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Of Eagles and foreign coach

By Onochie Anibeze
I called the Eagles camp to discuss the match with Zambia with them. I congratulated them for their victory but immediately registered my observations and asked why were they so negative in their approach. They made more passes back than going forward.

There are times you make short passes behind but it is always with a definite purpose. As a team is making such passes, one or two players are opening up with runs, ready for through passes that can catch opponents off guard. But against Zambia, we rarely made such runs. They kept on passing the ball back and that appeared embarrassing to followers of modern football who knew that the best way out was to put pressure on opponents.

You play pressure football by going forward. Premiership clubs are the best examples of pressure football. With pressure football, you can dislodge teams that have better skilful players than your team. You keep on coming at them with pace.

It is a marvel when a team boasts of the two attributes – pace and skill. That is why a team like Arsenal can sing a song with the ball when they are moving forward. But Arsenal lacks the power to complement. The day they add power to their game, they will be unstoppable. What goes for Chelsea is their direct football. They don’t have the skill of Arsenal but are more direct.

In modern football they could even be more result-oriented. Manchester United were once in the world of their own when they moved forward with so much passion, moving forward with a combination of short and long passes but with many players around the ball. Two times in a decade they won in Europe.

They are not exactly the same but not too far away from their tradition. Italian clubs are also direct. Spanish clubs combine possession football and direct game. At the national team level, teams try to be more direct than engaging in only a kind of possession football that lacks the power to surge forward. Against Zambia, we tried to show that we could pass the ball around.

I don’t have problem with that. What I found disgusting was the way they passed back too many times without a plan to break away and go forward. Any time they passed the ball around and eventually went back, the opponents were afforded time to reorganize their defence positioning. So we were not putting pressure on them. It was a major fault in our game that day.

So, while discussing with them I sought to know why they played so. The answer was that “we found out that Zambia had younger players who could run faster than our players and that it would be disastrous to try to match their pace, so we tried to slow the game as much as we could.”

I told them I understood but that they overdid it. And the fact that they did not make runs to open the game when in possession still forced the players to go back most times.  But their confidence on the ball appeared better. Their passing game improved only that going back always made it negative. I’m writing this on Wednesday, 24 hours before with our semi-final clash with Ghana.

So, let me continue to focus on the World Cup. But Eagles would be better with pressure football, the kind of attacking football that we were once known for. The Black Stars we saw against Angola would beat the Eagles we saw against Zambia.

But tactics change and if we tried to be more aggressive and went forward we would be in the final otherwise let’s continue to talk about the World Cup. The latest now is on foreign coach. The Presidency was said to have agreed on the need to hire a foreign coach. We are five months away from the World Cup.

Let me repeat here that we would be making a grave mistake to hire somebody who is strange to African football. The time is too short for the kind of changes that Nigerians are yelling for. We will end up the losers if we are not careful and try to be very selective in our choice. When will the new coach work on our team to make those changes?

Between now and the World Cup, there’s only one FIFA free date for friendlies. That’s why EUFA asked European countries to end their leagues in time this World Cup year so that countries can have up to four weeks to camp for the World Cup.

So what changes can a foreign coach make in four weeks? Yes, a good coach can try. He may change the tactics but a lot will depend on the players. If you have the best tactics, the best approach without the players to execute everything what do you do? And as far as I’m concerned, I want to see three to four new players in that team.

Players who can add aggression to the team, players who have the pace to improve our marking style and close up the space we allow opponents.

I want to see someone who can appreciate the work rate of Osaze Odewengie but who will tell him that he must stop holding on to the ball when there are free players, someone who can make the players realize that only team work matters.

With a little modification in their attacking approach, marking and some aggression Nigerians will not believe what this same team can do at the World Cup. Stephen Keshi has the quality to add all these. They also need to be very, very fit.

No sentiment in selection. Something can be achieved in that one month camping. It may not be so with somebody who is alien to African football.

We play differently. A team that fails to impress at the Nations Cup may go to the World Cup and surprise people. Cameroun did so in 1990, getting to the quarter finals of the World Cup few months after they crashed out in the first round of Algiers ’90.

If they have sworn not to consider Keshi, they should be very careful in selecting somebody who can add the aforementioned qualities to our team for they are just what we need. It would have been better if we included some good local players in our team before now. But something can still be done. Obienu Nwabufo called to warn about repeating the mistakes of the past and simply said “we don’t need a foreign coach five months to the World Cup. Keshi and Sylvanus Okpala can join the crew we have now and our team will be stronger.”

He may not be wrong based on what we know of Nigeria. Those who will go in search of a foreign coach now may have their own agenda and may not be deep enough in the knowledge of the game to go for the man who has the qualities that our team lacks and how to effect the changes. Coaches have different talents. Time is short for colossal change. But we can still make a way.

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