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April 20, 2024

‘Go-slow’ at the bottleneck of selecting Super Eagles coach, by Segun Odegbami

Solving Nigeria’s unending sports development challenge!, by Segun Odegbami

At the end of AFCON 2023 in February, Jose Paseiro, the Portuguese Manager that took the Super Eagles to Cote D’Ivoire became history. His contract was not renewed by the Nigeria Football Federation despite getting to the final of the championship and putting up a credible performance through most of the championship. The majority of Nigerian football fans insist that he is not good enough for Nigeria’s ambitions into the future.

Since then, some 6 weeks later, the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, have been unable to announce a new gaffer for the senior national team. There appears to be a ‘go slow’ at the bottleneck of selecting the right manager for what would be a new national team.

Two friendly matches were played under a temporary arrangement with the Nigerian assistant coach to Paseiro, Finidi George, in charge. The team won the first friendly against Ghana, but lost the second. The loss to Mali may have sealed Finidi’s fate as the new coach. Despite the team’s unpreparedness for the insignificant friendly match, Finidi working alone on the bench without any other member of the technical crew, and several players not available or reluctant to play, those that don’t like the face of a Nigerian as head, have been unrelenting in condemning Finidi’s seemingly poor technical performance in that match.

Since then, with 6/7 weeks to the next very important World Cup qualifying match to play, the debates and controversy have dominated the media space over who should lead the team. Should it be another foreigner, or a Nigerian for a change? There have been 200 million opinions. Every Nigerian has become an expert. In the midst of these discordant voices, the NFF must make an announcement soon.

One thing is clear, except amongst some academic hard-line critics of Nigerian coaches, there appears to be little appetite for another half-baked foreign coach in Nigeria. The rackets attached to the hiring of foreign coaches may not find accommodation in a beleaguered government trying to reduce corruption in the system. The NFF does not have the funds, and the federal government will not accommodate the humongous fees of foreign coaches in the present dispensation.

So, it will be a Nigerian as next manager of the Super Eagles.

Why has the NFF not identified the most suitable amongst those that have indicated an interest, or that the body has identified and appointed a new national coach?

There is a lot of politicking ongoing. Nigerian coaches appear not to tick all the boxes of requirements, not eliciting the confidence of several officials of the NFF with vested interest in particular aspirants.

As things stand, however, a decision has to be taken now.

Most fingers point in the direction of a former international player.

He appears to be the preferred choice of most Nigerians in the media, particularly the social media.

I will not be surprised if Emmanuel Amuneke gets the final nod to lead the team. It will become a huge task to dispel the serious reservations about his choice by those familiar with his antecedents when he was in one of the junior teams.

PARIS 2024 Olympics – My Olympics story!

I have just made up my mind to attend the Paris Olympic Games this summer.

It will be my first time at the Olympics and not as an athlete.

In 1976, at the Montreal Olympics in Canada, I attended as an athlete but did not participate. Along with the rest of the world, I tasted the incursion of politics into sport and the first deployment of sports diplomacy in international affairs. the names of all the athletes from 30 countries that were involved in the boycott of the games were not recorded in the International Directory of Olympians at the International Olympic Committee, IOC.

In 1980, without officially qualifying for the Moscow Games, but benefitting from the crisis that followed Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan, leading to the boycott by several Western countries led by the USA, the Green Eagles were invited to the Moscow Olympics. I led the Nigerian national football team and doubled as co-captain (with Ahmeed Adio) of the overall contingent to become a registered member of the exclusive club of Olympians.

I would have attended the 1996 Games in Atlanta, USA, as manager of Chioma Ajunwa and Charity Opara. Unfortunately, when I applied for a visa to the Games from my base in the UK at the time, the interview date given at the American embassy was weeks after the Games would have ended. That’s how I sat at home in London, and missed the opportunity of attending the Olympics as a manager of athletes. My two wards won a Gold and a Silver medal.

At the 2010 Games in London. I was at ‘home’. I watched the Games as a tourist, attending a few events LIVE from the stands, but most from the giant screens at the Nigerian village set up for the huge Nigerian population in the UK.

During the last Olympic Games in Tokyo, I became inventive. I did the seemingly impossible. I became an invisible ‘fly on the wall’ reporting from Nigeria everything about the Nigerian contingent at the games with the deployment of technology and the collaboration of athletes and officials at the games.

Now, Paris 2024 Games are here.

I have a strong feeling Nigeria will come away with several medals. The feeling is strong. There are some obvious athletes in the winning zone already.

Having said that, the spirit of the Olympics is more in participating than in winning. That’s why as many athletes as have achieved the qualifying times and distances should be given the opportunity to experience the Olympics. I hope Nigeria will take all the athletes that attain the qualifying standards to Paris 2024.

Winning’ is not only about coming ‘first’.

From AFCON 2023, Nigeria gave a new and interesting definition to ‘winning’.

The country’s national team, the Super Eagles, for 4 weeks, provided the glue that united the country at a time when the country was going through difficult times in perennial economic, political and social challenges. As the Super Eagles, a team that was not given a chance to win by fanatical Nigerian football fans on the even of the championship, started to play well and to win matches in dramatic fashion, the spirit of nationalism took over the country. Temporarily, for a few weeks, Nigerians set aside their hardship, divisions and differences, and focused attention on the feel-good success of the Eagles on the football field. Even President Bola Tinubu became a part of the championship, following the Super Eagles on television all the way to the final match. With hopes sky-high, the entire country rallied around the team and supported their bid to win the most prestigious sports trophy in Africa, only for the hopes to be dashed at the last hurdle.

Despite the disappointment of that defeat, the country demonstrated uncommon appreciation of what the team had done for the psyche of the citizens during the period, a reminder of positive possibilities beyond AFCON, by spreading out the Red Carpet to welcome back the football heroes, compensating the team that came second with rewards unheard of in sports history. It was a beautiful confirmation of that Olympic truism that to be a ‘winner’ you do not have to come ‘first’.

God willing, I shall be at the Paris 2024 Olympics to report Nigeria’s success, first hand!