Sunday Oliseh is one of the few from what is usually referred to as the Golden Generation of Nigerian football of the 1990s to have played, captain and coach the Super Eagles. The other being late Stephen Keshi and Austin Eguavoen who is currently the technical director with the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) but come April 15, Oliseh who starred for some of the best European clubs in his active days, will be the first from the storied Super Eagles class of 1994 that shook the football world by winning the African Cup of Nations en-route to the country’s historic debut at the FIFA World Cup, to put out his autobiography.
Always daring to be different, the former Koln, Ajax, Juventus and Dortmund midfielder, said his forthcoming book aptly titled Audacity to Refuse, will be the best story of the Super Eagles ever.
“Of course, nobody had taken time to document the story of the Super Eagles of our time but here is one that would put the reader through some of the things we did and how we did them,” the 46-year-old told The Nation in an exclusive conversation. “Audacity to refuse is going to be the best history of the Super Eagles; you are going to see from 1993 onward when I joined the Super Eagles and the background issues without pointing at names because that is not the essence of the book.
“How we were successful in that era and how we can go back to the top again,” affirmed the 1996 Atlanta Olympics gold medallist and a star in Nigeria’s first ever team at the FIFA World Cup at USA ’94.
Due to be released on April 15, Audacity to Refuse, according to Oliseh shares some of the germane similarities with the gripping stuff that made former US President Barack Obama’s ‘Audacity of Hope’ one of the best bestsellers ever.
In what is his frankest interview on the forthcoming book, Oliseh who managed both the Super Eagles and Dutch side Fortuna Sittard in some incredulous circumstances, gave a glimpse of what to expect in Audacity to Refuse in an enchanting conversation with Sport Editor, Morakinyo Abodunrin. Excerpts…
Between Audacity of Hope and Audacity to Refuse
I think the difference is the situation that we both (former US President Barack Obama and Oliseh) find ourselves and there are some similarities too because we are both minorities in our respective countries. For instance in my own country (Nigeria), I am a minority and my village (Abavo in Delta State) is not even on the Nigerian map; you have to look very far to see our village. So on the whole, Audacity of Hope authored by former US President Barack Obama and my Audacity to Refuse, which will be released into the market on April 15, have a lot of similarities and differences too. There were actually two titles that came to my mind but as a matter of fact, it was actually my son that helped me choose the title for this forthcoming book. I had two options, Audacity to Believe and Audacity to Refuse but my son, a grown up man now because he’s actually 24 years of age, stated right away ‘ papa, audacity to refuse is you because you don’t allow yourself to get cheated and all that.’ Of course, I was very flattered when he said so and that was how I decided to take Audacity to Refuse.
My kind of personality
First of all, it is not that I’m a very difficult person that doesn’t compromise. I wouldn’t be alive today if I didn’t compromise; I think what my son was just saying was that I refused to accept limitations; and in fact, that is what the book is totally all about. I understand when you say the African way is about making compromise and doing deals; but I also feel that you cannot do a deal to the detriment of yourself or your people. Frankly, I think there are certain things that come first, you can’t do a deal that makes you become one of God’s non-favourite children and that is how I see life anyway.
Of course, I had been in so many difficult situations whereby I had to bend my principles and this goes back from my childhood. I have been in a lot of those situations and a lot of these are in the book to be released. In fact, Audacity to Refuse is not only about football but you also get to my childhood stories in the beginning chapters which is something I have never ever discussed before with someone else. I feel that there are so many things holding us down as a people and in this particular time in our country, hopefully the book will explain what I faced and how I was able to deal with some of these situations. I feel that there are so many well-intentioned people who loved to do things but they don’t know where to start from and this is an aspect that makes the book such a compelling read. Part of our problems as a people and country is that a lot of us who passed through difficult paths to succeed never shared the experience in the form of a book for others to learn from. So in Audacity to Refuse, readers would see through some of the things I did and the formula that I used; and even learn through what I did but failed.
My leadership Inspiration
Of course, I love former US President Barack Obama; I am a big fan of him as well as late South African President Nelson Mandela. I am also a big fan of late music icon, Michael Jackson. I have always been very curious about these people and it made me read books about them and to find out what really made them such great personalities. I never knew it would be my turn to share my own experience with people in the form of a book.
Dilemma of black coaches in European football
Giving my own experience, Europe is split in the sense that we have the Western part of Europe and we have the Eastern part; and in the Western part is where we are and it’s concentrated with almost all of the wealth and everything. What I noticed is what has happened in our coaching career as blacks are no longer secrets anymore. You see a part of this on a daily basis and look at the ‘Black Lives Matter’ issue and riot that filled the whole world in summer last year. It is now apparent that for a coloured man to get anything is almost impossible. If I go into the coaching part and reflected upon what I went through with Fortuna Sittard in Holland; it was a difficult moment for me because I faced discrimination even if not from day one. Some of the complaints against me at Fortuna Sittard are mind boggling and some of the reasons that led to our separation from one another are very funny.
