• Falcons thread rough road to Women’s World Cup

    Falcons thread rough road to womens world cup - nigeria newspapers online
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    Three losses at the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in Morocco, failure to finish on the podium at the tournament, five games and five losses at some point and losing the most games in a calendar year than any other Super Falcons coach, are some of Randy Waldrum’s  unenviable records in charge of the dethroned African champions.

    Last year, the Falcons came crashing down at the WAFCON, won by perennial rivals rivals South Africa, who beat the Nigerians 2-1, and failed to return home with a medal, after they were edged by a less-fancied Zambian side in the classification game at the tournament.

    Angry fans were irked as Waldrum kept his job despite calls for his sack, bearing in mind that the other coach who held the unwanted record, Kadiri Ikhana, was dismissed immediately.

    However, findings show that Waldrum has been in the hot seat and barely has a say in what goes on in his team, even though he has been the target of critical shots from the media and the country’s teeming football-crazy fans.

    It was learnt that the American has had his list tampered with on a regular basis, after submitting same to the Technical Department of the Nigeria football Federation.

    A recent example is that of Jennifer Echegini, who scored the Falcons’ second goal against the Ferns of New Zealand in April, in an emphatic 3-0 win for the dethroned African champions at the pre-Women’s World Cup friendly tournament in Antalya, Turkey.

    The 23-year-old Florida State Seminoles forward would have missed the game, but for providence.

    Originally invited by Waldrum, Echegini was removed from the coach’s original list — which was seen by our correspondent — and replaced with another player when it was submitted to the NFF’s Technical Department, without the coach’s knowledge.

    But it was learnt Echegini only got her place back after the player who replaced her failed to show up for the tournament in Turkey.

    Indeed, she arrived late in Antalya for the games against Haiti and the New Zealanders, along with Michelle Alozie the last players who completed Waldrum’s 23-woman squad, after she got the last-minute re-call for the tournament.

    But she put up a superb display at the friendly tournament all the same, finishing off co-latecomer Alozie’s sumptuous cross perfectly, to Waldrum’s admiration, and silencing those who had removed her name under questionable circumstances.

    “The good thing about that is the buildup to the goal. It was absolutely brilliant,” an elated Waldrum said. “The interplay, the cross and the finish is world-class. So, she will remember that goal for a long time, but she’s really come up in the last year since we first brought her to Canada and she just continues to get better and better, I was really happy for her because she finally found the back of the net.”

    Waldrum’s list for the friendlies in Turkey, which was seen by our correspondent, actually had Echegini (listed as Ony Echegini) in midfield, alongside Halimatu Ayinde, Ngozi Okobi, Christy Ucheibe, Toni Payne, Regina Otu and Deborah Abiodun. The list also had two goalkeepers — Chiamaka Nnadozie and Yewande Balogun.

    But the list released by the NFF excluded Echegini, while little-known 19-year-old goalie Inyene Etim was brought in.

    A Falcons camp source told , “She (Echegini) wouldn’t have made the squad, and the coach would not have been able to assess her ahead of the World Cup in July because she was initially removed from his list when it was submitted to the NFF Technical Department. She was only called up again when the player they used to replace her did not turn up.”

    Also, South Korea-based Chinaza Uchendu had her name yanked off the list for Besiktas defender Glory Ogbonna, who was on Waldrum’s alternate list, without the coach’s knowledge.

    According to our source, reason for the initial removal of Echegini — who was born in England to Nigerian parents —  by the technical department is “unknown and weird” after she put up a sterling performance on her debut against Canada April 9, 2022 and provided the assist for Esther Okoronkwo’s winner in a 1-0 win over Costa Rica at the Revelation Cup in Mexico last February.

    When contacted for comments on the issue, NFF Technical Director, Austin Eguavoen, said a member of the NFF board had also raised the issue with him, but denied knowledge of the alteration of Waldrum’s squad list.

    “I’m a coach and what I don’t want people to do to me, I won’t do that to a fellow coach. An NFF board member also spoke to me about this, but there’s no truth at all in this. You think a thing like this will happen and Waldrum will not speak out? I’m worried because I’m the face of the technical department, nobody is going to mention any other person’s name. That is why we need to dig this and find out the person doing this thing that I’m not aware of. I’ve taken enough sticks, things that I know nothing about. I will engage Waldrum on this,” Eguavoen told

    “If someone is doing something behind me, then we should know. Then we will also call Waldrum and ask him, ‘are you sure you submitted this girl’s name?’ Then he will tell us his side of the story. There’s something wrong somewhere that we need to dig out. We must find a way out of this.

    “I will ask Waldrum, if he’s the one not telling the truth we will know. I’m very sure it’s a player that is crying out, that’s why this is coming out. I have no clue about this, we have to find out where the problem is. We have to see where this is coming from, nobody is going to call any other name but Austin Eguavoen and that’s not good. I’m the head of the technical department, I’m not aware of this at all.”

    But Eguavoen admitted that he hardly saw the Falcons list last year, while away at the Nigeria Institute for Sports in Lagos.

    “Throughout last year I was in the NIS, my subordinate was working and every now and then, when the list came out, most times I didn’t see it. Ninety per cent of the time I don’t see the list; then I tell my assistant to deal with it, it’s not a problem,” the former Super Eagles captain and coach, added.

    “So, we need fo find out if somebody is truly altering Waldrum’s list, it has to stop because the coach should be responsible for his action. If it’s true he includes a player’s name and that player’s name is missing, he should also cry out. Then we can now say, ‘who altered the list?’”

    However, further findings by our correspondent revealed that it was not the first time the American gaffer had his list tampered with, despite his contract stipulating that team selection was his full responsibility.

