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Eagles have been woeful before the 2-2 draw

By Ayo Akinfe
Unlike 150 million other Nigerian football fans, I am not in the least bit surprised that our Super Eagles were unable to beat the Carthage Eagles in Abuja on Sunday. Those of you who are regular readers of my column will have noted that I have been warning of the impending disaster for over a year now and just as night follows day, the catastrophe has come to pass.

Just listening to some of the commentary after the match, I have noticed that a lot of analysts are blaming the players, Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), coaching crew, presidential task force, sports ministry, etc for the debacle. Everyone is looking for someone to blame for the draw but in doing so, are they looking at the real issue?

This game was not a one-off. It is not a case of us having played well throughout the qualification series and then suddenly slipping-up in one match. We have been woeful throughout the campaign so far and only mother luck has prevented us from suffering this kind of fate earlier on.

Anyone who knows anything about football and wants to be honest with themselves will concede that Tunisia were by far the better side on the day and were well worthy of the point they went away with. On the balance of play, for them to have left Nigeria with anything less than a draw would have been a grave injustice.

Looking at the way Tunisia moved the ball around, passed, counter-attacked in packs, defended as a unit and kept possession, you could tell that they are a well-coached and well-drilled side. Ever since Humberto Coelho took over the team in June 2008, they have been playing like a cohesive unit, while we in contrast have been a shambolic rabble of 11 individuals since Shaibu Amodu has been head coach.

Let us be honest and ask ourselves if we played any better against Mozambique or Kenya? If we answer that question we should then soul search and ask why we suddenly expected Amodu to discover the magic wand that would make us play like Brazil against Tunisia.

I have repeatedly said that Amodu was given a job way above his technical and tactical capabilities but nobody wanted to acknowledge that fact. Our collective arrogance as a nation has blinded us to the fact that among the 150 milion of us, we do not have one person qualified to be the head coach of the Super Eagles and whether we like it or not, this is one job that has to be zoned out to an expatriate for the time being.

As far as I am concerned, we have only ever produced two coaches in Nigeria – The late Yemi Tella and the up and coming Samson Siasia. None of the others who call themselves coaches should be allowed within 100 kilometres of the Eagles. I believe we should have a moratorium of at least five years on local coaches managing the Eagles.

If any Nigerian wants to have heart surgery at the moment, his or her first reaction would be to look abroad. Why do the rules change when it comes to football? If anything, Nigeria has produced several well-respected heart surgeons but I challenge anyone to name me one football coach of international repute we have.

In my association with the players, I have found the disparaging way in which they dismiss the limited knowledge of our local coaches scary. They dismiss them as ignorant, lacking in the modern technicalities of the game and out-dated in their thinking. How on earth are players going to give their body and soul for such a coach on the football pitch?

Just looking at the line-up Amodu started with on Sunday, I am not surprised that our players were dispirited even before kick-off. How on earth he could start a match of that magnitude without a natural target man beggars belief. An amateur European coach would know that in a game like this, one out of Michael Eneramo, Joseph Akpala, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Chrisantus MaCauley, Victor Anichebe or Isiaku Mannaseh had to start.

You need a target-man who could hold the ball upfront, keep possession of the ball and give you an outlet whenever you need to move the ball forward quickly. Once I saw Amodu’s usual 4-3-3 formation with a front three of Osaze Odemwingie, Ike Uche and Chinedu Ogbuke, I knew we were in for a long afternoon.

Nobody was winning headers upfront and nobody had the strength to keep the ball until support arrived from midfield. When we took corners, we went for the same routine, which failed time and time again. There was not one variation on our corner routines.

In midfield, Amodu still does not get it. Either this man is plain deaf or he simply lacks the intellectual capacity to grasp the fundamentals of modern day football. He needed a player who could run with the ball to support the strikers playing just ahead of Mikel Obi and Uche Kalu.

Were I the coach of that team, one out of Lukman Haruna, Rabiu Ibrahim, Nduka Ozokwo, Solomon Owello, Rafael Ademola, or Efosa Eguakun would have been tried in this position in friendlies over recent months and would have been fine-tuned for the game last Sunday. In 2009, if you want to break down stubborn defences, you need a playmaker!

Nothing I am saying here is new and those of you who have been watching the African football scene will notice that the likes of Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Tunisia have been doing exactly this. They are succeeding where we are failing because they have good coaches in the form of Paul Le Guen (Cameroon), Humberto Coelho (Tunisia) Milovan Rajevac (Ghana) and Vahid Halilhodzic (Ivory Coast), while we are lumbered with the ignorant, hapless and football-illiterate Amodu.

How dare we try to even think that we can appoint a local coach to manage the Eagles? Were any such Nigerian available, would he not have made an impact on the European football scene?

In every walk of life, there are Nigerian professionals who have excelled in their fields of endeavour everywhere in the world. I challenge anyone to name me one football coach who fits this bill. That in itself should have been a warning but alas, our pride and conceit blinded us to this blatant reality.

Over the last two years, I have spoken to many a world class coach, including the likes of Luis Van Gaal and Klaus Topmoller, who have all expressed desires to coach the Eagles but alas, our NFF in its infinite wisdom always chooses to appoint the least qualified person available.

From the ignoramus Christian Chukwu to the pathologically lazy Berti Vogts who sub-contracted team selection to his agent Emeka Ezeala, who obviously used this as an opportunity to enrich himself, the NFF’s appointments have been shocking. Were they blind to the kind of appointments other African FAs were making?

As things stand, we no longer have five or six world-class players as was the case in the 1990s so for the team to succeed, the tactical know-how of the coach is primary. Appointing a man like Amodu who is relying solely on the talent of the players to see the team through is blatant suicide.

We do not have players currently plying their trade with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Arsenal, Liverpool, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus, Manchester United or Valencia, so hoping that talent will turn a bad team into a winning one is simply hoping for a miracle of biblical proportions. Had Coelho, Rajevac, Halilhodzic, Le Guen, Topmoller, Beenhaker or Van Gaal been our coach on Sunday, we would have won that game 3-0 without even a hint of failure.

No matter how much money the government votes for the team or how many presidential task forces we set up, we will win nothing if the man picking the team and determining tactics is clueless. After the alarm of Maputo, rather than set up a presidential task force, we should have appointed a world-class coach to manage the team.
Cameroon had Thomas Nkono in charge for one game but after that said no thank you and promptly replaced him with Paul Le Guen. We have all witnessed the difference and saw how the Indomitable Lions went to Libreville to secure a comfortable 2-0 win over Gabon.
As things stand, we are back to hoping for a miracle again. We need either Mozambique or Kenya to do us a favour. I am not confident Tunisia will slip up but even if they do, does anyone really believe that Amodu can go to Kenya and secure a win? I am not even confident Amodu can beat Mozambique in Abuja after seeing the way Kenya tutored him there.
All we can do now is appoint a coach who we know can win the next two games. We need a world class coach who is tried and tested and probably have Samson Siasia serve as his assistant with the hope that he will one day step into the main seat. This is not the time to gamble. We need a man who has been there, done it and got the T-shirt. I have my doubts as to whether the NFF will make the right decision here. Their history does not fill me with any confidence as in the past, they have always gone for the worst possible choice available.
South Africa 2010 is going to be sheer agony for Nigerian football fans if our Eagles are not there. All we can do is cheer our African brothers and wish them all the best. We will thank the NFF for this if we are subjected to sitting out another World Cup.

•Mr Akinfe wrote from London.


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