Randy Waldrum is not holding back ahead of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Waldrum, head coach of the Nigerian women’s national team since 2020, has called out the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) for not paying players and cutting a domestic camp weeks ahead of the sport’s biggest tournament.
Waldrum, speaking with John Krysinsky of Pittsburgh Soccer Now for the “Sounding Off on Soccer Podcast,” said he has a lot of emotions going into the World Cup. This is Waldrum’s first time coaching at the World Cup. He previously coached internationally with Trinidad and Tobago from 2014-16.
“I know we’re not prepared the way we need to be,” the longtime collegiate coach said to Krysinsky. “I have been very frustrated in recent months, in particular in recent weeks, with the federation and the lack of support we’ve gotten in so many different levels.”
Waldrum went on to explain that the Nigerian Federation cancelled a domestic preparation camp, which would have been occurring right before jetting off to Australia and New Zealand. He said that the camp would have lasted about 10-12 days, in Nigeria, to assess players on the bubble and get everyone together in one spot, to travel as a team to Australia.
“We’ve known for quite a while [about our qualification],” Waldrum stated. “You would have hoped we would have used that time to use it for preparation for this. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case… I joke about it with people here in the U.S. We have less days than a college preseason, to get ready for a World Cup. It blows my mind.
“We were supposed to have a camp in Nigeria for about 10 or 12 days, then we were going to fly directly into Australia in the beginning of the month, and then finish with another 10 or 15 days in Australia,” he continued. “And, for whatever reason, the federation cancelled the camp in Nigeria. So, instead of being able to look at all the players again — We were also going to bring in a few more players on the bubble, that we had question marks about in our roster — we had to pick a final 23 based on the last camp. Some of these players have been off since May, so I really don’t know the physical condition that they’re in, despite sending them programs to follow.”
Waldrum — who has been coach of Nigeria since 2020, while also coaching the University of Pittsburgh women’s soccer team since 2018 — called the cancelled camp a “massive blow” to Nigeria. The Super Falcons are in a group with defending Olympic champions Canada, and also co-hosts Australia. The group finishes with first-time participant, Republic of Ireland.
Waldrum then proceeded to recount that during the Women’s African Cup of Nations tournament — where Nigeria qualified for the World Cup in July 2022 — players were not paid their wages. The Super Falcons protested recovery and training ahead of their third-place match against Zambia, just days after playing about 60 minutes of the match down two players to red cards.
“The players hadn’t been paid, so they boycotted,” Waldrum explained. “They wouldn’t come out of the hotel rooms. For two days, they sat in their rooms. We didn’t train. They wouldn’t come out and do any recovery, wouldn’t take care of their bodies, couldn’t do any video, couldn’t do any scouting, and we had to play Zambia. So, the federation flew in the night before we played Zambia and brought a little bit of money, and pacified them with a little bit of money. They met with the team and wanted to discuss why and what it would be like moving forward, so we had a team meeting that night, about 10 p.m. We played the next afternoon at 4 p.m.”
Waldrum said that Tochukwu Oluehi, one of his backup goalkeepers, spoke out against the federation at the meeting.
“She said, ‘Look, I’ve been in this program for over 15 years as a youth player to the senior team, and every year you tell us the same thing. I’m not a child anymore. I have a family to take care of. You can’t come in here and expect us to believe this,'” Waldrum recalled. “They didn’t like the way she said it. So, they dismissed her from the national team. Cut her altogether. The irony of it is, the federation caused the problem by not paying the players. They asked for a meeting with the players, so they could discuss. And when the players discuss, they cut a player for saying something the way they didn’t want to hear it.”
Waldrum was not allowed to call up the particular player. Waldrum explained that the federation eventually said she could return, but only if she wrote an apology letter. In the meantime, the federation wanted Waldrum to look at a young goalkeeper in Nigeria, whom he never had in camp before.
“I still [had] three or four months before the World Cup, and said, ‘Well, this will give me plenty of time to see this other goalkeeper.’ So, I didn’t really fight it at that point,” he said. “Now, fast forward since we didn’t have the camp, in Nigeria, three weeks before like we were supposed to, I didn’t get to see this goalkeeper. So, then they wanted me to turn in my final roster of 23 [players], and they wanted me to put this goalkeeper on, that I have never seen, never been in one of our camps on, and I refused to do it. I said, ‘I can’t take a player that I’ve never had in camp.’ That’s ridiculous. Who would do that? This is the World Cup.”
