Jill Ellis handshake snub: Nigeria coach Edwin Okon is an entertaining World Cup jerk.

Meet Nigeria’s Handshake-Snubbing, No-Scouting, All-Praying Embarrassment of a Coach

Meet Nigeria’s Handshake-Snubbing, No-Scouting, All-Praying Embarrassment of a Coach

The Spot
Slate's soccer blog.
June 17 2015 3:19 PM

Meet Nigeria’s Handshake-Snubbing, No-Scouting, All-Praying Embarrassment of a Coach

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Nigeria coach Edwin Okon and player Asisat Oshoala talk to the media at the 2015 World Cup. Scouting is for suckers.

Photo by Andy Clark/AFP/Getty Images

Name: Edwin Okon

Justin Peters Justin Peters

Home country: Nigeria

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Known for: Coaching, snubbing, underpreparation

Why he might be a jerk: There are two basic rules that every professional soccer coach must follow: 1) Bring your own whistle, and 2) Win or lose, shake hands with the opposing coach after the game. While it’s very possible that Nigeria soccer coach Edwin Okon observes flawless whistle etiquette, he definitely needs to brush up on the second rule. After Nigeria lost to the United States 1–0 in a Group D Women’s World Cup match Tuesday night, Okon apparently refused to shake hands with American coach Jill Ellis, who approached Okon with her hand outstretched, only to be denied as Okon rose slowly from his seat while shaking his head “No.”

Maybe the video was just shot at a bad angle, and Okon was actually shaking his head “Yes”? Unlikely. After the game, Ellis confirmed that she had been snubbed:

The bench personnel shook my hand and the coach, I said, “You're not going to shake my hand?” He said, “No.” He kind of put his hand out a little bit, but that's his call, not mine.
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Okon seems to make a lot of questionable calls. His team is wildly talented, and star forward Asisat Oshoala was recently named Women’s Footballer of the Year by the BBC. Yet Nigeria failed to win a match in this World Cup, and that probably has at least something to do with Okon’s commitment to overworking and underpreparing his players. Okon made zero substitutions during Nigeria’s 3–3 draw against Sweden, telling the press, “We did not make any substitutions and that is because the girl[s] are fit.” Fit, tired, call it what you want: Nigeria didn’t score again in the tournament.

The coach is not popular on soccer message boards, where his stewardship of the Nigerian national team has been compared with “a race car being driven by an old lady,” and where one vitriolic poster has dubbed him “that illiterate fat bellied no technical input no scouting all praying embarrassing coach.” This is unfair to Okon: I refuse to believe that the coach is illiterate. The “no scouting” bit is apparently true, though. Okon has repeatedly claimed that he doesn’t bother scouting the opposing teams.

“I’m a complete grassroots coach, and it’s always been a part of my philosophy,” he announced in December. “I don’t need to scout any team to take them on.” In a press conference on June 7 preceding Nigeria’s opening match against Sweden, Okon baffled a room of journalists by claiming that he knew nothing about the Swedish squad. I would not be surprised if Okon’s car sports a bumper sticker reading “God is my advance scout.” The coach is known for his demonstrative religiosity, dropping to his knees and touching his head to the turf in prayer every time his team scores a goal. “The Nigerian team is a praying team,” Okon informed the media after the Sweden match. In an April interview, Okon said, “God is here. He is the greatest player. He plays for the Super Falcons. Every match I call on him to help. He never disappoints. At the end of the day, success will always be ours.” And now Nigeria is out of the World Cup without having won a single match. So does that make God the jerk, or Okon? You tell me.

Why he might not be a jerk: I’m not sure if Okon is a jerk so much as he’s maybe just not as polished as we expect big-time coaches to be. His apparent refusal to shake Ellis’ hand was preceded by two other postgame sore-loser moments: After the Sweden match, Okon told the press that Sweden had scored two cheap goals, and after losing to Australia 2–0, Okon announced that he was unhappy with the officiating. These actions and statements come across as unsporting or at least impolitic. But you could make the argument that it’s better to have a coach who speaks his mind rather than simply resorting to uninformative platitudes. I’m sure that every coach thinks these sorts of things after his team loses a close match, but he never says them. Doesn’t that make them the jerks? No, probably not. But, still, Okon is entertaining—and it might be worth noting that when Okon eventually did make a substitution midway through Nigeria’s second match, the substitute player promptly elbowed an Australian forward in the jaw and ended up with a three-game suspension. Maybe Okon knows what he’s doing, after all.

Jerk score: I’m going to give him 2.5 out of 3 for style, entirely on the merits of the oddly brimmed hat he is wearing in this video clip. 1 out of 3 for technique, because a real jerk would have extended his own hand in response to Ellis, only to pull it away at the last second while screaming “Psych! Psych! Psych!” 2 out of 3 for consistency, because while Okon does drop to his knees without fail after every goal, he also eventually gets up. And 0 out of 1 in the category of “Is he a bigger jerk than Bill Belichick?” 5.5 for Edwin Okon.