Samson Siasia 'heartbroken' by lack of support from Nigeria teammates

Samson Siasia, who played for Nigeria and coached his country at under-20, under-23 and senior levels, was banned for life from all football activities by FIFA's Ethics Committee but CAS reduced the santion to five years. Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Former Nigeria coach Samson Siasia says he has learned his lesson after seeing his lifetime ban from football reduced on appeal to five years by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), but insists he did not take take a bribe.

The former Nigeria international, who coached his country at under-20, under-23 and senior levels, added that he was heartbroken by the lack of support from former teammates during the darkest days of his life.

CAS not only significantly slashed Siasia's life ban but also waived the CHF50,000 fine imposed on him by FIFA's Ethics Committee, ruling that time served without wages earned was punishment enough to serve as a deterrent.

Siasia, 53, was banned for life from all football activities by FIFA's Ethics Committee in 2019 for agreeing "to receive bribes in relation to the manipulation of matches".

The decision was made as a result of a broader investigation by the world football governing body into the conduct of Wilson Raj Perumal, a convicted match fixer.

Siasia admitted that he made a mistake but said it was borne of ignorance and his desperation to land a job after months without work.

"First of all, I did not take a bribe," Siasia told ESPN.

"It is right there in the papers that they released.

"All I did was negotiate a job opportunity in Australia.

"I was out of a job for almost a year or more. So I was curious. I wanted to get a job because I need to take care of my family. I didn't think about anything else but to get a job. When the man was making advances on bringing players, and all that stuff, I should have said "no". So, I didn't do the right thing.

"But I told him categorically, 'Look, whatever you do, I don't care. You do whatever you want to do, I'll do my own thing because nobody's going to tell me what to do when I get a job to become a coach'.

"FIFA didn't see it that way. FIFA said as soon as they start broaching anything, you have to say 'no'. I didn't know that. But it's a lesson to me and also to other guys listening to what I'm saying."

Siasia, who said he conducted the negotiation by himself at the time, said he should have put professional distance between himself and negotiations by hiring a manager.

"This is where I think that other people have to learn from my mistakes," Siasia told ESPN.

"You have to get a manager to represent you no matter how desperate you are at that moment. You have to learn from me. This is like a dagger to the chest simply because I didn't say no and I did not know."

Chris Emeruwa, who headed the Nigeria Football Federation Integrity Unit, said Siasia should have known, however, as the federation had gone to great lengths to educate coaches on FIFA ethics rules.

"The law is simple," Emeruwa told ESPN.

"If you are approached, you need to clearly resist and after that you need to report.

"Yes education and enlightenment are required. However, Siasia as an individual, and all coaches that have CAF A and B licences, have all been enlightened enough and told how these things work.

"I personally made sure I was at all their coaches training to speak about the integrity initiative and the required protocol to follow whenever you are approached."

Siasia did not have enough money to lodge his appeal at CAS so opened a crowdfunding page seeking donations as he sought to raise about $US250,000.

"That was the most difficult thing for me, going out there to ask support for the appeal because I don't have funds," Siasia told ESPN.

"The appeal is very expensive and it's difficult to ask other people for money. So, being banned for life and not knowing how to take care of yourself and your family, it was a problem.

"I think that should be the most difficult time I've ever had in the last two years. It was terrible."

Siasia lamented that former teammates in the legendary Super Eagles Class of 94, when contacted at the time, declined to offer public statements of support.

Siasia said that was even more hurtful than the ban from FIFA.

"First of all, you should know the guys that you've played with. When an incident happens like this most people on the outside can jump into conclusions.

"But people who know you should come to you first and ask point blank, not to judge without even picking up the phone to call.

"That is how you take care of your friends. So I guess most of those guys are not my friends.

"[Former junior international] Waidi Akanni was the only one of my contemporaries who stood by me through all this. That is a real friend."

A former international, nevertheless, did help Siasia dig his way out of the hole. With donations to his crowdfunding page going at little more than trickle pace, and unlikely to approach anywhere near its $US250 000 goal, former Eagles captain Segun Odegbami stepped in.

"He came to see me in Abuja, and asked me directly if I took a bribe," Siaisia told ESPN.

"I told him I did not and that if I did I would have owned up."

That was enough for the former Eagles skipper, who has a history of helping athletes through tough times. The 1980 Africa Cup of Nations winner had previously helped to rehabilitate Chioma Ajunwa after a drug ban, and guiding her to Nigeria's first ever Olympic gold medal, and also recently, albeit ultimately unsuccessfully, tried to save American Olympian Lee Evans' life.

"The only person that knows the truth of the situation is Siasia himself, not all those judging him," Odegbami said to ESPN.

"When you look into a person's eyes and ask them such a serious question, you can 'see' their sincerity, or not.

"I believed him, just as I believed Chioma Ajunwa 29 years ago in 1992. She turned out to become the only female in our history to win a gold medal. It does not matter that what they tell me is the truth or not. What matters is whether I believe them, and do whatever I have to do based on my belief.

"As far as I am concerned, Samson told me his truth. I believed him. And supported in my little way without any expectations. If he told me he did what he was accused of, that it was his truth, would also make me support him, but differently. He is my friend. I have always liked him, and believed that he would make a great coach from even when he was a player."

Convinced of Siasia's truth, Odegbami instantly went to work, putting together a team of top CAS Advocates while spearheading a private fundraising effort that involved governors and businessmen. Siasia said the lawyers essentially worked pro bono for the entirety of the case.

Still, Siasia says he remains "heartbroken" by the lack of support from his former teammates, who turned him to a pariah, in public and private, even with the knowledge that he had no means of earning a living.

"The only thing I could have done to support myself is play novelty matches, legends games and all that," Siasia said.

"But my teammates would not invite me anymore. I'm heartbroken. I thought usually when you have played with people and you are in trouble, these are the guys that are supposed to help you, to call you and try to assist you. But they never did.

"I'm glad that I have kids that have grown and could take care of themselves; that was the only advantage that I had. It was a very difficult time. Trying to pay your mortgage and worrying about losing the house.

"For someone that doesn't have a job, it is really tough. You can't depend on your kids to pay your bills. It was a very tough time. A couple of friends supported me, people I didn't know supported me. A lot of people gave me N500, or N1000. That was wonderful."

With some semblance of light at the end of the tunnel, Siasia says he will see out his ban and then return to work a better man and an even better coach.