COMMENT: Jose Peseiro – Matters arising

The first reports linking the Portuguese coach to the Nigeria job surfaced on the 20th of December: it was revealed he was one of many who had applied for the role. As he was hardly the first name mooted (who can forget the bone-chilling flirtation with Serbian Mladen Krstajic?), the default response was to dismiss it out of hand. However, the former Venezuela boss has now won through, and is scheduled to take up active duty following next month’s Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cameroon.

Peseiro is a 61-year-old manager with three decades of experience managing some of the biggest clubs in Portugal.

He first made a name for himself managing CD Nacional, taking the modest club from the third tier of Portuguese football to the Primeira Liga in three seasons. After a mid-table finish in his first year in the top-flight, Peseiro left the club to join Carlos Queiroz, on whom he had made a strong impression by way of his work in Madeira, at Real Madrid.

It was ultimately a short-lived spell, as Queiroz was sacked at the height of Los Blancos’ Galactico era, but Peseiro landed on his feet, getting the big job at Sporting Lisbon.

The capital proved the scene of his biggest triumph, but also his greatest failure. With a sterling generation of talent at the club’s disposal (containing the likes of Joao Moutinho, Hugo Viana, Miguel Veloso and Liedson), Peseiro advanced all the way to the Final of the 2005 UEFA Cup, seeing off Feyenoord, AZ Alkmaar, Newcastle United and Middlesbrough en route. In the league, Sporting were also in a strong position going into the home stretch of the 2004/05 season: just a point off leaders Benfica (who they were scheduled to face still) with four matches to go.

However, despite holding an advantage going to Estadio da Luz after Benfica’s shock loss to Penafiel, Sporting failed to hold their nerve and lost to hand the initiative back to the Eagles. Ultimately, they finished four points off the top. The UEFA Cup provided another agonizing disappointment as, in front of their home fans, Peseiro’s side took a first-half lead in the final against CSKA Moscow, before capitulating in the second half to lose 3-1 to the Russians.

It would appear that the Coruche-born manager never quite recovered from this crushing double blow, both mentally and reputationally. He came to be known as a ‘nearly man’, and resigned the following season after a poor start both in the league and in Europe.

Since then, Peseiro has held a number of different roles, managing Braga twice, giants Porto, Al Ahly and Saudi Arabia, among others. His record in terms of trophies is sparse considering the profile of a lot of his jobs: a cup win with Braga in 2013, as well as an Egyptian league title with Ahly in 2015/16 (he managed the opening three months of the season, overseeing an 8-2-2 W-D-L record in the league). His average job security has also plummeted since: his longest spell in any post was his poorly-received 22-month tenure in charge of Saudi Arabia between 2009 and 2011.

According to the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Peseiro will only take charge after the Africa Cup of Nations, but will be in Cameroon in an observatory role. This has, understandably, elicited mixed reactions from fans.

From the NFF’s standpoint, the proximity to the AFCON (the tournament kicks off in ten days) makes installing a new manager right away a tricky proposition. What is clear is that they are unwilling to completely write off the Cup of Nations – a stance that makes sense considering it is the one realistic piece of silverware available to Nigeria in senior international football at the current time – and believe they stand a better chance of making a decent fist with Austin Eguavoen in charge.

They are obviously betting considerably on the erstwhile Technical Director’s more intimate knowledge of the players to tide the team over. However competent Peseiro is from a technical standpoint, a repeat of the Lars Lagerback situation from the 2010 World Cup, when the Swede ended up playing a number of players out of position due to unfamiliarity, would be most undesirable. The NFF seem to believe the quality within the team in terms of playing personnel is enough to achieve a respectable finish by itself.

From the point of view of the supporters, the sentiment is that, in sacking former coach Gernot Rohr when they did, the NFF had already chucked the AFCON anyway, and so there is no real obstacle to Peseiro taking charge right away. Expectation (as far as the tournament in Cameroon is concerned) is at an all-time low, with most looking instead to March’s World Cup qualifying playoff (against a still-to-be-determined opponent) as the major objective for the national team. If that is the case, then it makes sense to simply treat the AFCON as a semi-competitive training camp for the new manager to get his ideas across to the team, as well as a chance for him to experience managing against African opponents firsthand.

A number of obvious questions arise from the Peseiro appointment, as well as the modalities of his taking over.

The first, in light of the fact the Portuguese manager has been given a two-year contract: what happens if he fails in his very first assignment to qualify Nigeria for the World Cup in Qatar?

While it is possible that the NFF may have inserted a break clause in his contract to indemnify themselves in this eventuality, it is just as unlikely any manager would oblige to a clause that puts his job security at the mercy of a straight two-legged playoff less than three months in. (Unless, of course, there is little investment emotionally on Peseiro’s part and he is simply looking for a payday, however brief; an unpalatable possibility for Nigeria, one would imagine.)

The second question is a WASSCE-style multifaceted one, and concerns his “observer” brief at the AFCON. What precisely does that mean? Just how involved will he be in terms of training the team and influencing selections? Is he going to be an ‘eye in the sky’, sitting in the stands for a better tactical view of proceedings and passing his findings and recommendations on to the Eguavoen crew at intervals (hopefully not scribbled in an easily tearable sheet of paper)? Is he simply getting a paid vacation to Garoua on the bill of the NFF?

Here is a theory: would it be farfetched to think that Peseiro is, in fact, taking charge of everything right away, but will simply not sit on the bench on matchday, possibly as a ploy to insulate him from pressure from the watching public?

It would not be outside the realm of possibility; indeed, nothing is at this point. It is a peculiar decision the NFF have made, both in their choice and in the manner of his introduction, and as with most situations when one tries something new, it is just as apt to blow up in one’s face as it is to lead to alchemy.

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