By Onochie Anibeze
This is track and field season but I’ll come to this next week.
I was in Calabar to see the Eagles beat Rwanda 2-0 in a Nations Cup preliminary match. And just like I reminded Samson Siasia during his time that his team had only exhibited only 40 percent of what his dream performance was, I say same of Stephen Keshi’s team today.
Siasia spoke of a team that could play with so much passion from the defence to the midfield and to attack, a team as collective as Barcelona FC. And I awarded my 40 percent mark after a few games, insisting that a 50 percent execution of the plan will easily qualify Nigeria for the World Cup, 60 percent to the second round and a 70 percent to the semi-final where anything could be possible. Siasia did not get out of the 40 percent mark until he was disengaged. But he planned to make changes. However, time was against him. Pity. The difference between that era and now is that Keshi has embarked on building a new team and focusing on the domestic league. Nigeria now plays a match with up to five to seven local players in the team. Given what we saw of the foreign-based players in Ethiopia and in Abuja against Guinea, I guess the game would have been up for Keshi if he did not introduce players like Gabriel Ruben, Azubike Agwuekwe, Godfrey Itama, Ejike Uzoenyi and Oshanuwa. It is not only about introducing them but also doing a fairly good job coaching them.
But I say today, again, that what the players have exhibited in the three competitive matches we have seen is only 40 percent of Keshi’s dream performance. And if at their level they could produce 40 percent now, with more matches and exposure they could be the dream team of Nigeria. But time is never the friend of coaches globally and Nigeria in particular. I have heard people like Ade Ojeikere argue that Keshi was yet to select the best from the domestic league and that he needed to search for more. While he does that I also suggest strongly that he keeps an eye on emerging young Nigerians in leagues abroad for a blend that will make the Eagles super again.
He certainly needs more creativity in the midfield and he needs strikers too. He needs to work on set pieces, marking in the midfield and attacking runs. With two defensive midfielders in Gabriel Ruben and Obiora Nwankwo, he needs some flair in front of them and if Ike Uche, a natural support striker does not fall deep enough to help in the upper middle of the field and Ahmed Musa and Ejike Uzoenyi, on the wings, do not play deep also to help in the middle, there could always be a problem with tactics.
Keshi does not play 4-2-4 but the failure of some players to play to instruction makes his tactics collapse to something like that. However, he appears determined to transform the Eagles. He must not allow anything to distract him from doing so. The Football Federation must lend their support.
Re Keshi’s dream tackle
Your article was an interesting piece. Character is what is lacking in our national teams, not skills. When pride and indiscipline enter through the door, determination and knack for honor fly out through the window. If you have watched any of our recent matches on TV with any of the old Nigerian players around and see the tears that flow from their eyes whenever our team is not doing well you will understand that their character, defined by an inherent fighting spirit, has not waned even with age. Whoever restores self-belief and desire for success in our national teams has done it all for us.
Please note that it was Aham Nwankwo that scored the goal for BCC and not Arthur Nwankwo, the politician.
Thanks and God bless.
Regional Communication and Campaigns Coordinator, Oxfam America,West Africa Regional Office Dakar, Senegal
Your article was a masterpiece. I so enjoyed it, maybe because I know all the characters mentioned, from Ade Ojeikere (who always sat beside me at the Ogbe Stadium in my Benin-City days) to those Insurance dare-devils who reigned mightily after the likes of Victor Oduah and Tony Otah. Now, can you ensure that these upcoming Eagles understand the import of the story: “wearing the Nigerian shirt in spirit, soul, and body”? You may need to start a serial on such real life account of our great heroes. It will motivate these emerging crop of players (plus the thousands coming from the football academies) and it will take us as a sporting nation to our real dream of standing tall in the world through sports. Once again, I thank you and Ojeikere for reliving that dream.
Sir Azu Mafiana
Thank you Onochie for your wonderful piece today on Keshi’s dream tackle. I have always believed that senior sportswriters like yourself and other willing ones should be in the vanguard of the crusade to restore our football to it’s winning ways and take it back from the brigands that are killing it today.
After reading your article today, I was overwhelmed by a spirit of nostalgia. The names Ogboe, Monidafe,Surugede, Adiele,Agbonifo, Egherevba and others you mentioned made me proud to be a Nigerian. These are players who fought and died literally on the field of play for our country. They played the game because they loved the game and our country and not because of what they would get from playing. These are the kind of players we should hold up as hero’s to the present generation so as to build in them the fighting spirit required to winning football games.
I dare say that most, if not all our present players were not born when Keshi made his awesome tackle on Ogboe in his dream. So it is the responsibility of senior sportswriters to write about the exploits of our players of old so as to point the right direction to the younger generation instead of dissipating energy looking for problems in the Keshi team to magnify and in the process bring him down.
You said, “who will fight for Nigeria”. I want to challenge you to lead the fight for Nigeria on your pages and we will all follow you. Let’s start with the fight that until players like Mikel Obi and Osaze Odemwengie imbibe the spirit of country first to fight for our country, they should be shut out of the Eagles. Then and only then would our climb back to football prominence start.
How you dey?
You go kill person with that your story about Keshi chasing Henry Ogboe for dream…that Boy, Ogboe na real wizard…remember Insurance v Rangers for 1978 Challenge cup finals…
I totally agree with your recent post about
our football. I am with you on this school of thought. I laugh when most Nigerians talk about Mikel Obi coming to play for the Eagles when we have discovered Reuben Gabriel. These local lads currently replacing the likes of Taiwo, Mikel Obi, Ayegbeni, etc have so much potentials to be stars. All they need is more European training tours to expose them to overwhelming crowds and training facilities. I support Keshi and his policy and he should Stick by it and don’t get distracted by some media sycophants who never see good in our local coaches.
Onochie, you are my favorite sports editor and I applaud you in your writings in moving Nigeria sports forward.
God bless you and your family and may He grant you your heart desires.
Writes from abuja