By Mike Ebonugwo
IT is celebration galore in Ghana presently following the history-making victory of that countryâ€™s junior team, the Black Satellites, at the recently concluded Under-20 World Cup in Egypt.
Ghanaians and indeed all Africans have every reason to celebrate the Black Satellites feat because this is the first time an African team was emerging victorious at this level of the Federation of International Football Associations(FIFA)-organised football competition, especially at the expense of aÂ highly-rated Brazil, which together with their South American neighbour, Argentina, has dominated global football at both the senior and junior levels.
So, it is understandable that the whole of Ghana is still basking in the euphoria of their junior team conquering the world in this manner. But as much as many Nigerians identify with them in their celebration, the same cannot be said of others who are sulking because to them Nigeria, their country, lost a golden opportunity to beat Ghana to the record of being the first African country to win the Under-20 World Cup. It was this divided sentiment that was the issue of contention during a recent bus-stop gathering in Lagos.
â€œHonestly, I envy Ghanaians. When I saw the way almost the entire country trooped out to welcome their team that won the World Cup, I just felt that it would have been Nigeria that should have been celebrating like this if we had put our acts together. After all, itâ€™s not as if Ghana produces better players than Nigeria. Itâ€™s just that our sports administrators donâ€™t know their left from their right. That is the shame. All the same I congratulate Ghana for winning,â€ a parliamentarian who gave his name as Austin Ugbome.
Another parliamentarian, Musa Bala, picked it up from there. â€œGhana won because their players are more committed. When you watch them play on the field, you see that fighting spirit in them. But that is not the case with our players. They are always thinking of how much they will collect at the end of every match. That is where our problems lie. So, I will not support you in putting all the blame on our football administrators because after playing their own part, you donâ€™t expect them to follow the players into the field to play. Maybe you can blame the coach with the players, but in this case leave the administrators out of it,â€ he posited with feeling.
This submission drew an instant response from parliamentarian Elvis Ighodaro who tried to exonerate Samson Siasia, the coach of Nigeriaâ€™s Under-20 team, of blame for Nigeriaâ€™s poor performance in Egypt. â€œI will not say that Coach Samson Siasia is to blame for our inability to win the Under-20 World Cup. He did his best in preparing the team and we all saw the works of his hand from the way the team played. The team was playing well but for some reason the players could not score goals. That was their undoing. But thereâ€™s no denying the fact that Siasia succeeded within a short time to build a good team, but maybe luck was not on their side and so they could not win,â€ he argued.
Parliamentarian Kola Adeneyeâ€™s response to this was: â€œThis thing is not a matter of luck. The fact is that Samson Siasiaâ€™s Flying Eagles failed us in Egypt. They failed in spite of all the support that the Nigerian Football Federation gave to Siasia to enable him succeed. But all we got at the end of the day was the worst performance of any Nigerian team at an Under-20 World Cup championship. Yet before the tournament started many people were talking and behaving as if Siasia is a miracle worker, the Messiah of Nigerian football. But see how he has failed and let us downâ€
Responding to this, parliamentarian Fola Dada posited thus: â€œSiasia is the architect of his failure. Imagine him going to drop the key players that he inherited from coach Ladan Bosso and replaced them with his own players. Meanwhile, itâ€™s the these boys he dropped that could have scored the goals for him. How did he expect the new boys he brought in to be able to blend with the other players within a short time. That one is not possible. And that is why his team failed to score goals that other teams found easy to score. If you look at the Ghana, the secret of their success is that most of the boys have been playing together since their Under-17 days. But in our own case, Siasia dropped most of the important Tella boys that won the Under-17 World Cup for Nigeria. So, heâ€™s the one that made us not to win in Egyptâ€.
This submission immediately divided the gathering and there was a lot of arguments and counter-arguments over this.