Complaints like I used the wrong toilet or you trained on the wrong pitch and nobody was talking about my competence rather they were coming up with some funny issues. The most painful part of it was that I never even got any support from my own people who rather than looked at all the issues dispassionately, judged me without even knowing the facts. In the first instance, I got the job when the club was dead and Fortuna Sittard at that time was a club nobody wanted; they don’t have the players; no infrastructure and no money but I took the gamble knowing what I can do. They were second to none and were about to be relegated when I took up the job; and the Turkish man (Acun Ilıcalı) that bought the club six months before I took the job was practically lost and begged me to take the job because he felt it would bring some positive attention to the club. We actually signed the contract at the airport and I told him right away that I’m not signing the contract because I wanted attention, but because I wanted to bring the club to the first division. You needed to see how he looked at me and said all that he wanted was for the team to be at least in the 13th position (general laughter). It was so difficult handling Fortuna Sittard and I can say without missing words that I faced discrimination from day one. So it’s so painful that for all the discrimination I suffered for one and half years at Fortuna Sittard, my fellow countrymen never saw through the fact that I was being discriminated against by the club which led to my separation. Nobody was saying that the club was second to relegation position when he took over the club and how come it is after he has done so well by helping the club gain promotion that they started having issues with him. Discrimination is hard to take but as Africans, we just have to continue trying hard to fight our ways; and find the formula to succeed. I found the formula to succeed as a player and now, I also have to find the formula to succeed as a coach too. I’m happy with all that I did at Fortuna Sittard and I’m happy that the team is now playing in the first division now even if nobody gives me any credit for where they are today. Being a black coach in Europe is hard and this is not only about me; ask Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and Clarence Seedorf . Anytime we see ourselves, we get talking about this discrimination as coloured coaches in Europe for hours. Of course, I shared my experience about my time at Fortuna Sittard in Audacity to Refuse.
Not being popular with Nigerian local media
Way back and up till 2001, I was the favourite of the media back home and this much explained in the book; and I also addressed the fact that in as much as I’m quick to say this is wrong, I must admit that I felt that I would have handled some of the issues better than I did. I don’t want to share much of this for now because they are all documented in the book.
Africa’s quest to win the World Cup
Nigeria should have been World Cup Champions already and without any doubt, we should have won the World Cup at USA 1994 FIFA World Cup Finals. We had it in our hands and we were far, far better than most teams. We should have been champions in 1994 but it spilled away from our hands. Coming back from the World Cup and I remember telling a German journalist that I was so sad because we should have been champions if we’d managed things better. He looked at me as a joke but what happened two years at Atlanta 1996 Olympics when Nigeria became the first African side to win the soccer gold medal was a manifestation of what would have happened in 1994 because we actually beat almost all the best teams on our way to win the gold medal in Atlanta. So I agree with the recent statement by the new CAF President Dr. Patrice Motsepe that an African team can win the World Cup in the near future but there is a lot of work to be done.
My immediate family
Audacity to Refuse, I am dedicated to my family; and for the first time, the public will get to see the picture of my kids at the end of the book. Without the three of them and that is my wife and the two children, I won’t be where I’m today.
Writing Audacity to Refuse
It took me about two years to put the book together and one thing I’m happy about is that nobody would be able to say that they’ll find strange things from the book because I’m blessed with the ability to put down my thoughts together. But the general idea and aim of the book is on how a person from nowhere can improve himself; how my country can improve itself and how football administrators can improve themselves. How were we able to be successful during our time and how the coming generations can improve and find their ways through all the difficulties to succeed. Most people are going through life by trials and errors but a lot will be helped by reading Audacity to Refuse. Of course, nobody had taken time to document the story of the Super Eagles of our time but here is one that would put the reader through some of the things we did and how we did them. Audacity to Refuse is going to be the best history of the team.
You are going to see from 1993 onward when I joined the Super Eagles and the background issues without pointing at names because that is not the essence of the book. How we were successful in that era and how we can go back to the top again.
Desire to administer Nigerian football
I have no choice than to serve my country if the opportunity is there. I can’t run away from Nigeria and even my family knows about this. My wife talks about this all the time that ‘I can’t run away from anything Nigeria and that if Nigeria calls at midnight, I’ll wake up’ and I will always be ready to help Nigeria. That is the truth because Nigeria is my home and I grew up from the streets out there. I will always help; and recently I was offered the job to be the technical director at the NFF and I gave them my conditions.