June 22, 2024

Nigerian football – a slightly different perspective! By Segun Odegbami

Nigerian football – a slightly different perspective! By Segun Odegbami

These are sad times in Nigerian football.

The events of the past two weeks have opened up a can of worms, plus the opportunity of a microscopic look beyond the superficiality of the incomprehensible drama.

There is ‘madness’ in the air.

Nigerian football is currently being white-washed and sun-dried in the global information superhighway.

Suddenly, nothing is right about Nigerian football, not even the seemingly improving domestic leagues, the steady growth of the women’s game, the explosion in the domestic football business, and the mushrooming of academies. All these have been set aside for the failure of the Super Eagles to win one simple football match at home against the weakest team ever to defeat them in history, a team annoyingly being coached by a foreign man rejected by Nigeria for taking Nigerian football back many decades. That singular defeat has also, now, taken Nigerian football development back several decades, nullifying even the small gains at AFCON 2023.

Worse still, the loss by the Super Eagles and the resignation of Finidi George, have both been dwarfed by the cursing and ranting (from ‘nowhere) of Victor Osimhen. It is now the most-talked about issue in the Nigerian football space, setting off mayhem in the football structure – what to do or not to do with Osimhen.

On the current billboard of Nigerian football are all the ugliness, the illegalities, the mediocrities, the injustices, the frailties, the failures in the system, everything in all their nakedness, tiworo tiworo! It is so bad that no one knows exactly what to make of it all, or how best to resolve the resultant issues.

Permit me to peer through my microscope into why in 5 short months, Nigerian football plunged from near the pinnacle of ultimate success to the dung of an unprecedented and most shameful defeat. What could have gone so drastically wrong?

The reality is that at the end of the day, it is the players and how they perform that determine the measure of success or failure of football administrations. When a team wins, everything is right. When a team loses, everything is wrong. It is as simple as that. There are no in-betweens.

Even the era of football administration in Nigeria that is often referred to as a model is only so rated because the Super Eagles played extremely well and won trophies for Nigeria in the early to mid-1990s. Inside the boardroom, at the time (I was a witness), it was also chaotic.

Some 5 months ago, Nigeria broke its own standards. The country rewarded ‘second-best’. She rewarded a team that did not win the trophy in a way such as the world had never seen before.

In history, Nigeria had lost, rather painfully, several finals of previous AFCONs. Twice, in 1988 and 2000, great squads of the Eagles’ that were even glaringly ‘robbed’ of their moments of glory were not welcomed with blaring trumpets, and no celebrations were held to honour or reward their valiant efforts.

Put that side-by-side the Super Eagles of AFCON 2023. No one had confidence in the team. For almost one decade before, they had won nothing, had not impressed very much, had not produced outstanding performances and performers, and so on. All of this under the tutelage of foreign White coaches.

Then, Cote D’Ivoire in January of 2023 happened and the same players that broke the hearts of Nigerians with a lethargic performance in the final match were accorded a heroes’ welcome, feted, honoured and handsomely rewarded by the government.

That gesture was totally out of character with the norm. It must have come with a consequence or a price, as an impetus or a depressant. The players may have concluded they were special indeed.

From amongst them, the most celebrated player before, during and after AFCON who did not deposit one single moment of magic, a single moment of brilliance for posterity to play back and celebrate in testimony to Africa’s Best Player, instead goes on a ranting spree in ‘unjustifiable’ anger, spewing out venomous words like the pus from a wound against his own coach. He was not even a part of the humiliating loss to Benin Republic!.

This can only be the product of some ‘madness’ in the air of Nigerian football. He even went to the extent of announcing that he does not care even if he is never invited to the national team again. Who says such things?

I am muted by the events of this past week. I choose not to speak about them beyond the following:

Finidi George’s resignation

Finidi George and the whole idea of hiring an indigenous coach for the country were not the desired options of the current football administrators. Finidi’s reluctant engagement was wrapped in so much bad-blood and negative intentions that it was doomed to fail!

There was no way he would not have failed even though losing to Benin Republic was never on the cards, and is a totally unacceptable result. So, Finidi’s decision to leave the poisoned Chalice alone by resigning is the most honourable thing to do.

Microscope on the Super Eagles

I am looking microscopically at the Nigerian players.

What has been staring the country in the face for over a decade is the dwindling number of exceptionally-gifted players in many positions on the field.

For several years we stuck with a goalkeeper that was glaringly short on safe-hands. I cannot understand why two foreign coaches definitely stuck to him. Is it confirmation that there is a deficit of great goalkeepers in the country?

At the full-back positions, only Ola Aina has shown consistency and exceptional brilliance down the right-side of the field over several years. The left-side has been the opposite, porous and so weak sometimes that Aina has had to be moved to the left-side to cover up for this weakness on occasions.

The centre of Nigeria’s defence line has been weak. At AFCON 2023, William Troost-Ekong rose to the challenge and provided leadership and great cover for that weakness. The first goal scored by Benin Republic against Nigeria in the absence of William clearly confirms this glaring weakness. There are no bona fide Central defenders currently in the Nigerian team.

In the midfield, Nigeria has a few names like Wilfred Ndidi and Alex Iwobi. They are very good players until you start to compare them with those before them, the engine room of most of Nigeria’s great teams of the past – Samuel Garba, Haruna Ilerika, Mudashiru Lawal, Henry Nwosu, Jay Jay Okocha, Sunday Oliseh, Kanu Nwankwo and so on? And I do not mean any disrespect to the mid-field players in the current Super Eagles.

There is an array of many good forwards in the current Nigerian team, but goalscoring has been in serious deficit, a reflection of their completeness compared to a glorious past that would surely include amongst many great names, that of Finidi George, the scapegoat of a failed system.

That is the reality.

Nigeria needs a new team of players in several positions. These players cannot be conjured into being by wishful thinking. They will come only through a proper production line established by administrators that know what they are doing!