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The veteran coach said he put his foot down and told the federation that, in his contract, he is allowed to pick his roster. Waldrum said that immediate retaliation occurred, and the federation stated he could not bring his assistant coach, Lauren Gregg, a longtime U.S. Soccer assistant coach who was on the coaching staffs for the 1991, 1995 and 1999 World Cups.
“For the last two or three weeks, I’ve been fighting this battle, trying to get her back in,” he said. “And now… to be quite honest, as of two weeks ago, they won’t even answer my correspondence. I email, I text, I call. They won’t even take a message. It’s just, they don’t want to deal with it anymore. So, it’s just, we’re not prepared properly on the field, we’re not prepared with staffing, because the assistants they had given me aren’t capable of giving you the kind of help you need in a World Cup.”
“And this goalkeeping situation… Could you imagine me telling my third string goalkeeper [Yewande Balogun], ‘I’m not going to take you to the world Cup because I’m going to take a young goalkeeper that I’ve never seen,'” Waldrum continued. “At some point, it becomes right and wrong. They initially said I could do one or the other — if I took the young goalkeeper, then Lauren could go. Or, if I took the goalkeepers that I wanted, then Lauren couldn’t go.”
Balogun, according to Waldrum, left a full-time coaching job at UC Davis to join the Nigerian women’s national team, and she “got herself fit and joined a pro team,” to be under consideration.
Lack of preparation for the World Cup
Waldrum said that, with only a few weeks until the start of the World Cup — Nigeria kicks off Group B play against Canada on July 21 in Melbourne, Australia — it’s the belief in the players that makes him want to continue coaching at the World Cup.
“To the point, honestly, where I am sitting here, and I’m supposed to leave Sunday, and thinking, ‘Do I even really need to go or not?’ The only thing that keeps me going is the players,” Waldrum said. “It wouldn’t be fair to them for me to not go, and have one of the Nigerian assistants take them with no real idea of how to help them after I’ve been working with them for two years. The flip side of me is, there is a right and a wrong… And, you know, they’ve really put us in a bad spot.”
Waldrum said he has belief in his team, despite being in a tough group. He’s hoping to get a favorable result — a win or tie — against Canada, so then they can face co-host Australia, in their country, and then move on to Ireland.
“A lot is going into the tactical piece of it with our team. I think, as good as [the opponents] are, we do have a talented group of players,” he said. “That’s why I was really hopeful that we’d have those three weeks in Nigeria. That time would have given us the right amount of time to get them ready. I have to backtrack my plan and really, for these 10 days, focus on 1-2 key, big picture items that we want to do well against Canada.
“I don’t think any of the three games are going to be easy by any means. A lot of our emphasis will be put on Canada and that first match.”
Nigerian Federation responds to Waldrum’s claim
According to Nigerian journalist Samuel Ahmadu, Nigerian Football Federation spokesman Ademola Olajire responded to Waldrum’s claims.
“We have to first ask when the European season ended,” Olajire said. “The man wanted a two-week camp for only home-based professionals (whom he already gave very little consideration in his provisional list). Like two weeks ago, he released his final list of 23, meaning there was absolutely no need for any camp for home-based again except to simply waste resources. Instead of admitting his glaring deficiencies, he’s there shooting his mouth off. He knows he will not have Rasheedat Ajibade and Halimatu Ayinde (two key players) for the opener against Canada, yet he left out Ngozi Okobi and Regina Otu from the squad!”
The statement continued, as part of a Twitter thread: “The NFF felt it would make more sense for the 23 to go straight to Australia and camp for 15/16 days acclimatizing to the weather and conditions. The NFF wanted him to groom a home-based goal tender, like Chiamaka Nnadozie was groomed. Instead, he kept bringing Yewande Balogun (who started as a goalkeeper coach!) all the time without consideration for a home girl. The same lady has only kept goal in one friendly in over 2 years (and only because Chiamaka was badly injured in a friendly in Mexico this year). His outbursts are nothing but an after-thought. He’s talking only 3 days [prior] to the team’s departure to the [FIFA Women’s World Cup]. Randy says he doesn’t know any home-based goalkeeper but could pick likes of Tosin Demehin, Rofiat Imuran & Deborah Abiodun from the same U-20 you spotted them.”
Olajire also spoke out against Waldrum’s assistant Lauren Gregg.
“The NFF literally dodged a bullet with his assistant at the WAFCON in Morocco because of the woman’s failing health. Everyone was scared stiff.”
Waldrum is still the coach of the Nigerian women’s national team, as of publishing.
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