Can coach Fatai Amoo bring back the magic by changing mindsets? African football may need him to succeed.
Fatai Amoo coaches one of the most successful youth sides in world football. Their last victory, however, was in 2015. He believes that a new mindset can help his wards – and other African teams – to victory.
By Humphrey Njoku
“Failure is not a disease,” asserts Fatai Amoo, speaking from his home in Lekki, Nigeria. It’s a home that clearly speaks of success, rather than failure and Amoo is clearly not someone who is used to failure. So why embrace it?
Amoo is coach to the Golden Eaglets, Nigeria’s under-17 football team, one of the most successful youth sides in world football. The side has won the FIFA U-17 World Cup no less than five times and been runners up in three. The last time, however, was back in 2015. With increasingly sophisticated training available to other teams, Nigeria can no longer rely on raw talent. So, Amoo is asking his young wards to change their mindsets. He needs them to be ready to take risks. To do that, he wants them to change the way they feel about failure.
“Failure is a motivation for you to go further in life,” he said, pointing to it also as a means of self-motivation. Fear of failure, however, is something he needs his wards to overcome. He wants – and needs – them to make bold decisions.
When it comes to making bold decisions, there is no better role model than Amoo himself. He believes in his instincts and would rather make a bold decision in soccer and fail, than not trust in himself. It has been that way ever since he pushed himself to the limits to make it into the Nigerian national side, the Super Eagles.
Despite the burden of constant public scrutiny, Amoo remains calm and focused – and clearly, unafraid.
“I’m sincere with my work and the fear of failure does not bother me. I will use Oghenekaro Etebo as a classical example,” he said of his experience with the Stoke City player.
“When Etebo came for selection and was not finding his feet I insisted on keeping him, based on the league performance and he proved me right much later,” he said.
In many ways, Amoo’s philosophy is borne out of his own experience as a young player who had to make up for his small size on the field with some bold moves.
“Ordinarily, I should not have come to limelight when you look at where I come from… Lagos Island, playing in the streets,” he narrated.
The idea that someone could make a career out of football was a totally alien concept to him, back then.
“We trained at a tiny portion of the Obalende Police grounds, the same place Standard Bank (now First Bank) train also. When the Standard Bank players come in their Coaster, I see them coming down in their suit and tie and as a young boy, I asked, ‘these people, are they working in the bank and playing football?’ They said ‘yes’ and I said, ‘if I finished school I will like to be like that.'”
What Amoo does not mention is just how determined he was. He had seen what he wanted and he went for it. He chased down a position with the bank… and with the football team. There was simply no question that he wouldn’t succeed, although the odds were against him.
“When I’m about to be taken by Standard Bank and given my tiny weight and size, of course, I was still under 20, maybe 18, 19, the coach of the team, Vincent Ekwue surprised me with an opportunity to play.”
He didn’t let that opportunity go to waste, making it all the way to the Nigerian national team, the Super Eagles. As a Nigerian national player between 1982 and 1987, he played with some of the country’s soccer greats.
“I did not go for the 1984 African Nations Cup in Cote d’ Ivoire but was in camp up to 1983. In that squad were the likes of Henry Nwosu, late Stephen Keshi, Humphrey Edebor, Bright Omokaro, Sunday Eboigbe, Rasheed Yekini,” he remembered.
His focus on playing in Nigerian meant that he did not take up a number of football scholarships offered him in the United States and elsewhere but as an employee of First Bank, he was well able to sustain himself until he became a full-time coach, in 2000.
The impact of those early successes has not left him but instead has become part of his coaching philosophy − giving young talent an opportunity to shine by encouraging his players to be bold, to believe him themselves, to take risks.
“Of course, Odion Ighalo is another shining example,” he explained, referring to the Nigerian sensation who recently spent a season on loan to Manchester United.
“Any good talent, any good player would be spotted once you have a clean and clear mind about what you are doing. Mine is to instil discipline and confidence in such a player or players,” he said.
With more and more money going into international football and with training levels internationally now way beyond what is on offer in most African training venues, it is up to African players to build a mindset for victory, Amoo believes. He is hoping that what he is trying to do at a youth level in Nigeria will have an effect way beyond his team. First however, he will need to propel his young charges to victory.
Editing by Nest, bird’s virtual newsroom.
This work was made possible through the support of #AfricaNoFilter, a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.