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Super Eagles and spirit of a failed state

Nigeria’s performance in W/C 2010 as a sign of the rot in the country

After Nigeria’s Super Eagles’ first match against Argentina in the on-going football World Cup (SA 2010), some writers  and analysts were quick to impress it on enthusiasts that they saw significant impact of coaching on our boys. Personally, I saw much less of that. What I saw was much more the impact of some marginal shift in attitude. Imagine a Super Eagles team playing with the same zeal, commitment, uncompromising attitude and dogged spirit as our politicians and rulers deploy in election rigging and treasury looting!

In a short piece entitled “Senators, not Amodu, deserve sack” published in the ‘Letters’ page of not less than six national newspapers in November, 2009, I submitted, inter alia, that “Shaibu Amodu is not the problem of the Super Eagles. The team’s problem is that of attitude – that is, the absence of that ‘I am ready to die for my country’ spirit. And the reason for that in turn is the general disenchantment of the populace with the preponderance of a socio-economic and political landscape where those who risk their lives for the country wallow in wretchedness while those who have only rigged their ways into the economic and political ‘mainstreams’ revel in stinking stolen billions for doing next to nothing.”
n an earlier write-up under the title “Super Eagles and the problem of attitude”, I had opined that “it is instructive to note that aside from the pre-football-for-money era of the Chukwus, the Odegbamis and the Adokiyes, players who have blessed Nigeria with the right attitude especially in recent times such as Osaze Odemwingie  are mostly Nigerians born or raised outside this society.” This has so many things to do with the physiological infection by the spirit of better-organized systems and sacredly run polity.

There is something, for instance, in the American that makes want to die for his country. It is natural; it is in-born. It is sucked as breast milk in babyhood. It is learnt through childhood. It is polished with maturity into adulthood, cherished in the course of life. He is born into a system where excellence revels in eternal triumph over mediocrity in recognition and appreciation, an environment worth living in, a nation worth dying for. The spirit, undying, is an integral part of the physiological constitution of the American person. The steam is enduring.

During Espana ’92, a football personality described the German team as “Karl-Heinz Rumenigge and ten robots.” But this same team ‘robot-ted’ its way into the final and it took the rest of the world some super-human effort to prevent it from lifting the trophy. The notion ‘German Machine’ is not about the coach. It is not so much about the quality of the players. It is all about the spirit. Any selection of 11 German players is always a fighting team. They might not win the cup at a particular competition, but their presence would be hugely felt.

If  football had been all about corruption – bribe taking, contract inflation, examination malpractices, certificate forgery, sexual harassment, election rigging and treasury looting – would our team have required the services of any coach (world-class or village-class) to excel? Would our opponents not tremble at the mere sight of our high-profile players and intimidating formidability and doggedness of the attitude and spirit of our national team – ‘The Nigerian Machine’?

The recent phenomenal rise in Ghanaian football in general and the senior team in particular has much less to do with the “age” of players deployed as some analysts would want us to swallow. (Felix Magath, at 36, was one of the German “robots” that won silver medal at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. I am not aware yet of any national team that has won a major world or continental title with a team made up entirely of 20-year-olds.) The Ghanaian success story has much more to do with the renewed spirit of nationalism triggered by the recent political, economic and socio-cultural revolution in the country. Ghanaians now have a country to be proud of, a society worth living in, a nation worth dying for.

The problem of the Super Eagles is not Shaibu Amodu (He qualified his country for the World Cup on two occasions. I am not aware any other human being has a better record). The problem is not Berti Voghts. (He is World and European champion as player and as coach.) The problem is not Lars Largerback, in spite of his curious employment of some ‘tactics’ that rendered useless to the national team and nationhood Nigeria’s world-renowned most valuable player at the moment, Osaze Odemwingie.

The absence of “young and hungry players” is not the problem either. (Roger Milla, at the official age of 38, was, at Italia ’90, so hungry he scored four goals, beaten only to joint third place by double golden ball and golden shoe winner, Salvatore ‘Toto’ Schillaci of Italy with six). The same Super Eagles team to SA 2010, in the colours of the US, Germany or Ghana, would be playing in at least the semi-finals, with me as coach.

Drafting in the “youth” teams, as many analysts would always canvass at every time like this would not provide any solution to a national problem that is fundamentally beyond merely kicking the ball around on the field of play. The so-called “hungry” and “young-young” players are, in the final analysis, Nigerians. (A good number among members of the current team belong in that class only some  two or three  years ago.) The solution lies in the Ghanaian story: renewed spirit of nationalism anchored on political, economic and socio-cultural revolution.

Dele Akinola. writes form Ikorodu, Lagos.


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