By Paul Bassey
This week I was expected to go back to the just concluded Nations Cup in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
As promised last week, I needed to take an in depth look at a competition that tends to define and determine the continental development of its teams. From the organizational to the technical, even spiritual, the 2012 Nations Cup provided so much to look out for and learn from. However I started off with the initial belief that those lessons were not for Nigeria because we hardly learn.
I want to be excused this week as I treat an issue of national and immediate importance as some of us are wont to say. Like so many other Nigerians I regret not seeing that match live on TV, because the NTA’s and AIT’s of our television believe that the money charged by CAF as Rights fee for Preliminaries are exhorbitant. If only a bit of marketing can be done to state governors who can derive a lot of benefits from sponsoring such a crucial football match different from some of their dry state functions! I digress.
The Nations Cup match just concluded in Kigali is so far in the front burner and I believe I should add my own opinion to it, as entitled. I believe and strongly too that the result in Kigali, yes the draw as it were was a victory for us, given the antecedents of our Nations Cup and other qualification matches.
I do not have to go too far back in history to reel out instances when we were paired with the likes of Sierra Leone, Madagascar, Liberia, Niger, Ethiopia…….yet we failed to or struggled to qualify for such competitions, even with as many as twenty three…twenty five invited foreign based players.
I am yet to see that Nigerian that has not applauded the current revolution by Coach Stephen Keshi, supported by the Nigerian Football Federation, that of giving relevance to the domestic league and giving a lie to those who believe that it is only when you get out of this country that you can be considered for a national call up.
In the friendly against Liberia, Keshi went to Monrovia with a full domestic squad and won handsomely and I was one of those who believed that that squad could take on Rwanda and hold its own.
As it were, we cannot deny the fact that those who are playing abroad are also Nigerians and needed to be considered, so eleven of them were invited. ( It is on record that I queried the fitness level of Taiwo and Keita after applauding the manageable number and the return of Yakubu and Osaze among others )
Off they went to Kigali with some of the foreign based joining the team at the airport, with just two days to kick off and this can be considered a major minus in a team sport like football.
So much time, work and money has gone into the camping of the domestic lads that the victory in Liberia can be termed a manifestation of such work done. For you now to bring in eleven foreign bodies as it were, and introduce seven of them in the starting line up, you can only be relegating homogeneity to the background and courting confusion.
When was the last time Yakubu played in the national team, and with whom? The defensive partners given to Yobo, how familiar was he to them?
Yes I have read and heard a lot about how the local lads shone and Osaze and Yakubu in particular did not. Pray how do their clubs use them to get results? Can we find out from their coaches how we can maximize their inclusion in our national team? How can The Premiership player of the month of February not make the Nigeria National team?
How can a player who is constantly banging in goals even when he stars for a relegation haunted club like Blackburn flop when he returns back home? These are questions we have refused to provide answers to.
One of the lessons I learnt at Gabon was that it is not just enough to throw in a player into battle when you have not satisfied the many parameters of his efficiency, be it physical, mental, psychological and emotional.
I remain convinced that given their current excellent form the Keshi team should be built around Yakubu and Osaze. These two players between them have scored 24 goals so far. 14 for Yakubu with Rochina coming second at Blackburn with only six goals, while Osaze is also West Broms highest goalscorer with 10 goals, followed by Long with six.
At this stage I should also talk about an unnecessary dissipation of energy that would have, directly or indirectly affected the psyche of our team. The press was awash with news that the Rwandans refused to change their green hose to suit us and our officials believed they were hostile….blah …blah. It is high time we grew over these petty issues. The rules are clear on jersey colours. To put it simply,THE VISITING TEAM MUST BE ARMED WITH TWO DIFFERENT TYPES OF JERSEYS BECAUSE SHOULD THERE BE A CLASH IN COLOURS IT IS THE AWAY TEAM THAT CHANGES. FULL STOP. It is a decision that is hinged on marketing and sponsorship considerations.
When I was in Enugu for a league match, I also came across the lamentations of clubs whose players were TIED DOWN in the national camp ( Capitals mine ). Players in the national teams derive their fitness level from constant club activity, different from the so called friendly matches at the camp and the daily routine of running around the field, playing two touches and experimenting with “ monkey posts” our national team handlers should develop the culture of releasing players at week ends, say by Thursdays to go and play for their clubs and ask them back latest on Mondays. They should also follow up such releases by watching league matches and interacting with the coaches of their players with a view to getting maximum benefits from players so considered.
Finally, I have followed with keen interest the opening up of the camp doors to ex internationals and former national team coaches to go and make speeches and all manner of interactions and distractions. Keshi, time to close the doors. Whether you like it or not you are on your own. I wish I can say more than this. A word they say is enough for the wise.
Time to build on the Kigali victory.
See you next week.