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SUNDAY OLISEH: My sunny side with Fortuna Sittard

By: TAIWO ALIMI


Sunday Oliseh’s success story with Fortuna Sittard in the Dutch league is a potential Hollywood classic. “I chose Fortuna Sittard out of respect for my family, not because it was the best offer that I had after leaving the Nigeria manager job,” the former Super Eagles captain said with a cheer, months after his unceremonious exit as coach of the national team.

Indeed, Fortuna Sittard was the least on the table for Oliseh. The first division club was battling relegation and on the brink of bankruptcy when Oliseh stepped in and nothing short of a miracle could have brought them out to the klieg-light after a short spell.

“Coming from relegation struggle to playoff is indeed a miracle,” recalled Sunny before explaining: “It is still a miracle considering that the club was in bad shape at the beginning of 2017, and within months we came back to winning a period title.

“After leaving Nigeria, I got offers from many clubs in Africa and Europe. With the array of offers that I received, I realized I gained much from coaching the Nigerian team. A top club from South Africa, a club from Portugal and numerous national football federations approached me, but I wasn’t interested.

“My first consideration was my family members; because family is the most important thing to me. I wanted to go to a place that would make me happy.

“Sittard is just 45 minutes by car from my home. Just over a year and a half ago, Fortuna was almost bankrupt, after years of soreness since its relegation in 2002, but I choose them because I just wanted to be close to home and be where I feel at home.”

Sittard’s resurgence came slowly but surely. Though, Oliseh wanted to rebuild the team with new players, he did not have the luxury to pay foreign players: “We even wanted new players and we were able to contact two Nigerian players. Boys who I believe would make us better and stronger. But financially, their arrival was not feasible, so we could not complete the process of signing them. No thanks to the Dutch rule that non-EU footballers must earn at least 200,000 or 400,000 euro as salary.”

Oliseh looked inward to motivate his players.

He further explained: “The fans became our motivator; they have stood by us when nothing was working and the motivation is that we must not let them and ourselves down.”

The slogan worked like magic and before long the club began to smash the records. It went without a home loss or draw in seven matches and defeated arch rival Young Ajax to climb the top of the league.



“I created a new club record as the only coach in the history of Fortuna Sittard to win six consecutive home games,” he offered.

He was named the coach of the division, and his club became the winner of the second period title to break a 23-year-old jinx. It was the first time Fortuna Sittard is winning another prize since 1995.

In this interview with TAIWO ALIMI, the former Ajax and Juventus star, speaks more on his low and high points right from his early football stage to the present. Excerpts…

Beginning

My father did not want me to play football. For him football was a taboo. He was an accountant. At that time there was no one in my area who could live off football. The only people we saw playing football were school drop-outs. Those who played football got a penalty. My father had been a goalkeeper, but he broke his hand. Then my grandfather forbade him to play football and he went to the university. He wanted me to become a lawyer, economist or accountant. On the day that I showed my first pay slip as a footballer, he was proud. “Hmmmm, not bad,” he said then. And now he watches Fortuna’s matches via the internet, in Nigeria.

Coaching as a career

I started thinking about coaching when I got to Ajax Amsterdam. Whatever I know and have done in football, I want to thank Ajax Amsterdam for it. Ajax is an institute, full of tradition. Ajax is more than a football club. There, as a player of Ajax, I decided to become a trainer. I looked around at the future and thought that is a good job, being a coach. You could see that players are being made. You look at their strengths, their potential, and you get to work as a trainer. You repeat, give advice, and pay attention to details. You make a talent better, also by masking its weaker points. I think that Ajax is one of the best clubs in the world to play. And young players get opportunities. In fact, I learnt how to shoot properly in Ajax. I did not have people around me in Nigeria who could explain that to me. You learned football in Nigeria with friends. If you had learned something new, it was war. Then the others wanted that too. We did have young coaches who gave some tips, but at Ajax I learned to shoot solidly. There were the trainers, there was the infrastructure. I kept practicing regularly after the training, with Van der Sar on target.

I also owe a lot of my qualities as a coach to my former role as a central midfielder, because then you have to be unselfish. You run for others. You defend for others. You help others to play better and score. As a coach you are also unselfish. You do not think for one player, but for everyone. The midfield requires content. I try to teach the players here that they need more content as footballers. My goal is not to train Fortuna for the rest of my life. The players are like my young brothers. I do everything to make them better and will not stop saying anything to them until they win the Ballon d’Or.

From Super Eagles to Fortuna Sittard

After leaving Nigeria, I got offers from many clubs in Africa and Europe. With the array of offers that I received, I realized I gained much from coaching the Nigerian team. A top club from South Africa, a club from Portugal and numerous national football federations approached me, but I wasn’t interested. My first consideration was for my family members because family is the most important thing to me. I wanted to go to a place that would make me happy. Sittard is just 45 minutes by car from my home.

Low point at Fortuna

Last January, we were battling relegation and at a point, we even suffered point deduction that is in the run-up to the meeting at RKC Waalwijk.

We understood that the pressure is mounting due to the fact that we are moving towards the end of the season. The coaching crew and the players were well aware of this and so we decided we have to change gear and play for the fans. We do not want to leave them in the cold, when they go on the long journey to Waalwijk.

The draw at Sporting added little inspiration but that made us to step up our game for the fans and us. Let’s give them what they deserve because of their unwavering support for us down the years.

The fans became our motivation and it made sense to play for something. It is called motivation. It is understandable. If you actually play for something, for example a place in the playoffs and you need a good result. As said, we are motivated by the support of the fans and the next two games that came towards the end of the season, we knew, we had to really play good football for the fans to secure the title and we can go on vacation with a positive feeling.

The year has been one full of ups and downs, but we have kept our promise to the fans who have remained positive through it all. It’s good to go to the fans. I think the supporters are also proud of how we have galvanized the team after the winter break.

Turnaround

Coming from relegation struggle to playoff is indeed a miracle. We wanted to win this for the fans because they have not won anything in over 20 years. But it is still a miracle considering that the club was in bad shape at the beginning of 2017, and within months we came back to winning a Period title.

Our 2-1 victory over Jong Ajax not only makes it a record of seven victories in a row, but secures us the second Period title. It was Fortuna’s first title in 23 years. It is the Lord’s doing. Only God can help wield such a miracle: From relegation struggle to Playoff in 12 months.

The turnaround for us started after the convincing 5-1 victory over Dordrecht and it went on with the 2-1 win over Almere. I created a new club record as the only coach in the history of Fortuna Sittard to win six consecutive home games.

The victories were good for the morale of the boys and it gave us the belief that we can do whatever we set our mind to do.

OLISEH IN NUMBERS

2: The number of times Oliseh won the Dutch Cup title.

3:  He was  voted Africa’s 3rd Best footballer by CAF in 1998 behind compatriot  Austin ‘Jay Jay Okocha(first runner up)  and  Moroccan  Mustapha Hadji.

15: His favourite jersey number worn in Nigeria Super Eagles, Olympic Team, Borussia Dortmund, Ajax Amsterdam, and FC Köln.

22: The number of goals he scored in his career.

31: The age he retired from professional football after playing a half season for Belgian club K.R.C. Genk.

63: The number of times he played for the Nigeria national teams.

321: Combined number of times he stared for eight European clubs including Standard Liege, Reggiana, Ajax, Juventus, Dortmnund, Genk,FC Koln and Bochum.

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