Africa-Press – Liberia. The dismal performance, as some of us expected, of Lone Star Head Coach, Peter Butler, should provide an opportunity for deep reflection regarding future selection of the head coach of the Liberian national team, Lone Star.
It’s mind boggling and disappointing to have one of the former Liberian professional soccer players (member of one of the best teams in the annals of Liberian football) not being considered for the head coach position of the senior national team. Is there a merit system being employed by those in charge to come up with such a decision? In the first place, I have never believed and even now that Liberia needs a foreign coach for our generation of football players.
Also, Lone Star’s participation in two African Cup of Nations (AFCON) competitions was led by local coaches, namely Wilfred Lardner (South Africa, 1996), and Viva George along with Jericho Nagbe (Mali, 2002); even our proximity to qualifying for the 2002 World Cup was led by local coaches.Generally, we seek technical support externally when there’s a dearth of knowledge or expertise in areas to improve our country. However, effort to develop the national team or adopt a winning strategy for the team to be competitive and successful has been mediocre while solutions to our team’s underperformance can be found right here. Yes, RIGHT HERE IN LIBERIA!
Let’s put my advocacy for former professional players into perspective regarding solutions (right before our eyes) for our national team, specifically in consideration of the following: The former professional players brought unprecedented glory to Liberia; the former professionals played for top European teams, and later acquired coaching experience; most of the former professional players have CAF B Coaching License that allows them to function as head coaches for the different levels of the Liberian national teams (Senior team, U23, U20, U17, and U15); the former professionals are a group comprising more than 15 top-notch Liberian professional players who elevated the country’s football record during Lone Star’s heydays.
Moreover, the former professionals qualified Liberia and performed well during the Group Stage of the 2002 AFCON competition (Mali 0, Liberia 0; Algeria 2, Liberia 2; Nigeria 1, Liberia 0); the former professionals made the Liberian national team respected around the world, playing against countries like Mexico, Columbia, etc. (Mexico 5, Liberia 4; Columbia 2, Liberia 1); the former professional players almost qualified Liberia during the 2002 World Cup Qualifiers. And I could go on and on to provide more reasons why a former Liberian professional player, like his counterpart in Ghana, Senegal, Algeria or Nigeria, should be given the opportunity and supported to become head coach of the Lone Star; to make the Lone Star a formidable team as we left it. Yes! It’s doable, my fellow Liberians.
In 2015, a three-year plan was proposed by one of the former professional players and subsequently approved by the LFA after the latter realized that former professional players were integral to football development and the progress of the Liberian national team. Series of meetings were held with the LFA, and an understanding was reached; a roadmap eventually developed to achieve the LFA’s objective.
Accordingly, the former professionals were provided training to build their capacities to ultimately head different teams (levels) of the Liberian national football teams, namely U15, U17, U20, U23, and the senior team. Those who attended the capacity-building, four-week CAF B Coaching License Course in 2015 included Joe Nagbe, Salinsa Debbah, George Weah, Kelvin Sebwe, Thomas Kojo, Oliver Makor, Varmah Kpoto, Jonah Saweah, George Gebro, and Janjay Jacobs. Prior to the capacity-building initiative by the LFA, Kelvin Sebwe, Joe Nagbe, and Thomas Kojo were already in possession of CAF B Coaching License. Jonathan Boye Charles Sogbie and Dionysius Sebwe served as advisors to the group. The plan/program regarding the aforementioned teams was implemented as follows:
SENIOR NATIONAL TEAM
James Debbah, Head Coach
Kelvin Sebwe, Deputy Coach
U23 NATIONAL TEAM
Thomas Kojo, Head Coach
Janjay Jacobs, Deputy Coach
U20 NATIONAL TEAM
Christopher Wreh, Head Coach
Oliver Makor, Deputy Coach
U16 NATIONAL TEAM
Joe Nagbe, Head Coach
George Gebro, Deputy Coach
U15 NATIONAL TEAM
Jonah Saweah, Head Coach
Varmah Kpoto, Deputy Coach
This unique group is destined to produce much-desired success if given more support and patience. The plan/program crafted then was economical for the country; because they love their country, the former professionals accepted a salary as low as US$2500.00 monthly (head coach) instead of the astronomically whopping foreign coach salary of US$15,000.00 or US$20,000.00 per month. The former professionals have been willing since their retirement from active football to contribute in meaningful ways to support the growth of football in this country. They have not been fully recognized not just only for their status as former Liberian professionals (veterans indeed) but also their depth of knowledge in the game of football.
The second part of the plan developed in 2015 with the LFA included unbiased selection of Liberian professional players overseas as well as skillful local players by the former professionals. The selection of William Jerbo (professional) and Oscar Dolley (local-based) on the national team was part of this broader plan in action. And the result was evident.
Well, if a FIFA or CAF Coaching Course were held right now, these former professionals would come out with flying colors. I know that for sure, and can challenge anyone to this. Therefore, here’s the question: Why is one of these former professional players who formed part of a group that took Liberian football to another level internationally not being given the opportunity to function as head coach of the senior national team? Are these former professionals being ostracized for some reason? Or are they being driven away from a profession in which they have acquired substantial experience that promoted Liberia as a country endowed with so much talent?
Honestly, I would say it’s incomprehensible to take chances on foreign coaches that have not had significant impact on the Liberian national team while neglecting our own former professionals who are as qualified as the foreign coaches. Do your research on the former Liberian professional players, including the span of professional soccer career, teams played for, qualification of teams played for in European leagues, coaching experience, etc. You’ll certainly ask the same question: why are we not using the services of our own former Liberian professional football players? The former players are here – experienced, qualified, and tested!
Again, why are we ignoring the meaningful contribution they can bring to the national team? These are the same players that sacrificed for Liberia, risking their professional career when sometimes disagreeing with their clubs to appear for Liberia’s games? Why are we treating them this way? Other countries are using their former professional players as head coaches. Is Liberia different from them? The former professionals are role models to a generation of football players that came after them; it’s a fact that since their retirement Liberia has not brought the successes we so much yearn for. Apparently, we only want to be nostalgic about the “George Weah Eleven” group while neglecting the important role this same unique group of players can play in making our current senior national team formidable.
So, the crux of my argument is to select the head coach of the senior national team based on a merit system, and if a former professional player does not meet the criteria of the merit system, let the record be an evidence to the Liberian people; however, don’t just appoint a head coach because he/she is or may be subservient to administrators. As stated previously, Lone Star’s participation in two AFCON competitions was not only led by local coaches but also due to the excellent performance of the very same group of players that are being denied the opportunity to head the senior national team. It simply makes sense to have one of these former professional players become head coach while the rest of them, along with experienced or tested local coaches, form part of the technical staff.
Therefore, if a merit system is employed, we will certainly have the best of local coaches or the desired result. The Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) under the auspices of the Ministry of National Defense we’re all proud of today is undoubtedly a product of a merit system. It’s a success story. The management of the senior national team can also be a success story if a merit-based system is used in selecting or appointing a head coach. We just need to do the right thing for Liberians and for country. These former professionals have something to offer Liberia post retirement: downright expertise and international contacts. It’s as simple as that!