Nigeria’s first local coach goes down memory lane on 1984 AFCON
Festus Adegboye Onigbinde became the first indigenous coach to take the Super Eagles, then known as the Green Eagles, to the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) when he led the West African country to the finals in 1984 in Cote d’Ivoire.
Undoubtedly one of the greatest coaches to come out of the continent, Onigbinde, now 82, reminisces with fond memories his journey with the Eagles in 1984 where they reached the final in Cote d’Ivoire, before losing 3-1 to rivals Cameroon.
The loss to the Indomitable Lions notwithstanding, the experienced Nigerian tactician remains proud of his achievements.
“I would have love to come back from Cote d’Ivoire with the gold medal, but there was so much that happened behind the scenes right away from Nigeria. Despite that, it was a memorable occasion for me,” the teacher-turned coach states.
“Being the first Nigerian to lead the national team to the AFCON and coming second on the continent at the first attempt was a personal achievement. I did not disgrace Nigeria and that was then, our best effort at the AFCON outside Nigeria. As such, I see myself as an achiever.”
The veteran coach is a synonymous figure in Nigerian football and remains a point of reference not only in his country but the entire continent as well.
He was the fourth Nigerian coach to handle the national team after Dan Anyiam, Peter ‘Eto’ Amaechina and Carl O’Dwyer, but he ensured the hand of history rested on his shoulder when he led the team to the continental showpiece event.
Onigbinde started his coaching career in the 1960’s and was reportedly trained by then national team coach, Berti haLevi from Israel. He rose to the role of assistant when British Allan Hawks led Shooting Stars of Ibadan to Nigeria’s first club continental victory when they clinched the 1976 CAF Cup Winners’ Cup, now CAF Confederation Cup.
He stepped up to the head coach role when he took charge of the defunct Water Corporation Football Club of Ibadan and guided them to the quarter finals of the African Cup of Champion Clubs, now CAF Champions League, where they lost 5-4 on aggregate to eventual winners Hafia FC of Guinea.
With his work getting noticed from all corners of Nigeria, he took over the national team job after Brazilian Otto Gloria who guided Nigeria to their maiden AFCON title on home soil in 1980, was fired for failing to qualify for the 1982 FIFA World Cup as well as the defence of the AFCON title at the 1982 finals in Libya.
Known for his ultra-defensive style, Onigbinde in his two spells with Nigeria, had a relatively impressive records and picked up 13 wins, 17 draws and seven losses out of the 37 matches he took charge of.
But among his victories, one against eternal rivals Ghana remains the most memorable.
“In October 1983, Nigeria beat Ghana in Accra and that was the first time a Nigerian team defeated Ghana away from home. But what was impressive about my team was the fact that some of the players came from nowhere when I discovered them and gave them national team debuts,”
“Some of these players include the late African Player of the Year Rashidi Yekini, Chibuzor Ehilegu, Tarila Okorowanta, Ademola Adesina among others,” he notes.
Onigbinde is also best remembered for his formidable Shooting Stars squad that narrowly lost to Egyptian side Zamalek in the final of the 1984 African Cup of Champions Clubs.
The tactician was also called upon on short notice to guide the Super Eagles squad to the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea and Japan after the previous technical bench led by the late Shaibu Amodu was sent packing following what was considered a dismal performance at the 2002 AFCON in Mali.
His experiences working around the continent for over four decades has affirmed the belief in him that more faith should be shown on African tacticians, arguing that given time and resources, they can be successful.
“Africans are intelligent but how we use and improve upon the intelligence of African coaches should be the most important thing to the African football administrators.
“To improve the standard of the game in Nigeria and in Africa as a whole, we have to develop the instructors and coaches so that they can impact meaningfully to the upcoming players, something that will in turn improve the general playing standards,” he noted.