By Patrick Omorodion
I have never seen a group of pessimistic people like the average Nigerian football fan. Days to the much talked about friendly match between the Super Eagles and the Catalonian selected, they had written off the Eagles and predicted disgusting scorelines against the side Stephen Keshi is preparing for the Africa Cup of Nations which begins in South Africa in about two weeks time.
Their reasons ranged from the scoreline against the same side some years ago to the profile of the Catalans who were mainly stars of the fearsome Barcelona FC that have at various times conquered Spain, Europe and the world.
The Nigerian side paraded mostly home-based players spiced with a handful of Europe-based professionals Keshi is trying to mould into a team for the Nations Cup and the 2014 World Cup.
The game had hardly started at the Estadi Cornella, home turf of Espanyol than the Eagles conceded a penalty from Fegor Ogude who was only trying to save his head from the shot from a Catalan attacker. That early goal caused the pessimists to start counting on their finger tips the number of goals the Eagles would finally concede.
Mostly in the first half of that game, the home side strung passes reminiscent of the typical Barca side tutored by the soft-spoken and unassuming Pep Guardiola with our Eagles almost running aimlessly from one end of the pitch to the other.
The stage was like the battle field between the biblical David and the Goliath with the Goliath beckoning to David to come forward to be slaughtered. The crowd at the stadium yelled each time Carles Puyol, Gerrard Pique or Xavi Hernandez were with the ball.
The Eagles were however, gaining confidence as the game progressed and just eight minutes into the second half, the Eagles struck through US-based Bright Dike to the delight of the handful flag-waving Nigerian fans at the stadium and joy of the coaching crew.
The homers and their fans must have felt that there was still enough time to dislodge the Eagles and score more goals but their optimism faded as the game wore on until the final minute and the rookies, that the Eagles were, triumphed even though the scoreline was 1-1.
The same Nigerian fans who had predicted a massacre of the Eagles by the Catalan side began singing eureka, praising Keshi for his rebuilding process which they now claim was beginning to yield good result..
Some others however, dismissed the feat as nothing because, according to them, it was a mere friendly match and nothing was at stake. These set of fans were the ones who reminded all that their earlier meeting was a disastrous 5-0. Then they didn’t remember it was also a friendly match then.
Apart from the fans, most of the NFF Board members never gave Keshi and the team any chance against these football greats from Spain, forget about the freedom seeking Catalans, because majority of the players play for the reigning European and world champions, Spain.
My worry here is the Nations Cup semi final target the NFF gave to Keshi to achieve or get fired before he even started the business of rebuilding the team. This action is the attitude of one trying to win at all cost, not caring how the target is achieved.
If they remember that Nigeria’s football was at its lowest ebb when Keshi came on board and that it needed a revival, they should also know that the task was not one that could be achieved with one competition or under one year.
If Keshi is allowed enough time to rebuild the team from the scratch with home-based players spiced with some foreign ones, the dream of returning the Eagles to the Clemens Westerhof era could be achieved. A fire brigade approach or threatening target like was done under Shaibu Amodu, Austin Eguavoen and Samson Siasia will fall flat on our faces and make us return to that stage were the Eagles will struggle to qualify for the Nations Cup.
At last the truth is out
For many months, our football officials, especially those on the side of erstwhile boss of the Nigeria Premier League, NPL, Rumson Baribote have been talking tongue in cheek as per the sponsorship deal won by Total Promotions on behalf of MTN.
They rubbished the deal and caused the league to run without a sponsor till date and in the process, clubs laboured week in week out, playing matches in far flung places, most times at the risk of their lives without any prize to fght for.
Our elders say that it takes time for a stammerer to mention his father’s name but he will surely mention it. That is the case with the real organisation which won the sponsorship of the Nigerian league. After Total Promotions won the bid for MTN, those who hated Davidson Owumi brought in legal jargons to say that MTN got the sponsorship by proxy and didn’t deserve to get it.
Because they wanted Owumi out, they allowed the league and Nigerian players to suffer unduly. Now because the same Baribote they were protecting has accused the Sports Minister, Bolaji Abdullahi of conspiring with club owners to remove him ‘illegally’, the minister has come out to say that Total Promotions actually won the bid to sponsor the league but out of Baribote’s selfishness, the deal was truncated. What a way to run sports in a country that wants to be among the 20 most developed countries in the year 2020.