Nigeria's Sunday Oliseh will forever be associated with one thunderous moment in the history of the game. He must have been asked about it a thousand times, but he laughs as he recalls that June afternoon in Nantes, when he cannoned the ball past Spain goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta for one of the most explosive highlights of the 1998 FIFA World Cup™. Despite a successful career, he knows that goal gave him global renown. Now living with his family in the Belgian Ardennes, where he coaches modest local side RCS Verviers, Oliseh is enjoying life too much to feign indignation whenever the topic comes up.
An Olympic gold medallist in 1996 and a hero of the Super Eagles' 1998 FIFA World Cup bid courtesy of that fearsome strike against Spain, the athletic holding midfielder belonged to a golden generation of Nigerian talent that also featured Jay-Jay Okocha and Daniel Amokachi. FIFA.com met up with him to cast a glance back over his playing days.
"I'm lucky enough to have had several great years," he says right from the start. "I can't complain and I thank the good Lord." As a preface to his thoughts on being a professional footballer, it is an overwhelmingly positive statement and a perfect reflection of a man who much prefers to focus on the good times. "I had 16 years at the highest level and only three of those weren't quite so glorious," he adds. Asked if he considers his season at Juventus in 1999/2000 among the latter, even then he looks for a silver lining, despite having been given precious little playing time: "I learnt a lot over there. It wasn't always rosy but I got to play on a day-to-day basis with some amazing players. I got to know [Zinedine] Zidane in Turin and that was great."
Not as great as winning Olympic gold in Atlanta, of course. "," he explains with clear pride in his voice. As for his favourite individual highlight, his choice should come as no surprise: "My goal against Spain in 1998! On top of everything, it was the decider - it gave us the win. Everyone still remembers it now."
Oliseh could hardly be more enthusiastic as he recounts a career that began under coach Eric Gerets at RFC de Liege. "At the 1994 [CAF Africa Cup of Nations], I was one of the best players," he recalls. "After that, I went to Italy before experiencing the best season of my career at Cologne, where I was voted best defensive midfielder in the German championship." That distinction earned him a move to Ajax, and his two years in the Dutch capital proved memorable: "I had a fabulous time there. We did the double in 1998 and went on to win the Cup again the following season. We played good football too. It was the best."
Juventus became Oliseh's next port of call, but the Abavo native endured a testing time with the Serie A giants before claiming Bundesliga honours with Borussia Dortmund in 2002. From there, he joined Bochum, where he continued to stand out as one of the best deep-lying midfielders in the German game. "I was still in great form," he says. His best days were behind him, however, and in January 2006, at the age of 31, he hung up his boots. Since then, he has returned to Belgium, his adopted homeland, to continue raising his family.
This summer marked a new chapter in Oliseh's life when he took over the reins of third-division outfit Verviers. As coaching assignments go, it is low down on the ladder, but the Nigerian believes he should learn to walk before he runs. "I'm starting off slowly but it's good like that," he says. "Starting in the top division wasn't an obsession for me. I've known the highest level and, as a coach, I enjoy myself just training my son!" In possession of his coaching licence for a year now, he first learned the ropes with the club's U-19 side.
"I'm optimistic," adds Oliseh, whose squad contains five professional players. "The team is young, so we'll see what happens in two or three years." Away from the dugout, he is also much in demand in media circles, as a consultant on the Jupiter League for Belgian television and on major competitions such as the Africa Cup of Nations for the BBC. Add in a brother currently in charge of a top-flight Nigerian team and Oliseh is sure to keep in close contact with both African football and his beloved homeland in the years to come.
Facts and figures
Clubs: RFC Liege (1990-1994), A.C. Reggiana (1994-1995), Cologne (1995-1997), Ajax (1997-1999), Juventus (1999-2000), Borussia Dortmund (2000-2002), Vfl Bochum (2002-2004), Borussia Dortmund (2004-2005), Racing Genk (2005-2006)
National team: 63 appearances (1993-2002)
Honours: Olympic champion (1996), Dutch championship (1998), Dutch Cup (1998 and 1999), German championship (2002), appeared in two FIFA World Cups (1994 and 1998)
That's my greatest team memory. It's a title recognised around the world and it was the first one in the competition for an African team