By Onochie Anibeze
I watched Eagles play 2-2 with Mexico in Houston, USA last month.
I saw them blow a victory they ought to have sealed when they led 2-1 and Mexico were short by one man following a red card right from the 23rd minute.
They played some good passing game but were caught up with what you may now permit me to tag a disease in Eagles. This disease has been in the team for long, dating back to the days of Amodu Shaibu, Berti Vogts, Lagerback, Siasia and it even appears more prominent now. It is a disease that kills many of the attacking moves of the team.
An attack is on and the ball gets to a player and he decides to pass back or play a diagonal pass when actually some teammates are in positions to take opponents on the run and make attempts at goal. Mikel Obi does this well.
Sunday Mba did it many times in Houston and to a large extent succeeded in spreading the disease in the team. Towards the end of the match in Houston, Mexico, with 10 men, so harassed the Eagles that we were happy it ended 2-2.
And yet it was a match Eagles had everything to win especially when they led 2-1. Some players wanted to show skill more than contribute to team play and score goals. They turn with the ball, always. Get me right. There are times you need to pass back to reorganise. But it is wrong when you have the chance to go forward or when some teammates are on-the-run and you decide to turn back in an attempt to dribble or display skill.
This was the greatest undoing of the Eagles in the Confederations Cup in Brazil. The other is their wastefulness in front of goal. But any person who has been following Brown Ideye from the last Nations Cup would really be surprised that he still starts matches for us. What do you say of a striker who never lays assists or scores? He shouldn’t be in the team what more starting matches. It was same with Fegor Ogude during the Nations Cup.
The boy has even improved but he still lacks the quality to play at top level. At the Nations Cup, he couldn’t mark well, he wasn’t creative and could not pass well and yet he was in our midfield, creating havoc until Onazi came in for him and Sunday Mba for Nosa Igiebor and the Eagles changed. Those two changes won us the Nations Cup. Play back the first two matches of the Eagles and the subsequent ones and you would agree with me.
I’m not sad that Eagles crashed out of the Confederations Cup in the first round in Brazil. Good teams can suffer that faith. I’m sad that we couldn’t play close to our potential.
The same squad, with different approach, could have gone further. Uruguay were beatable.I closely watched the team against Uruguay and Spain and repeatedly told people that from what I was seeing, the only way Eagles could score would be through sheer individual brilliance. It happened with Mikel against Uruguay and our Confederations Cup story ended with that goal. Our runs off the ball were perhaps only better than those of Tahiti.
I also saw that the Eagles had speed to destroy teams on the counter. But did they exploit their quality? In Brazil, like it happened in Houston, the Eagles have improved in the way they close in on opponents. Their marking has improved and should be commended. But their positioning in the defence has lacked quality and has caused them goals. Again, what they do with the ball and their runs off the ball when in possession still leaves much to be desired.
And set pieces? Supersport commentators said that our set pieces were embarrassing and I do not need to add more. We all saw how elementary they were. Mikel doesn’t have the touch for free kicks. He never got them right but continued to play them. And this brings me to what Kojo Williams said in Vanguard on Tuesday.
The former NFA Chairman wants a foreign coach for the Eagles. It was not the first time he was saying so. He has always maintained that ‘’going by the structure we have on the ground and the standard of our coaches, we need sound and competent foreign coaches to push our football to the high level where it will rank among the best in the world. ‘’
The problem I have with the call for foreign coaches is that the Football Association never engages the ones who could be effective in our system. Our pleasant story with foreign coaches ended with Clemens Westerhof.
All the coaches who came after him could not achieve what Stephen Keshi did at the last Nations Cup in South Africa.They were not good enough. A big name will not necessarily succeed here. A man who knows the game and who also knows how to impact it on players, transforms them; a man who, aside these qualities, also has the ability and passion to work in our frustrating terrain is the one who can succeed here. You see how difficult it will be to get one?
Our problem is not only limited to the senior team. Our failure to have a standard and quality league with feeder or reserve or youth teams will continue to stare us in the face. Our failure to have a good structure or football culture that will ensure transition of REAL YOUNG players from their kindergarten level, passing through Under 15 to Under 17 to U-20 and Olympic Teams to the Eagles is our major problem. When we assign good coaches to teach the kids attacking football from the youth stages, they will not be breaking a fast attack to pass back when it is not necessary.
We will have players who will understand the language and art of modern football and who will grow into a formidable culture that will make us world beaters. It will be difficult, very difficult to get a coach like Westerhof again. However, a serious and sincere search can fetch them. But do we really need a foreign coach like Kojo has stated?
Take this: Kojo is not saying that the football federation should dispense with Keshi . Kojo insists that ‘’Keshi needs a sound tactician to help him drive the team to higher level. ‘’
Many Nigerians attacked him for this position. But I think they read him wrongly. Kojo insists that Keshi, and to a large extent Nigerian football, need help. And what is wrong if Keshi gets a help and goes to the World Cup to shine? Who takes the credit? Didn’t Samson Siasia engage one although it didn’t work for obvious reasons?
Based on what I saw of the Confederations Cup, I wholeheartedly support Kojo Williams. We need help. But like Kojo suggested, foreign coach or no foreign coach, Keshi should remain the head coach. If we want to rank among the best in the world, Keshi and the Eagles will need help. We can play better than we saw of our team in Brazil. Jonathan Akpoborie wonders why same mistakes happen repeatedly in Eagles. Finding some help could be an immediate solution.
A lasting one will be to support Nduka Irabor restructure and revive the league and establish a football culture that will graduate good players from the kindergarten level to the Super Eagles so that, at the senior level, coaching will be reduced to management of players and execution of tactics in matches and not the teaching of basics.
Nigerians easily give in to sentiment rather than reality. They love the game. But I’m sorry to say that their knowledge of the game does not match their passion and this is where the problem lies. Brazil has Phil Scolari, a 2002 World Cup winner as their coach for the 2014 World Cup. The same Brazil appointed Parreirer, a senior man in the game and another World Cup winner as one of his assistants. This is to help him. They want all good hands on deck.
If it were in Nigeria, people would make a mill of the two large figures and rule the partnership impossible. That is the way we are. We make so much noise over matters that we are ignorant of. Kojo says Keshi needs help but should remain the head coach. And people are calling him names. I’m disappointed. Don’t we want to grow?
Even Westerhof that we now celebrate as the best we ever had at a time had to engage Bonfrere Jo to help him with fitness training. It was still not enough for him. He engaged Jerry Van Iyke, a goalkeeper trainer to also help him. Today, people refer to when we once ranked 5th in FIFA ranking without finding out how it was done. Kojo that they are condemning was one of those sitting down on the grass of Ota, morning and evening, while Westerhof worked.
I was there too. I’m not one who will give in to sentiment in our sports matter. If we are contented with winning in Africa, playing below our potential against the world only to end up with ‘’We Tried” consolation then let’s maintain the status quo.
But if we don’t want to wince or look at a face before changing a Mikel Obi if he is not doing well, if we appreciate the fact that Brown Ideye right now lacks the quality to play for Nigeria, if we really want to rank among the best in the world then we would understand Kojo Williams. I want to see Eagles play pressure football if we have to and also I want to see them play the counter attack option because we have the potential to do so.
We can exploit our quality in speed and direct football and if we need help to bring out the best in us what’s wrong with that? But, personally, I doubt the ability of the football officials to select the Special One for us. But based on the Nations Cup success of Keshi, he should remain the head coach. The foreign assistant, if we so decide, can be in charge of training and Keshi the manager and overall boss of the team. This is my position.