SportsMoney: What it is the process like when applying for a job as head coach of a team going to the World Cup?
Keenan: Applying for this type of role is not really any different from applying for any job. The most important factor is whether the coach has the credentials and experience to do the job. Having said that, things work very differently in Africa and it was important for us to have strong relationships with local contacts who were able to ensure that Lars’ CV (resume) was put in front of the decision makers. The process was in two stages: A preliminary informal interview in London in front of a small panel of five and then a second stage interview in Abuja in front of the (NFF’s) entire technical committee of 15. The second interview was for approximately one hour and took the form of an initial presentation from the coaches and then a question and answer session with the committee. The committee were keen to focus on the coaches’ knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of Nigerian football and how they would approach the role. The only contact with the other coaches was around the hotel
What tactics did Lars Lagerback deploy to win out over such a competitive field of rivals? What advantage did he get from being interviewed last by the NFF?
Lars approaches everything in a reasoned and methodical manner. Preparation is always key and we arranged for Lars to be given a copy of the recent Nigeria vs Ghana game to watch before the interview so that he could identify the strengths and weaknesses of the current squad. He also spent a considerable amount of time preparing a PowerPoint presentation setting out his coaching mantra and how he proposed to work with the Super Eagles if given the job. This presentation was widely perceived as an integral factor in his appointment. It was subsequently revealed by the committee to be far the best presentation given by any of the five coaches and highlighted the professional and structured way he would approach the job. We always think there is an advantage in being interviewed last as you remain fresh in the memory of the decision makers. This did not, though, change Lars’ approach.
How much of the negotiations concerned just the five-month World Cup engagement and how much concerned the proposed subsequent contract if he is successful in South Africa; what complications were created by the fact that the $1.7 million remuneration for the initial job is being paid for by a government task force, not the NFF?
Whiles the NFF are certainly looking for someone post-World Cup to lead Nigeria and help develop its footballing infrastructure, the deal that has been done relates purely through the end of the World Cup. If both parties agree, there will be a subsequent round of negotiations in respect of a new deal after the World Cup. We would envisage this being for around a further four years to take them to the next World Cup. We aren’t able to comment on specific figures but can confirm that the Presidential Task Force (PTF) is providing the funding for the job. The obvious complication this caused was ensuring that the negotiators on behalf of the NFF had the authority form the PTF to agree the package. It has always been Aspire’s police to ensure that negotiations only take place with the ultimate decisions makers and with the consent of the parties holding the purse strings. This then avoids any confusion or need for renegotiations.
How much contact is made with the NFF ahead of the interview and what preparations did you and your client make?
It is always important to have people on the ground in any deal you do. This applies even more so in Africa where our contacts were in regular contact with the NFF for a period of weeks before the interviews. In terms of preparation, Aspire takes pride in ensuring their clients are well prepared. This included reviewing Lars’ presentation, preparing background papers on African and specifically Nigerian football and providing access to other clients with African experience so that they could give first-hand examples of the nuances of African football. We also ensure that all logistical matters are taken care off, for example that the meeting room has the facilities to support a PowerPoint presentation.
How contractually obligated is Lars Lagerback to taking the Super Eagles to the semi-finals?
The contract included a confidentially provision, so we can not comment specifically on that. Having said that, the NFF have been very clear that they are targeting a semi-finals place in the World Cup. While this will certainly be a challenge with the talent at their disposal it is certainly achievable and something Lars is more than capable of delivering.
How are the negotiations over the support team handled?; does Lars Lagerback get to bring in his own assistants and does he have any say over those the NFF is giving him?
Lars as already appointed his assistant, Roland Andersson, also our client, and who worked closely with Lars for a number of years within the Sweden set-up. This appointment was dealt with simultaneously with the appointment of Lars and a prerequisite of him taking the position. Otherwise the staff will comprise a mix of local coaches and staff and other people Lars wants to bring in. All appointments will need to be approved by Lars and he will have the final say on all team and back-room staff matters. Lars would not agree to take a position on any other basis.
What’s the thing that most surprised you during the whole process?
We were pleasantly surprised by the openness and transparency of the process. Whilst there were coaches with a higher profile than Lars in the process, we were pleased that the NFF went for the man with the best credentials and not a man who would be initially more recognizable to the public.