Jose Peseiro’s journey with the Super Eagles has been one of highs and lows, with the most recent devastating low coming in the Africa Cup of Nations final, leaving many to ponder whether he should continue in charge of the team, writes PETER AKINBO
Peseiro’s coaching journey in Nigeria began with a flurry of expectations. His arrival sparked widespread anxiety.
Even the country’s staunchest followers of global football hardly knew the Portuguese, who had taken over from the interim group of local coaches led by Austin Eguavoen, who in turn had succeeded the sacked German Gernot Rohr in December 2021.
For the country’s football fans, who had always craved for a top quality coach for the Eagles, one of Africa’s most successful sides, Peseiro emerged on the Nigerian scene as a virtually unknown man in football management.
His résumé included stints at clubs like Sporting CP and Porto, and fans hoped he would bring a winning mentality to the national team and to douse the speculations about his ability to perform, the Nigeria Football Federation reportedly said the Portuguese was recommended by his compatriot Jose Mourinho for the job.
However, his record with the three-time African champions has been a rollercoaster so far.
Already out of the 2022 World Cup before his arrival, the Eagles have won 12 matches, lost eight and drawn four in his time in charge.
Notably, among those victories was a 10-0 thrashing of less-fancied São Tomé and Príncipe, showcasing the team’s underlying attacking potential, which made fans wonder why he refused to apply the attacking model at the just-ended 2023 AFCON.
In the games prior to the tournament, Peseiro used a two-man strike partnership in his formations, often playing a 4-2-2-2 formation with two wide wingers, but at the AFCON, he employed a more defensive mindset, using a 5-2-2-1 formation with two wing backs and two wide-men, which reaped rewards defensively as the Eagles kept the most clean sheets — along with South Africa — at the tournament, but left star man Victor Osimhen often isolated in attack.
Despite the ups and downs, Peseiro guided Nigeria to the AFCON final in Ivory Coast where the Eagles narrowly missed out on the trophy, falling to Ivory Coast 2-1 in a hard-fought match on Sunday. Two strikes from Franck Kessie and Sebastien Haller were enough to cancel out captain and eventual tournament MVP William Troost-Ekong’s opener.
Before the tournament, Peseiro boldly declared that Nigeria would win the AFCON saying, “We have a great squad of players that really want to win this for Nigeria. I want to win the AFCON. Football brings a long of emotion, more than any sport and this is important for Nigeria.”
His unwavering belief in the team’s capabilities and his ambitious vision for success resonated with supporters who eagerly awaited a triumphant return to glory on the continental stage after an 11-year wait.
The Nigeria Football Federation also set a clear condition — victory in the tournament would secure his position. Anything short of this lofty goal would cast doubt on Peseiro’s future with the team.
Although the Eagles couldn’t dig out the gold, reaching the final was a commendable feat for a team that bookmakers never gave a chance to reach the final in the first place.
Taking to social media platform X on Monday night, Peseiro expressed his sadness at not winning the trophy.
“We are sad for not having been able to win this title for Nigeria. But we are very proud of the tournament we played.
“Guys, only we know how much we suffered and fought to have reached this final. I can’t find the words to thank everyone for what we did and achieved. I am grateful.”
But the question on the lips of the country’s football faithful has been, “should the NFF hand Peseiro a new contract as the Eagles coach after the AFCON?
Names like Emmanuel Amuneke and George Finidi are already being touted as possible choices to replace the Portuguese.
Eagles defender, Kenneth Omeruo, is one of those who blamed the 63-year-old’s defensive tactics for the final defeat.
“I think we were defending from the start of the game, and it is a long time to play defensive. One mistake and there is a goal.
“Already when you are defending from the start the team is already tired. For me, I feel bad that we did not get the trophy,” Omeruo said.
Former Super Falcons assistant coach, Mansur Abdullahi, believes Peseiro’s contract should be extended as he exceeded the expectations of many.
“My opinion on Jose Peseiro is mixed. Nobody gave this team a chance to achieve what he’s achieved so far, and it shows that there’s work in progress. In the past 10 years, this is the farthest the Super Eagles have achieved at this tournament so I think he has tried.
“He can be allowed to continue growing the team. One of the problems of the team before the competition was goalkeeping and now that is solved due to his scouting,” he said.
Ex-Eagles goalkeeper, Idah Peterside, called for the sacking of Peseiro, saying his defensive style was alien to the country.
“You know, a lot of people asked me, ‘since the coach got to the finals, what do you think?’ I said, ‘fire him!’” he said on Monday’s edition of Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily.
“Let me make it a little bit lighter for us, when we were younger, we used to shout ‘aaa, ooo’ while watching Nigeria’s game, what that sound signifies is that our football as a nation is pass-based but now, he has brought us to a defensive style.”
Sports Editor, New Telegraph, Adekunle Salami, told our correspondent that Peseiro should get the axe regardless of what he has achieved.
“Before the tournament, I said that this man should be sacked whether he wins the trophy or not, so I still think he should be sacked, especially since he didn’t win. Even if he won, he should be sacked,” Salami said.
“If me as a viewer watching can see that (Moses) Simon should have started instead of (Samuel) Chukwueze, and that Osimhen should not be left alone in attack, why can’t he see that? I think football has gone beyond that defensive brand he played and we should try someone else. I think Ammuneke should be put in charge.”
Popular comedian Bovi Ugboma echoed Peterside’s thoughts as he blamed Peseiro for Nigeria’s loss in the final.
“Blame the coach. We are a footballing nation of flare. Fluidity, through passes, dribbles, attack. Not all out defence. Even if we’d won, I would still be pissed. The style was evidently alien to the players,” he wrote on X.
Paul Ozma, however, believes the Portuguese has done a great job but asked for a change of his defensive style.
“He did a very great job, it’s not easy to get to the AFCON final. He should stay for now but he needs to change his pattern of football for real.”
John Watchful thinks Peseiro should leave, saying the gaffer’s brand of football is depressing.
“He should leave, football has evolved past his pattern of play, yesterday (Sunday) Nigeria had the superior technicality to go toe-to-toe with Ivory Coast, rather he chose to park the bus and play depressing football, there was little or no attacking intent.
“Even when Nigerians were hyped up after the win against SA, I wasn’t cus I knew we just got lucky.”
Like coach Abdullahi said, another X user with the username @Anointedkhid thinks Peseiro should stay since no one else reached the final since Stephen Keshi, when Nigeria last won the AFCON in 2013.
“He deserves to stay man, no other coach has reach this milestone since 2013.”
Emeka Bede asked for his immediate removal, stating, “Drive him to the airport immediately.”
Faced with the decision of whether to retain Peseiro as head coach, the NFF find themselves at a crossroads. On one hand, Peseiro’s ability to guide the team to the AFCON final demonstrates his potential to lead the Eagles to success.
On the other hand, questions linger about his ability to deliver when it matters most. Despite his assurances and the team’s impressive run in the tournament, the ultimate objective of lifting the AFCON trophy remains elusive and the long wait continues.