THE loss of our Flying Eagles to Senegal and the team’s subsequent exit from the FIFA Under-20 World Cup competition in Poland has continued to elicit anger, melancholy and disappointment from Nigerians.
The Nigerian team led by Coach Paul Aigbogun was eliminated from the tournament on Monday, June 3, 2019 after playing four matches in which it won one, drew one, and lost two.
Our ever-hilarious football fans remain the best judges of the performance of any team after a match or tournament. If their team puts up a good fight and loses, Nigerians have a habit of welcoming and consoling them with expressions of solidarity for giving a good account of themselves.
Conversely, incompetent football teams have been tongue-lashed or pelted with stones by fans. Such was the fate of the Flying Eagles that fateful Monday.
More of the anger and blame were directed at the coach, Paul Aigbogun, who had been accused of gross incompetence by some of our retired football heroes, Segun Odegbami and Yisa Sofoluwe, in spite of his 1999 UEFA “A” licence.
Odegbami, a former Green Eagles captain and now foremost sportswriter and pundit, says of Coach Aigbogun’s disastrous outing in Poland: “Nigeria hires a coach with paper qualifications, but without the experience and pedigree to handle a national team with a goal to win the World Cup at a level the country has never won before, and expects a miracle.”
Also, Sofoluwe picked holes in the appointment of Aigbogun as the U-20 national team coach, alleging it was based more on favoritism than competence. He indicted the Nigerian Football Federation, NFF, for allegedly imposing players on Aigbogun and blamed the coach for his inability to resist imposition.
The failure of Coach Aigbogun and the U-20 national team can be viewed as a microcosm of the larger Nigerian situation where hardly any progress is being made. For years, the country has been wallowing in clannishness, favouritism, incompetence and corruption and yet expect miracles to happen. Senegal, with a population of 16 million (less than Lagos) has no business dominating Nigeria with our robust football culture and global accomplishments.
Our age group football is simply not working. Age cheating, appointment of incompetent coaches, corruption and nepotism have made it impossible for Nigeria to win any title at the U-20 World Cup since we started participating. Most players who represent us at that level hardly go on to make any reasonable mark in the Super Eagles.
We call for a probe of the Poland outing. We need to discover a better way forward. Nigerians deserve better representation at major tournaments, and it can only be possible when players are selected based on merit and coached by competent technical crew.
This Flying Eagles squad should be disbanded forthwith.