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Eagles: Why Vice President must intervene now

By Onochie Anibeze
Today, I call for caution. I’m guided by experience.
Take this: After Phillip Troussier toiled to qualify us for the France ’98 World Cup, the authorities said he had no World Cup experience and therefore not a world class coach.

They hired Bora Milotinovic. I tried and got close to Bora while he trained our Eagles. I learnt a lot of lessons. Some people may not be good as their rich profile portrays them. It is in all professions. Bora had gone to three World Cups before bagging Nigeria’s job. He had the richest profile among all the coaches in France ’98.  But if you ask me, I think he was one of the poorest in terms of effective coaching.

At a time we had good players, this man mishandled a team that had the potential to go far in the World Cup. He moved the most hardworking midfielder, the one with the greatest work rate, Mutiu Adepoju,  to right back because of one error from Mobi Oparaku and Rau scored from his position. Mobi had run to cover the space created by Uche Okechukwu and Taribo West in the central defence.

In a blistering speed Rau ran into his position and made good use of it. But Mobi had played brilliantly in that match. So did Taribo, Uche and the entire team in our surprise 3-2 victory. Bora forgot the good runs of Mobi and punished him for Rau’s goal by benching him.

When he moved Mutiu to the full back, our game died. What shocked me most was not Mobi’s removal but Bora’s refusal to re-adjust when it was clear that his changes had, in fact, lowered our game. We continued his way until Denmark knocked us out when Nigerians were already imagining what the encounter with Brazil would be like. We never got to play Brazil.

I was so disappointed at Bora that at a time I suspected that our failure was not due to some incompetence but a deliberate sabotage possibly influenced our opponents. Bora burst our World Cup dreams.

Troussier would have done a better job. Unfortunately, we did not learn from our 1998 experience. The following World Cup was worse.

Stephen Keshi, Amodu and Erico qualified us for the World Cup and because of the confrontations in Mali during the Nations Cup, they sacked them and Korea-Japan World Cup finals are better forgotten than remembered. I was close to the Eagles and I deliberately wrote the name of Keshi before Amodu’s because I knew that Keshi was the pillar in that team.

In fact, Keshi was so good that Amodu allowed him so much room and it paid him to do it so. As head coach, he took credit and could say and did say that he qualified Nigeria for Korea-Japan World Cup. But insiders knew who did what then.

They also knew how we got on the road to the 2010 World Cup. I make bold to say today that but for the interest of the Presidency Nigeria would not have qualified for the World Cup. President Umar Yar’Adua set up a Presidential Task Force and they started mobilizing.

They raised millions of money in a dinner endorsed by the President. While the football federation made efforts, some others pressed buttons too and all resulted in Nigeria’s qualification for the World Cup.

The Presidency cannot lead us to the middle of the road and abandon us. They had hand in our qualification. And now that we have secured it, they cannot remain indifferent to the crisis breeding in our football circles. They should complete what they started by doing the right thing.

And the right thing now is to guide the football federation and the Task Force to jointly work for the interest of Nigeria’s football. There’s cold war between the Task Force and the Football Federation.

Now that President Yar’Adua is unavoidably absent, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan should intervene and call for truce. Daily, it is getting clearer to the federation that they cannot defend their “sink or swim” position with Amodu.

They need to understand that one cannot give what he doesn’t have. Amodu may not be as bad as he is being portrayed. But the job of the Super Eagles appears bigger than him. He needs help if he must be there for the World Cup.

I have said this before and recommended the engagement of Stephen Keshi, Samoson Siasia and Sylvanus Okpala to join the crew.

One top shot called to agree with me and told me why the current FA cannot work with Siasia. It is a story for another day.

But on the World Cup train, I recommended the inclusion of some younger players who can mark and add aggression to the team, two vital qualities Amodu’s team has always lacked from the day he took over. As bad as our domestic league is, I have seen some talents that can be nurtured. Amodu claimed that there was no time for that. But the truth is that he cannot do it for he lacks the quality to transform talents to stars.

What had he been doing since he was appointed? Coaches have different qualities. Nurturing players may be difficult for Amodu and this explains his position against local players. Why was he not even watching our league matches or Nigerian clubs in continental assignments? The Football Federation cannot continue to appear parochial in their estimation of their staff.

They must be made to see reason to embrace the truth. But while this is being done, I urge the Vice President to have a look at what is happening and nip in the bud the impending calamity the cold war between the Task Force and the federation is brewing.

I have it on good authority that while some members of the Task Force have genuine interest in our World Cup aspirations, some are assiduously pressing for Nigeria to fail in Angola, hoping that this will create the platform for them to emerge as members football federation.

I have nothing against changing the current board. I have never been their fan. Many Nigerians are not either. But people should work against them or Nigeria simply because the resultant failure will help them displace those on board. That is not patriotic.

The sports minister is the headmaster of Nigerian sports and he must watch those he is working with in the Task Force. If we fail, the blame will come to him. Along with the Vice President, he should initiate accord and ensure we achieve at the World Cup. I deliberately wrote this column Wednesday morning, before our Nations Cup last group match with Mozambique. My focus is on the World Cup and I did not want the result of that match to influence any point here.

We should avoid the mistakes of the past. Let’s search for assistance in peace.

This same team  in Angola will be better with a better coach. And they may excel with the inclusion of the kind of players Amodu may not like. Amodu may not be sacked. But certainly, the national team needs fresh ideas.  It will not be good to rock the boat now.

Some people want it that way for their selfish reasons. I’m for the good of Nigeria. We have a serious problem in our hand and the Vice President and the sports minister should initiate peace and call for a meeting where they will all brainstorm and come out with the best for us.

Taking panicky measures as we did before France ’98 and Korea-Japan 2002 will not help us. Let’s not panic over who comes in to add fire to our team. Let’s brainstorm to make a good choice. There’s no doubt that the team needs help but let’s play less politics and more football.


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