Many Nigerians like to reap from where they have not sown. Most often we forget the genesis of our national dilemma. The performance of the Super Eagles in South Africa is neither a shock nor a disappointment to a few of us.
The road to South Africa was rough and untidy. Many of us thought that Tunisia will qualify but on the last day of the qualifiers, Nigeria pulled the last string against Kenya while Mozambique defeated Tunisia.
The manner of our qualification reminded us of the mismanagement and lack of expertise in the Nigerian Football Federation. The last time we developed soccer from the grassroots’ level was probably when Westerhof was in charge.
We blame the Super Eagles because, quite correctly, they are professionals and they are paid to do the job of playing good football. Moreso, they are expected to play with their hearts like the North Koreans for example.
We must ask ourselves many questions.
What are the roles of the Ministry of Youth and Sports when it comes to development of Nigerian football?
What are the roles of the Nigerian Football Federation in discovering talented and gifted footballers especially after we have produced the likes of Okocha, Keshi, Oliseh, Finidi, Amokachi, Giant Uche, Siasia, Amuneka and Yekini among many other global names?
In general what are the national policy regarding the development of sports in Nigeria?
These are some of the questions; there are hundreds of other questions begging for answers.
We live at a time when we expect miraculous rewards from something we didn’t plan for. In football this will never happen because many nations take sports and football especially too seriously that those who failed to plan invariably planned to fail.
The year 1996 was an exceptional year for Nigerian football. We won the Olympics gold medal despite the fact that the preparation was, as usual, messy. We cannot always depend on luck or fire-brigade approach to accomplish success.
We should never crucify the super eagles. As a nation we have refused to gather all our positive energy towards effecting appropriate changes in the management of our national affairs.
The composition of the Super Eagles today, as I see it, is definitely not the best selection of Nigerian footballers. But if I am wrong, then Nigerian football is almost dead. It means either we have no new talents or we have failed to discover them.
In Nigeria today, the focus of several football fans is either on the English Premiership or La Liga. Some others fancy Serie A while others are focused on Euro Sports-2 for the Bundesliga. What is the Nigerian Football Federation doing regarding the promotion of the game in Nigeria?
Every weekend, you see representatives of NFF putting on jerseys to show their love and support for Arsenal, Man U and Chelsea. Even state governors and commissioners are not left out. We celebrate English Soccer and Nigerians have become die-hard followers of the game as played in Europe.
As this national madness progresses, Nigerian football continue to suffer both in the divisive boardrooms and on the patchy pitches. Yet we expect a miracle from South Africa in 2010. We forgot that Nigerian football reached its peak in 1994 and that we have gone to sleep ever since.
What we should have been doing since 1994 was to create a breeding ground for the replacements of all the Superstars mentioned above. We didn’t. We allowed our politicians to run our football. We don’t demonstrate against bad decisions. We don’t react to negative policies. We don’t identify with global growth of sports. We leave many things undone because in Nigeria we allow many abnormalities and yet expect positive outcomes.
It is the same mentality in other facets of our lives. We call it the Nigerian factor. We just allow things to pass without making positive amendments or appropriate corrections. We leave the holistic approach and chase subsets that cannot stand independently. Our sports or football in this case is the reflection of our collective failures as a nation. What is the difference between the performance of the Super Eagles and the fact that the standard of education of Nigeria has dropped consistently over the decades?
To get things right in our football, we have to get it right in the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development. To get it right in the Super Eagles, we really have to get it right in the NFF. To get it right in the NFF, we really have to ensure that those who are on board are seasoned sports professionals and sports administrators. Until then, the decline in the standard of our football will continue to take a nose dive.
Regarding the Super Eagles, there are a lot of issues at stake. What are the criteria used for getting players into the national team? I have spoken to at least 2 ex-internationals and their responses are very heartbreaking. In some circumstances Nigerian politicians, dictators and family members have influenced the selection of players into the national team. There are stories (from the past) of bribing of coaches to get players selected into the team.
What about the question of age? We blame the Eagles for being slow, tired and uninspired. But how did they make the team in the first place? Did they invite themselves to the team? We must begin to look closely at the ages of our players and stop inviting them to the senior national team when we realise that they cannot run or keep up with the pace at that level. While their active sojourn in national team last, we should respect them while expecting the best from them.
The coach, Nigerian or foreign, must be able to ascertain the level of the fitness of his team all the time. An unfit or uncommitted player has no business in the team because that is minus one already. It is also pertinent that the NFF does not interfere with the coach’s process of invitation and selection of players for the national team.
Obviously I cannot explain all that I have on my mind. For example what plans do we have for the Super Eagles player when they play hard and injure themselves while playing for Nigeria? What does the insurance policy say? Nigerian sports journalists owe us this obligation of explaining more and becoming more objective in their analyses of sports. If we want progress in our sports/ football, the brown-envelope syndrome must be abolished in the reporting of sports. That syndrome has destroyed enough of the Nigerian life.
Some Nigerians are expecting a miracle on Tuesday the 22nd of June while others have given up. Football is not a one day affair; our focus should be on the long-term implications of our outings in the Nations Cup played in Angola and the current World Cup in South Africa. If we have good memories we shouldn’t have forgotten Ghana 2008 so easily. We could have planned for today. But we didn’t.
With careful analyses of how we got to this point of disgrace in our football, we might be able to retrace our steps probably to Tunisia ’94 and make amends so that we can prepare better for the future.
Invariably, as Nigeria approaches 50th year as a nation, there are several things we need to put right. The status quo is a disaster for Africa and an embarrassment to the black race. We need a change we can believe in.