DR Congo won 2-0 against Nigeria in Thursday evening’s friendly to inflict a first defeat on new coach Sunday Oliseh. However, the build-up to the game was overshadowed by reports of a rift with goalkeeper and captain Vincent Enyeama, leading to retirement of the country’s record appearance holder.
Here’s some things for the new coach to consider …
Honeymoon over for Oliseh
New coaches usually enjoy a post-appointment honeymoon period with fans and media and Oliseh has been enjoying his — until now.
This week’s highly publicised spat with Enyeama, who enjoys massive fan support, has left Oliseh treading water. Reaction on social media, on radio and even on the streets of Nigeria have, for the most part, been pretty caustic.
Losing to Congo DR in a poor display that saw them ship goals from Dieumerci Mbokani and Jordan Nkololo, simply exacerbated issues for Oliseh, who will now have to ensure his team get back on track to keep the fans on side.
An immediate, if indirect fallout, was the armband farce that took place in the second half. As one Twitter user put it, the Nigerian armband was being passed around “like the Olympic torch.” That captured the situation perfectly.
On being substituted, Ahmed Musa handed the armband to John Obi Mikel, who promptly passed it to Ogenyi Onazi. When it came to Onazi’s turn to make way, he handed it to Elderson Echiejile.
In light of the current circumstances surrounding the loss of Enyeama, it painted an unflattering picture of the dressing room situation. Who is the leader? Who will step up?
Mikel steps up
On a day when the team looked dire, Mikel was the surprising shining star. Played in an advanced role, he looked very much the opposite of his lacklustre alter ego at Chelsea.
He drove the team forward, took on players, linked play and even tested the goalkeeper on occasion.
What to do with Mikel is a conundrum that many Nigerian coaches have tried and failed to find a solution to. It is a solution that Oliseh will need to find quickly.
No margin for Ikeme error
Carl Ikeme came in to the squad with expectations of being an understudy, but a combination of circumstances in light of Enyeama’s decision have thrust him into the spotlight and made him the first-choice goalkeeper.
Exhilarating as this may be, filling the huge gloves of the last occupant puts an additional burden on him. Where he may have been forgiven for the odd mistake, the circumstances of his ascent mean his margin for error has been significantly shaved.
Most of the controversy in the last few weeks has centred on Nigeria’s chase for players born in the diaspora.
The high profile decision of Jordon Ibe to pick England ahead of Nigeria has left a sour taste in many mouths.
But the case for players who choose to represent Nigeria, despite not having been born in the country, was strongly made by three of the back five. Leon Balogun, William Troost-Ekong and Ikeme all performed relatively well and have done since their debuts. Perhaps, there is some method to the madness.
Colin Udoh is the editor of KickOffNigeria.com and African football correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ColinUdoh.