The fall of the Super Eagles and a season of apologies!

Super Eagles’ star, Ahmed Musa (centre) falls on the ball during the African Cup of Nations qualifier on March 25, 2016, in Kaduna. PHOTO: AFP

Super Eagles’ star, Ahmed Musa (centre) falls on the ball during the African Cup of Nations qualifier on March 25, 2016, in Kaduna. PHOTO: AFP

The Super Eagles of Nigeria are no longer the giants of African football.
Since before Stephen Keshi quit as coach of the team I had observed the deficit of quality players in the team that could sustain the old traditions and winning ways that made the Super Eagles one of the most entertaining teams in the world, a team with the raw materials and potential to become a global football force, one admired as much as dreaded by every opposition.

These days, even small African countries play against the Eagles and dare to dream of defeating them on home soil! That’s the story of Nigeria’s fall – from being a slaughterhouse for African teams to being a luxury home ground where teams come and go unscathed!

Match after match I watched the Super Eagles stumble and struggle to win matches they used to win with consummate ease.

Match after match I watched administrators trivialise the team’s decline, adding insult to our injury by offering a public apology to Nigerians every time the team failed. The practice has now become standard practice, a balm to soothe the pain of Nigerians. It is annoying.

Now coaches, administrators, supporters, everyone, even government officials, are involved in public apologies for the Eagles’ failures.

This week I watched as the Super Eagles capitulated to the Pharaohs of Egypt and officials reduced our collective pain to a series of annoying apologies.

Is it ‘apology’ that Nigerians will eat after being subjected to the trauma of a painful exit from the African Cup of Nations next February in Gabon, a competition that would have provided brief moments of joyful celebration and plenty of psychological distraction from the prevailing and overwhelming national climate of gloom?

Since those matches, I have not read a proper postmortem of what happened – how the match was keenly contested, how the Eagles were a little bit unlucky, how on the night the Egyptians deserved their victory and, sentiments aside, the Eagles, on the balance of play, did not deserve to win. I did not read also that administration is really at the core of Nigeria’s football problems and that what is needed is an intellectual forensic audit of the situation plus simple, clear, measurable and urgent prescriptions that will bring change beyond public apologies!

Samson Siasia had no business apologizing to anyone on behalf of anyone. As the interim coach he did a yeoman’s job.

The players had no business apologising to anyone. They answered their country’s call and played out their hearts and gave a good account of themselves.

The Nigerian supporters and fans gave the Super Eagles unprecedented support. The 25,000 Ahmadu Bello Stadium was filled to beyond capacity with 60,000 people crammed together in and around the stadium like sardines in a can. So why would they apologise to anyone?

I was shocked when I read that the honourable minister of sports also joined in the orgy of apologies. What did he have to do with the team and how they played?

It is the apology by the NFF President at a press conference called by the NFF that calls for scrutiny.

An apology is usually an acknowledgement of some wrongdoing. So, what did the NFF do wrong in Nigeria’s loss to Egypt? That should tell us what needs to be fixed going forward.

But going through the report of the press conference the President of the NFF, Amaju Pinnick, a friend that I admire for his guts and courage, did not answer the question about what the NFF did wrong.

He did not accept any responsibility for the loss rather he said it was unfair for anyone to demand for his resignation when his board had achieved much with the other national teams during their tenure.

He conveniently forgot history that several boards before the present one had survived or suffered from the results achieved with the Super Eagles in the African Cup of Nations and World Cup only! Nothing else mattered!

Then he went on to provide an insight into the future.
1.    His board would not resign.
2.    Samson Siasia is returned to the national Olympic team;
3.    The next coach of the Super Eagles will be a foreign coach.

No one seriously thinks that the NFF board or Amaju himself would resign for any reason. Nigerians do not resign from any position.

I am confused that Samson Siasia is sent back to the Olympic national team. What’s the difference between coaching the Olympic team and coaching the Super Eagles? Is the Olympic team not the Super Eagles less a few ageing players replaced by a few young and emerging talents? Does it take less to coach the Olympic team than to coach the Super Eagles?

Getting Samson Siasia to act as interim coach, acknowledging his contributions in the rescue mission against Egypt, and then sending him back to the Olympic team are clear demonstrations of confidence in the man’s capability as a coach at the highest level.

So, where does the hiring of a foreign technical adviser or coach for the Super Eagles, a position the NFF board appears to have settled for, find justification?

For some of us, unlike what the NFF president believes, the problem with Nigeria’s national team is not the absence of a foreign coach to handle it?

Will a foreign coach have made a difference in the matches against Egypt? Will a foreign coach have performed a miracle, chosen a new and different set of players, and created a system in two days that would have produced a different result?

The answers to these questions lie in the realm of subjective speculation.

What we know from previous experience and from common sense is that there is no foreign coach out there with a magic wand with guarantees of success. We have all been witnesses to the recent demystification of Luis Van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, Raphael Benitez, Garry Neville, Arsene Wenger, and so on, some of the world’s most renowned coaches, who are all failing in their immediate past and even present assignments.  So where is the magic in the foreign coach?

In absolute reality, football is art and not science. Winning is not based on facts, figures and quadratic equations that produce definite answers. Football is a sport that requires more fluid and subliminal factors to achieve success that cannot even then be guaranteed.

Obviously, Amaju and his board think differently and have made up their mind about hiring a foreign coach for the Super Eagles. Amaju actually threatened to resign should that fail to materialize.

His position means that a ‘battle line’ has been drawn between him and Nigerian coaches and ex-internationals.

Against the background of the recent history of foreign coaches in Nigeria, littered with tales of failures, of milking the country of foreign resources, and of absconding with their loot without any consequences, I must acknowledge that Amaju is a very courageous man to choose to chart this course of action.

So whilst we await the foreign coach the NFF intends to hire to coach the Super Eagles (with a guarantee he will not fail), I will offer my little advise to Amaju Pinnick. The NFF board he leads should tread carefully and gingerly through the minefields that lie ahead in the form of concerted opposition by those who feel insulted by the blanket carpeting of Nigerian coaches and ex-international footballers as incapable of coaching the national team.

I am one of them. We believe the solution to Nigeria’s football challenges lies deeper than one foreign coach handling the Super Eagles.

Under the present political dispensation, a White coach as the only solution will not go down well. The prevailing social and economic situations in the country will never support such superficial adventurism laced with a history of large-scale corrupt practices.

Probably, borrowing from the position the NFF holds, what Nigerian football really needs now is a foreign Administrator to replace the NFF board.  Not a bad idea, I think!

Meanwhile, enough of the apologies.



1 Comment
  • Sola Aareago

    Absolutely on point. The suggestion of a ‘foreign Administrator’ to replace the current NFF baord, as enunciated by this courageous writer should be taken seriously. It is indeed the right way to go and all football lovers in Nigeria should as a matter of national emergency rally round this call.

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