    Creative midfielder Esther Onyenezide was removed from Waldrum’s original list and replaced with  Deborah Abiodun in controversial circumstances for last October’s 2-0 friendly defeat to Japan.

    It was also gathered that federation officials ordered the exclusion of second choice goalkeeper Tochukwu Oluehi from the squad, after she spoke out at the WAFCON in Morocco, following unpaid allowances.

    And the shot stopper reportedly got her name yanked off anytime Waldrum included her in his squad, it was learnt.

    “The coach needs her in the squad, so he keeps adding Tochukwu on his list, but each time it gets to the federation, they keep taking it off, and that’s how they stopped inviting her. They started changing his list from the very moment he took charge of the squad; they tell him to take a particular player off, and if he doesn’t, they do it themselves and replace with their own player. I can tell you, Waldrum has not been given the chance to invite all the players he actually wants in the team since he took charge. They are frustrating him.”

    An excluded member of the squad, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told how she was also dropped from a tournament, after she had been called up.

    “I was already getting set to report to camp when I saw my name was not on the list. Then I read in the media I had visa issues, so I couldn’t make the tournament! I just couldn’t believe it,” the player stated.

    An aggrieved player who was dropped from last year’s WAFCON in Morocco, where the Falcons failed to appear on the podium for only the second time ever, told how she was replaced by another player who joined the squad in Abuja on the eve of the tournament and didn’t train with them before the trip to North Africa.

    “After the medicals in camp,  I thought I was part of the team for the tournament because an official had already congratulated me and said she saw the list and that I made it. I was so happy,” the player, who features for a club in a top European league, said.

    “Then they started sharing bags for those that were going for the tournament and Randy told me me he  wanted to see me privately.

    “One player had just arrived that morning we had the medicals and despite not training with us throughout our stay in Abuja, made the list in place of my name. When I approached Randy, the way he sounded, I felt he wasn’t the one who actually wanted me dropped, but he looked helpless,” our source said.

    Beside his list of players, all is also not well between Waldrum and the assistants the federation detailed to work with him. The coach, it was learnt, told the NFF that he couldn’t work with some of them because of their little knowledge of the women’s game and inability to apply the simplest of training rules, like arranging the cones properly.

    The American’s plea, however, fell on deaf eyes.

    It was learnt that one of the assistants almost assaulted Waldrum at the WAFCON in Morocco.

    The coach allegedly flouted his superior’s directives and called his bluff during trainings and game time, a camp source told .

    Our source said, “Randy said he doesn’t want to work with this coach because he almost beat him up in Morocco. The man told the federation the coaches they gave him know nothing. If you tell them to arrange cones certain metres apart, they don’t get the measurement right and the players laugh at them.

    “So, Randy ends up doing everything by himself. The assistant he brought from the US had health issues in Morocco and could not sit on the bench.

    Waldrum

    “During our game against Morocco, Randy told the coach to make changes but he refused. And the man kept asking, ‘why are you not making these changes I’ve asked you to make?’ This was in front of the players on the bench. This coach grudgingly made the changes and after the game Randy told him, ‘listen, what you did during the game was very unprofessional. If I tell you to do something, you do it. If you have a contrary opinion, there’s a place you can bring it up.’ The assistant coach charged at Randy and had to be held back by other coaches from beating up the coach. Have you seen such insubordination? And Randy told the federation this man has showed him lack of respect, was almost beating me up and will not work with him again, but they are saying he must work with the man.”

    Waldrum’s unpaid salary has also been an issue in the media in recent times. He earns $10,000 monthly, as against $70,000 earned by his Super Eagles counterpart Jose Peseiro, but while the latter has seen a large chunk of his salaries paid by the forever cash-strapped federation, the American has not been paid for 13 months.

    “For one year you haven’t paid the man one dime. Peseiro’s salary can pay Randy for seven months. But you aren’t paying him his salary, you are changing his list and imposing technical staff on him. The man should tell you who he wants to work with,” our source added.

    However, Waldrum declined to comment on his unpaid wages and several other issues in the team.

    “Unfortunately I can’t grant interviews now,” he told our correspondent.

    It was also learnt that coach hardly had a say on who his team played when friendly games were arranged, a team official said.

    “The coach should know who his team plays, but they never involve him,” our source said. “After the team lost to Morocco at the WAFCON semi-finals and the players boycotted training for the third-place match, team spirit was low. After the WAFCON, we needed to play the big teams and teams we could also record success against to beef up confidence in the players.

    “But they didn’t consult the coach for his opinion. We played the US and Canada twice, we had no business doing that. Against Japan, half of the players didn’t join up with the squad until few hours to the game. They spent more time in the airplane than they did in Japan. The Japanese don’t play like any team in our World Cup group, so why arrange for us to play them? Waldrum has never had a say in the friendly matches his team plays.”

    With the former African champions looking to be back on track, after snapping a seven-game losing streak and then earning three straight wins against Costa Rica l(1-0), Haiti (2-1) and New Zealand (3-0) with six goals scored and one conceded, the federation must ensure the side’s off-field issues are resolved in time if they are to make an impact in a group that comprises co-hosts Australia, Ireland and Canada at the Women’s World Cup, which begins July 20.

    Two of the latest run of wins came after the squad camped for almost a week in Turkey, a stark departure from the past, when tired players battled jet lag after arriving camp few days to games.

    A relieved Waldrum is hoping to get the federation’s approval for a longer camping before the long trip to the Oceania for their ninth appearance at the women’s Mundial in Australia and New Zealand.

    “This is what we need leading into camp before the World Cup,” the American told

    “Next we will go into a training camp for a few weeks prior to heading over to Australia and that will give us a good chance to work out some of these things, the shape, the passing quality and some of our movements. But we are getting there.”

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