With a couple of days to the start of the Super Falcons’ World Cup campaign, a war of words broke out between the team’s head coach – Randy Waldrum, and his employers – the Nigeria Football Federation.
However, one official made the difference..
Fast forward to a month after, the 66-year-old gaffer has made history by taking the Nigeria Women’s national team across the border to the knockout stage with an unbeaten record and only two group stage goals conceded for the first time.
Instead of a happy new month message as July rolled in, it was audio clips excerpted from Randy’s interview on a football show tagged – The Whistle Podcast, where he revealed discrepancies between the Federation and his team’s welfare.
From being owed 14 months’ salary to being paid half of the outstanding, while citing two years owed allowances to some players, and also misappropriation of FIFA grant paid to the Federation on behalf of the team.
Expectedly, the accusations did not sit well with Randy’s employers as they responded via their spokesperson Ademola Olajire who claimed that; “The team traveled to Japan, Mexico, and Turkey to play matches,” while “Mr. Blabbermouth Waldrum” wasn’t the sponsor of those logistics, before tagging the outburst as bollocks.
The friction caused by both ‘Elephants’ in Nigeria Women’s national football trickled down to grass where the fans, compatriots, and well-wishers of the beautiful game sat and watched as hopes of any impressive performance by the team dwindled and faded like chaff.
Albeit, against all odds, Randy Waldrum and the Super Falcons went on to secure a draw against the reigning Olympic champions – Canada, in the opening fixture, beat the co-host – Australia, in the second, and shared the spoils with the Irish Ladies in the third group B game.
So much so that the Coach’s son – Ben Waldrum, posted a cryptic message on Facebook in a slight dig at the NFF.
“Congratulations, Mr. Blabbermouth Randy Waldrum, for defying the odds and making the Round of 16 in the World Cup!”
Although Nigeria has crossed the group stage twice before, in 1999 and 2019, Waldrum did what no other coach before him has managed – go unbeaten and concede only twice – the lowest goals allowed by the Super Falcons in all their previous eight World Cup appearances.
Beforehand, a hasty conversation was held by the NFF Board on Waldrum’s appointment status, and a letter to his dismissal was immediately drafted and sent to the NFF President – Ibrahim Gusau, for approval.
And in the words of the infamous cinematic Professor, “That was where Aisha Falode came in.”
The former chairperson of the Nigeria Women’s Football League, and a member of the NFF board, utilized her political will and capital to pull strings within the government to save Waldrum’s job.
According to an NFF official who pleaded anonymity while speaking to ESPN, Aisha made some pay-grade calls and appealed for the benefit of the doubt as the World Cup was just around the corner.
“She called people in government and convinced them that Randy should be given another chance. She also spoke to other board members and the NFF president and persuaded them to let him stay,” the source revealed.
As fate will have it, the team has transcended from going on a seven-game losing streak since the 2022 AWCON semis against Morocco to a six-game unbeaten run involving friendly wins over Costa Rica, Haiti, and New Zealand, plus the three World Cup group games thus far.
Waldrum has built a team with solid defensive foundations and tactical awareness, despite losing his trusted assistant – Lauren Gregg, who was kicked out unceremoniously by the NFF.
To replace Lauren came Terry Eguaoje, a US Soccer coach and instructor who was seconded to the team from the Super Eagles by the NFF after the AWCON tournament.
Another anonymous official acknowledged that while Randy Marlon Waldrum would still be let go after the World Cup, the Federation is now open to letting him run down his contract and resign, “so he can go in dignity”.