By Ben Udechukwu
At the Abuja stadium, I observed pin drop silence at least within the first few minutes when it dawned on Nigerians that our flag will not be flying at the 2012 Nations Cup for the first time in 25 years; apart from 1996 when we willfully opted out. That is the realism of football.
Nigerians (with the most fertile imagination) have also developed very sublime theories as to why we came to that sorry state. Our theories are as varying as our individual imaginations. I also share in this frustration but disagree strongly with the school that thinks disengaging Siasia would be the be all and end all. We have passed through this road (the road of true test of our football might) more than five times in nine years. My verdict is that we are a nation of short term planners.
We may have lost to technical ineptitude or combined factors of other variables not alien to football. Let me also observe that Samson Siasia as he is currently has neither added nor subtracted from his profile prior to his engagement for the plum job of regenerating the football of a country in dire NEED of focus. To that extent, I will leave the issue of his technical relevance to sophisticated eggheads who would assess that on grounds of merit.
If we are sacking Siasia because he failed to qualify us for the nations Cup, then we are still a nation of short term planners. If we question his sense of judgment in dropping players, who in his estimation do not fit into his plan; then we confirm speculation that we may have gambled too much with his ability. Our problem is beyond Siasia.
Experts including my friend the Group Sports Editor of Vanguard, Onochie Anibeze had suggested recipe for sustained football development. See his piece “My Birthday Challenge” (July 16, 2010). He said in part, “Everybody will know when we are serious. It begins with good governance just like Ghana has done. It begins with respect for professionalism. It begins with our ability to know that passion for sports does not mean knowledge of it. The biggest problem is that those who run sports especially football lack knowledge of the modern game”. Theory one! While they inserted a clause of reach the semis or be sacked, they failed to imbibe the culture of professionalism as suggested.
Do we now have a functional Technical Department as long suggested? Do we now have grassroots – oriented age group teams or the old culture of using older men to achieve minimal results? Does our league hold the much needed hope to feed our national teams? In a manner of hazarding a guess, finding answers to these questions would help proffer everlasting solutions to our still birth football growth.
What will a new foreign coach (how I hate that phrase) do to a football nation where passion is the most valid credential of personal worth whereas knowledge thrives in other countries? Nigerians are unfortunately locked in the illusion that we are good in football. We love to overrate our real worth; reminiscing so much on the strength of 1994 which by the way was one ephemeral success too many. Have we moved any inch farther than the short but over sung glory days of 1994 and may be 1996?
Our league is still in sorry state. We are yet to have a penchant for scouting. We do not have football academies that would thrive on truth and sound technical ability. Passion and not knowledge is still driving our quest for growth.
It is just obvious that we would be engaging in another wide goose chase to hurriedly replace Siasia.
If you treat an ailment without challenging what caused it in the first place, you are sure to have a rebound. Let us look beyond Siasia to address myriad of issues precipitating stunted growth of our football.