by Zenith Oduah
Former Nigeria captain Jay-Jay Okocha urged the country’s football authority to swiftly resolve the national team’s managerial vacancy in order to prevent further setbacks.
Daniel Amokachi has been in charge of Nigeria on a temporary basis since December following lengthy contractual talks between Stephen Keshi and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).
NFF president Amaju Pinnick announced two weeks ago that a two-year deal has been approved for Keshi to continue but a contract is yet to be signed.
We need to resolve this coaching situation quickly to prevent another troubled qualifying race for the Nations Cup
Okocha, who won the Nations Cup in 1994 and was part of the gold-medal winning team at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, believes delays in the contractual process are hampering plans for the qualification campaign for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon.
“We need to resolve this coaching situation quickly to prevent another troubled qualifying race for the Nations Cup,” Okocha told BBC Sport.
“Nigerians want to hear about the team, the plans ahead and not who should or shouldn’t be in charge of the team.
“Right now our focus should have shifted towards whoever takes charge of the team to enable us correct the ills of our previous qualifying series.
“We cannot afford to miss out on the next tournament, so we need to get the coach in to start work immediately.”
Keshi initially took charge of the team in November 2011 but his contract ran out after last year’s World Cup in Brazil, where Nigeria reached the second round stage.
During his first spell in charge, Keshi won the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations but working on a match-by-match agreement he failed to qualify for the recent Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea.
As caretaker coach he endured a turbulent 2014, in which he was sacked by the NFF and only reinstalled after intervention from Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan.
Debate has raged in the country over whether the 53-year-old, who won the Nations Cup as a player with Nigeria in 1994, should be given a new contract.
But Okocha, who is the Delta State FA boss and chairman of the NFF’s technical study group, has called for a quick end to the saga, insisting that any delays could further derail the country’s football.
“We already know our group opponents for the qualifiers but the players don’t know who is in charge, this is something we need to nip in the bud,” he said.
“I think the sooner the coaching status is finalised would be a big step in the right direction for our country’s football.
“The uncertainty and the lack of clarity about the coach is obviously really concerning and worrying for everyone, including players, the local media and fans.”
In one of the toughest-looking 2017 Nations Cup qualifying groups, coachless Nigeria will take on seven-time champions Egypt in Group F alongside Tanzania and Chad.