By Jacob Ajom
Prior to the commencement of the 27th Africa Cup of Nations in Angola last month, Super Eagles coach, Shaibu Amodu had a rare moment with the Lagos sporting press.
He told the world then that he would take the Nigerian team to Durban for a pre-tournament camping after which the last 23 would be selected for the tournament. Although the coach expressed reservations on doing a proper assessment of more than 30 players in seven days, he all the same agreed to go with them.
A day after the briefing, the coach took everybody by storm and announced his 23-man squad for the tournament even before the camping commenced. No doubt, Amodu wanted to beat the deadline set by CAF. Secondly, the sweat merchant had set his mind on the specific players he wanted. It goes to say that even if forty had camped in Durban and no matter what their performances were,Â nothing could have swayed his mind about those he marked for Angola.
Out of the 23, only the position of Chinedu Ogbuke Obasi was still under probability as he was meant to return to Germany if Obafemi Martins was confirmed fit for the trip.
Ironically, it was Mike Eneramo who played out his heart during the qualifiers that paid the price for Amoduâ€™s indiscretion. He was sent home and replaced with Chinedu Ogbuke, the Hoffeinham of Germany striker who scored for the Eagles against a local side during the pre-tournament camping in Durban, while Obafemi Martins was an automatic choice.But that did not end the cynicism that surrounded Amoduâ€™s choice of players for the Nations Cup.
Just before the tournament, news filtered in from the camp that the team was hit by injury crisis. Specifically, Seyi Olofinjana, Obafemi Martins, Yobo Joseph and Osaze Odemwingie were reported to be doubts for the opening game against the eventual champions, Egypt, as they were said to be nursing various degrees of injuries.
The Nigeria Football Federation, NFF and their chief coach, refuted what was then termed as â€˜injury rumoursâ€™, and gave the team a clean bill of health.
When the tournament started, the truth could not be hidden as, out of the four players said to be fit by the football house and the coach, only Yobo featured in the opening game. What could not be hidden was the fact that, Yobo was not fit for the match.
Itâ€™s even clearer today that the majority of the Eagles were not fit and it showed in their performances. Indeed Obafemi Martins have made a belated confession that he almost opted out of the Nations Cup because he was not fit.
Struggle they did and ended up with a seventh bronze for Nigeria in a tournament the country won last in 1994, her second after the 1980 victory on home soil in Lagos.
The outcome has caused a general condemnation from football crazy Nigerians who are calling for the sack of Amodu and his team of underachievers. Former internationals, coaches, journalists and analysts have not spared the Edo State-born gaffer for taking what they termed a team of tired and spent legs to a competition that required nothing but the best, particularly as the 2010 World Cup looms large.
Not even Amoduâ€™s colleagues have sympathy for him as they have accused him of allowing sentiments rule his sense of reasoning. Most wondered what a player like Yakubu Ayegbeni was doing in Angola. Ex-international, Sylvanus Okpala said Amodu should accept responsibility for whatever befell him after the Nations Cup as he was unprofessional in his choice of players.
â€œIt was difficult to agree with the coach on team selection. And Nigeria had better players than the ones he paraded in Angola. We could have achieved more if we had a better team at the Nations Cup,â€ Okpala said.
Chairman of Enyimba Football Club of Aba, Felix Anyansi Agwu said Amodu missed the point when he shut his door against home-based players. â€œDefinitely, Amodu is not a product of our league. If he was, he would not say that,â€ an angry Anyansi said after the Eaglesâ€™ ouster in the semi final by a youthful Ghanaian team. Anyansi called for a probe into the Angolan misadventure and he would back any step aimed at strengthening the technical crew and the injection of fresh legs in the team before the World Cup in June.
While some are calling for the outright removal of Amodu, others like Adokie Amiesimaka are asking the football authorities to strengthen the technical crew with some former stars who are trained coaches and are doing well.
Said Adokiye, â€œNigeria should look inwards in the choice of national team coaches. If they tried Amodu and feel that he has failed, there are others like Stephen Keshi, Sunday Oliseh, Samson Siasia and even Sylvanus Okpala who can handle the national team. I am sure these people know our players, they played the game at the highest level and know the psychological make-up of Nigerian players.â€
As the general opinion favours Amoduâ€™s sack, what then becomes of the leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation that swore to swim or sink with Amodu. Will they deny him?