Former Nigeria captain and coach, Sunday Oliseh, in this exclusive interview with Completesportsnigeria.com's JOHNNY EDWARD, speaks about his successful rescue mission – leading Dutch second division side, Fortuna Sittard out of a scary relegation trough and setting a good precedence as an African coach in an European league. He also compares his Super Eagles coaching experience with his current tasks at the Dutch Jupiler League club, and spares some thoughts on the Nigeria team's run so far under Gernot Rohr. Excerpts….
Coach what was it like taking over a second division side in Holland, Fortuna Sittard, a side battling relegation in January. Why Sittard?
I think it was a good challenge, and the owners of the club were desperate to get someone in to turn the club fortunes around with fresh ideas to help the club and the players get out of relegation. And it's not too far from my home. It's just 40 minutes drive to work. It's a great challenge, and I'm thankful to God I took that challenge.
There were lots of doubts because they didn't know what to expect, but that changed after five games when we recorded two wins two draws and a defeat. And when we went on an eight week unbeaten run those doubts faded away. So far it has been positive. It's a heavy burden because I have to perform and open more ways for others to be respected. Before now, nobody believed an African can coach an European team. That is gradually changing now with what is happening now in Sittard.
Were there other offers?
Yes there were several options, but none of them gave me that opportunity to see my family daily. Fortuna Sittard was the one with the most difficulty, but it was the best option.
You have coached the Nigerian national team and now you are a coach of a club side. What's the difference between both roles as a coach?
Well, with the national team, it's more of tactics because you select more than you coach although when I coached Nigerian I did coach more than select the players, as much as I could. At the club level you must coach, you must instill your tactics and build your team on a daily basis, not just to assemble them for a game and then they return to their base. At the club level, you have a stipulated number of players to work with. So you are limited, but at the national team level you can still reach out to other players to make solutions.
So far this season, you have recorded seven wins four defeats and five draws. Are you satisfied with this run and the performance of your team so far?
Well, the fans and the club management are all ecstatic about our feat since I took charge of the club. Even the Dutch Football Association has been impressed because prior to my arrival, Fortuna Sittard were without a win in nine games. The boys have been doing well since we came on board, and as a sign of improvement, the club has already bought over the stadium.
What's the plan for next season since you have achieved the objective of staying in the Eerste Divisie (Second Division) for next season? Will any Nigerian player be joining Fortuna Sittard next season?
We have to see how much resources we have to bring in more players and we have certain limitations because I will love to bring in some Nigerian players, but the Dutch league prohibits us from that. But we will keep 13 of the 24 players we have to get in seven new players and a goalkeeper ahead of next season.
How do you mean that the Dutch League prohibits you coach?
The rules states that if we must bring in a Nigerian player to the league, we must pay him €400,000 a year. It a rule they have stuck with to protect the Dutch league system. So we hope we can find a way around it, if I can get a Nigerian striker and a midfielder in my team with the way they express themselves and the offensive play.
Let's talk about the Super Eagles now. Since you left the post over a year ago, the team has been managed by three coaches. What do you make of their performance under the German coach Gernot Rohr?
It's a delicate issue to comment on. I'm just happy I'm hale and hearty and I'm at peace with my country men and each time I run into them they now understand what I went through coaching the team. I don't want to meddle into it anymore.
Current coach Gernot Rohr has been owed four months salary just as you were owed until you left the post. Are you still being owed by by the Nigeria Football Federation?
(Laughs). Is there anybody who has never been owed by the NFF? It's like a taxation. Like my wife says, see it as a tax you paid to your fatherland. Like I told you, I'm happy to be alive and to be laughing with you.
What do you think of Nigeria's chances of qualifying for the FIFA 2018 World Cup considering the fact that the Super Eagles will face reigning African Champions, Cameroon in August in a double header?
Nigeria will qualify no doubt about that. I will support the team.
Not fewer than six players of foreign descent have pledged their allegiance to play for Nigeria, and that number may swell further. Is this the way to go for Nigeria?
Well considering the level of exposure and experience those players may have, it could help in a way, but the mental strength is another, playing in a rather tough terrains.
Does that tell that we don't have quality players in the Nigeria Professional Football League to represent the country in the Super Eagles?
In a way it does but have they been given enough chance?
Tell us more about your scary experience of that explosion in Dortmund a week ago…
Scary ke more than scary! It gave me a feeling that such things you hear and read are real. After we had lunch in a restaurant close to the stadium, we went home. But to kill the fear, I went back the following day to watch the game, though Dortmund lost but It was scary.
But do you think they can overturn the deficit in France?
They have a chance. Marco Reus is back and one thing I have learnt in all my years in Germany is anything is possible never rule out. Reus availability will give Dortmund more offensive threat going forward, but they find it difficult not conceding goals. So they need a 2-0 win to advance. Difficult.
Your former team, the Old Lady of Italian football, Juventus travel to Camp Nou with a 3-0 advantage. What do they need to do to avoid that PSG debacle?
Defensively, they will be difficult to break down even at the Camp Nou. One thing Max Allegri did right in the first leg was to give Barca problems in attack to worry about. Playing Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain and Mario Mandzukic in attack gave the Barca defence a lot of problems and if he sticks to that same lineup and not change it like Emery did in the second leg, they could go through.
Finally, before we let you go coach, the leagues in Europe has reached its climax. The EPL title race has been blown open by Chelsea's 2-0 defeat to Manchester United which saw their lead cut short to four points by second placed Tottenham Hotspur. Can the Blues land the title despite this recent setbacks? Who will win the other big leagues?
Chelsea will win because if you look at the opposition, they have to play theoretically, they have easy games to hang in there and win though Tottenham are breathing down their neck having won seven straight games. Spurs will still face Manchester United and Arsenal. So, Chelsea still have a chance of winning it.
Victor Moses has been ever present for Chelsea this season. Has he impressed you?
Of course, as a wingback yes. He has had a great season. He has scored three goals from that position and I think he has done well for himself under Antonio Conte. It's about the first he is playing for Chelsea.
Which Nigerian player in Europe has impressed you the most?
I haven't followed Nigerian players abroad so much because of my job with Sittard, but If I must pick, that player will be Alex Iwobi. Moses too but Alex has improved immensely.
Are you bothered that big Nigerian players still in their 20s are going to China?
Not at all. In fact, I will encourage everyone of them to go.
For the money or the game?
Let's stop this joke and noise. At the end football is our job, and we need to feed our families. If you have a team to pay you a lot please go because when you stop football you are on your own.
Would you ever consider coaching the Super Eagles again or any Nigerian national team?
I've paid my dues, and I have served my country. Let me serve my family. (Laughs).