.
In the last two seasons, Akwa United has enjoyed one of its best times in the Nigerian elite football division, finishing fourth in the 2017 NPFL Season and capped that successful season with the Aiteo Cup.
In the outgone incomplete season, Akwa United finished second on the log with just two points separating them from the eventual winners, Lobi Stars and also crashed out in the quarter-finals of the Aiteo Cup, all thanks to the technical abilities of Coach Abdu Maikaba who pushed the Uyo-based team to another class in Nigerian football.
Now Maikaba is gone, Everton is in, will Akwa United continue with this roller coaster ride of successes or will the new coach demand some time from the fans to push for the top of the summit performance? Since 2014, the team has experience steady progression from 16th place that season to 15th in 2015, then to 14th in 2016 before leaping ten places to 4th in Maikaba’s first season in charge and then achieving its best place finish this year, 2nd on the NPFL log.
With the progression in the last five years, Coach Rafael Everton needs to tighten his belt, roll up his sleeves and put on his tactical cap to ensure that the progression is not halted.
While he’s got a very supporting club chairman in the person of Elder Paul Bassey, the buck stops with the Brazilian to make the decisions and accept the ultimate responsibility for those decisions.
One of those decisions will be signing quality players that will make his job easier devoid of sentiment, imparting his tactics on them and grooming them into a winning team capable of challenging for the top spot in the league.
Today, Akwa United has got some of the biggest names in Nigerian football league with them. Quite impressive and typical of a team that means business going into the new season, but it is good to know that Big name players come with Big Egos that must be properly managed to have Big results, anything otherwise has never left any football team in a good shape and this will probably be Everton’s biggest task; earning the respect and loyalty of the “Big Boys,” a potential Banana Pill.
Football fans are difficult to be satisfied, not even the biggest names in Europe have satisfied their fans, so criticism and questioning on team selection awaits Coach Rafael Everton, whether the team is winning or losing, the fans always have opinion on every match. Dealing with those attitudes could either endear the fans to him or become a banana pill capable of falling things apart.
Every team has a target and the coach must never lose sight of this. It must be re-echoed to the entire team time and time again and effort put to ensure that such a target is achieved, this is where the media comes in to periodically remind and measure the performance of the team in line with the club’s target, praise when the team is performing well and raise alarm if things are not going well.
While some coaches accept this critical role of the media, others usually view it as witch-hunting but media relation is key and a coach who understands this has gotten a greater part of his job done.
In all of these, while it is easy to blame the coach if things don’t go well in the team, care must also be taken on the part of the management as well as the financier of the team to ensure that everything is put in place to help the coach succeed, he is no magician, he can only work within the means and conditions provided for him. A good working relationship is needed between the management and the technical crew.
With the best stadium in Nigeria, the best set of players in the league, clean record of prompt payment of salaries, bonuses and allowances, loyal and supportive fan base, active and informative media, Coach Rafael Everton Lira putting the lines together should be able to raise a strong and committed team that will be the envy of the competition when the league commences