By Oyediji Oluwaseun Babatunde
As we await the outcome of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) negotiations with Randy Waldrum on his contract extension, it is pertinent to examine the pros and cons of the extension.
NFF President, Alhaji Ibrahim Gusau exclusively told NigeriaFootball.ng that the Federation is having talks with the University of Pittsburgh coach in a bid to extend his contract with Nigeria’s senior women’s national team.
“The issue of winning at all cost with the Super Falcons. The last match we played, coach Waldrum wasn’t available because of personal reasons and his contract expired on 31st of October,” Gusau told NigeriaFootball.ng.
“We tried to play those two matches against Ethiopia. He [Waldrum] complained that he had some personal issues and challenges with his family and at that time we gave him permission.”
Gusau, however, assured that a decision will be reached if Waldrum agrees to the contract extension or the country moves on, depending on his decision.
“After that, we have been talking with some in some areas of contract extension,” he continued. “If we are able to reach an agreement with him, he will come back.
“We have started a conversation with him about renewal and will conclude the process. We are in talks with him and his lawyers to see how we can move on.
“If that virtually did not happen, then we are going to decide where we are going.”
Reasons behind the push for Waldrum’s contract extension
One will wonder why the NFF is pushing for the extension of his contract despite offensive comments and relationship ahead of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia.
Ahead of the global showpiece, the Nigerian side had finished fourth at the 2022 Women’s African Cup of Nations (WAFCON) in Morocco and lost seven straight games before recording a 1-0 win over Costa Rica to start a five-match unbeaten streak leading to the tournament.
In a group with Olympic Champions, Canada, co-hosts, Australia, and debutant, Republic of Ireland, the Super Falcons stood little chance of making it out of Group A as the lowest-ranked team on the FIFA rankings in the group.
Fast forward to the end of the World Cup, the nine-time African champions did not only progressed from the group but made it out unbeaten.
The West Africans also kept two clean sheets becoming the first African team to achieve both feats at the World Cup.
They, unfortunately bowed out of the tournament on penalties against European champions, England after a 0-0 draw in regulation time.
The achievements of the Super Falcons really wowed (surprised) fans, enthusiasts, the Federation, and the world at large.
With a record of 13 wins, 4 draws, and 14 losses in 31 games in charge of the team, the NFF President ordered the Technical Department of the Federation to activate talks with the coach in a bid to extend his contract after the tournament.
The need to maintain the wonderful momentum from the event might be responsible for the urge to extend Waldrum’s contract.
How Waldrum’s part-time role is ruining the Super Falcons’ growth
It is an open secret that Waldrum played the part-time role of the Super Falcons coach since his appointment in 2019.
As the head coach of the University of Pittsburgh, Waldrum took the University work full time, taking the job of the most successful African national team, on a part-time basis.
He only visits the country or joins up with the team whenever there is a game to be prosecuted. This has affected the growth and development of the team on a long-term basis. It is known that that the best teams in the world form the fulcrum of their national teams with players in their domestic leagues.
The Spanish women’s national team that won the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup had a crisis with 15 first-team players failing to honour invitation if former coach Jorge Vilda wasn’t sacked.
The 15 players didn’t make the World Cup squad but Spain benefited from the development of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid to invite players that won the World Cup in the team’s third appearance.
The Super Falcons ruled Africa and reached the quarter-final of the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup in the 90’s and early 2000’s with players in the Nigeria Women’s Football League (NWFL) forming the fulcrum of the team.
As the national team coach, Waldrum is expected to be based in the country, watch the league, and select the best players from the NWFL who will blend with foreign-based players to form a solid team.
Not doing this has affected the team’s growth on the long run, giving the pace of development as far as women’s football is concerned in Africa. Other countries like South Africa, Morocco, Zambia, Tanzania, and recently Burundi are gaining wave and posing threats to the team’s Indomitable form in Africa.
A coach with insight into players in the NWFL and outside the country will do a great deal in developing the game by following the Federation’s women’s football development plan. Unfortunately, with Waldrum’s new contract at Pitsburgh until 2027, the future hang on the balance for the Super Falcons.
Many lows of Waldrum as Super Falcons coach?
Top of the lows is failing to win the 2022 WAFCON in Morocco and worst still not picking any medal after a 1-0 loss to Zambia in the third-place match.
The team won three and lost three out of their six games in the tournament. Another low was the team’s run of seven matches without a win from semi-final loss to Morocco to the 1-0 defeat in the hand of Colombia at the 2023 Revelation Cup.
Added to this were of field verbal rifts with the Federation on the team’s preparation for the World Cup, players selection, and payment of allowances.
The above put the team and country in bad light leading to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Should Waldrum take credit for Nigeria’s fine Women’s World Cup form?
The form exhibited by the players at the World Cup in Australia was the product of the huge motivation from FIFA prize money plus the incredible impact of recruited Northern Irishman Kyle Quigley as assistant and fitness trainer.
But can Waldrum take the full credit for the fine form after disappointing Aisha Buhari Cup and Women’s Afcon? Let’s recall that FIFA announced individual prize money to be paid to players after the tournament depending on their placement.
Super Falcons’ Round of 16 finish meant each player was entitled to $60,000 each. The financial motivation is enough to spur any team or player to aspire to the greatest height at the global tournament.
The team’s performance can not be disconnected from the cash merry-go-round from FIFA.
Reasons why Waldrum should not stay put
The manager’s part-time role in the team which won’t help the development of the game is one of the reasons he should leave the job and focus on the University work.
Furthermore, his winning ratio of 13 wins to 14 losses isn’t fit for the calibre of nine-time African champions.
Moreso, his track record and international inexperience ahead of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup and heavy reliance on his son and veteran right-hand coach, Lauren Gregg are much to be worried about.
One of the reasons for the irresponsible verbal attack on the nation’s football leadership was because coach Gregg wasn’t listed to attend the World Cup with the team to the displeasure of Waldrum.
Bold steps Nigeria should take to build on World Cup progress
Given the progress achieved at the World Cup, it is high time the NFF appoints a qualified home-based coach within the team’s coaching confine to continue from where Waldrum stopped at the World Cup.
With a home-based coach, a spotlight will be given to players in the NWFL as well as foreign-based players.
The coach will be able to blend both and work with the age-grade teams to ensure the proper progression of players from U-17, and U-20 to the senior national team.
It doesn’t mean that the Federation shouldn’t appoint a foreign coach but the coach should be ready to live in the country as other foreign coaches in other African teams do.
A foreign coach that is to be appointed should be a top-class one with a global track record to take our team to the next level.
The likes of Reynald Pedros, Pia Sundhage, and former French women’s national team coach, Corinne Diacre come to mind among the few available world-class coaches.
A proper women’s football development plan must be drawn up and adopted by the Federation to ensure that Super Falcons reclaim their top position in Africa and compete as one of the best in the world.
However, with clear indication that Waldrum has been handed a one-year contract extension, it remains to be seen what the future holds, beginning with Olympic qualifiers against archrivals Cameroon in February.