Cyril C. NwokejiSunday, April 10, 2016




he Super Eagles of Nigeria have yet again failed to qualify for another AFCON tournament; for the second consequetive time; an unglorified primeur, in the history of the Super Eagles of Nigeria! The latest failure, also means the Super Eagles, have failed to qualify for three of the last four AFCON tournaments! This fact will certainly come with the concomitant consequencies for Nigeria's rating as a soccer nation.

How did Nigeria, a country so richly blessed in soccer talents and with a rich, glorified history in soccer, fall to this unenviable level? How are the mighty fallen? What really went wrong with Nigeria, more especially in the last six years? Is it a case of failed soccer administration? Or rather pure soccer technical/tactical mismanagement, no thanks to the greater use of indigenous coaches, in the last six years? Or rather, due to hard luck? Or have some of the players been less than committed / motivated, to play for Nigeria? Or rather a case of dearth of stand-out performers, as has been opined in certain quarters ? Yours sincerely, finds it difficult to pin point clearly where the problem lies; but would rather believe that a combination of these factors, have clearly played a role in the Super Eagles' problems.

My reasoning is as follows:

Meethinks and strongly so that the time to start preparing for the next soccer competition, is at the end of the previous one.The quick succession of soccer competitions at the international level, is such that, a winning or losing side, hasn't much time, to savour the euphoria of victory, or wallow in the pains and pangs of defeat, before the next competition comes calling. Any team that wants to excel at all competitions, or rather at most competitions, must understand this golden rule and act quickly, before that team finds itself on the wrong side of events, the next time around. Meethinks, this golden rule in soccer management, has not been understood, or rather partially understood by our soccer administrators. They either waste too much time savouring a gotten victory, or they waste too much time wallowing in the pains and pangs of defeat, by trading the usual blame game, or rather they suddenly become naieve, even after a failed adventure, that they forget to plan and consequently get into another trouble!

Yours sincerely, thinks this last scenario, accounted in great measure, for Nigeria's latest failure, in the AFCON 2017 qualifying race.

After Nigeria's failure for AFCON 2015, one expected the NFF, to hit the ground running, as fast as possible, in trying to rebuild the Super Eagles, for AFCON 2017, which qualifiers, was only some months away. They needed to appoint a substantive coach at the quickest possible time, to take charge and responsibility, for the rebuilding process.The NFF, instead of doing the needful, went numbs, or rather became naieve, apparently, not wanting to hurt the then powers that be, that apparently, prefered the retention of the then coach of the Super Eagles. The NFF, not withstanding, the protection, enjoyed under FIFA statutes, from government interference, shirked it's responsibility, as a consequence, and refused to sack the then coach of the Super Eagles. Since the NFF, didn't really want him, and but couldn't move against him, considerable time was lost, without a substantive coach for the Super Eagles; the Super Eagles was put in charge of a "caretaker coach," with his own ideas about coaching. Yours sincerely, in an article, written in January 2015, titled:" Whither NFF and the substantive Super Eagles coach," published in the Nigeria world forum, warned about the dangers of wasting precious time in rebuilding the Super Eagles, occasioned by the then unfortunate scenario. The NFF chairman, shortly afterwards, announced in his "facebook" account, that the "deadlock," would soon be broken, with the announcement of a substantive Super Eagles coach. The NFF, did finally sign a contract with the then coach, in April 2015, after having wasted five precious months, from the time Nigeria was eliminated by South-Africa, in November, 2014, in the race to AFCON 2015; and with only two months to the beginning of qualifiers for AFCON 2017!

The consequences of having wasted precious time in preparing the Super Eagles for the next challenge, manifested itself, in the match against Chad, in the AFCON qualifiers, when the Super Eagles laboured hard to an unimpressive, 2-0 victory, in Kaduna, in June, 2015. Exploiting the excuse of the then coach, having secretly applied for another job, while in the employ of the NFF, and considering the fact the "backers" of the then coach of the Super Eagles, were no more in power, the NFF, with a greater latitude, sacked the then coach of the Super Eagles. The search for another coach began; this meant beginning from level zero, with the Super Eagles' rebuilding process, with less than three months to the next competitive game against Tanzania! The next coach, was contracted in July, 2015; and virtually started from the scratch! We all supported his appointment, but with benefit of hindsight, after seven months, it became clear the NFF and indeed all of us, were mistaken, with his appointment. Apart from the controversies that followed his tenure, he left his job rather unceremoniously with one month to a very vital double header against Nigeria's main rivals: Egypt! The NFF, with their back to the wall, went for another caretaker arrangement, and assembled a coaching crew under leadership of Coach Samson SiaSia, to see Nigeria through, and hopefully, do the 'impossible ,' by defeating Egypt, and taking leadership of the group! With benefit of hindsight, following conventional wisdom, and soccer logic, this was an impossible task! A hastily assembled team of the Super Eagles, trying to defeat an Egyptian team, that has been work in progress, for the past six years; and having been under tutelage of a world class coach, for the past two years! Against conventional wisdom, Nigerians hoped for a 'miracle,' which logically, didn't come to pass.

One must admit that given the odds stacked against the Super Eagles, in the preparation, for the Egypt encounter, the Super Eagle, gave a good account of themselves in the double header. One can venture to say, the Super Eagles, were somewhat unlucky, in the double confrontation, against Egypt. But, who would begrudge the 'god of soccer,' for being on the side of a team that had gone through a painful and rigorous process of team building, in the past six years; as opposed to a team, that has engaged in a 'fire brigade,' method of team building, virtually over the same period of time ? A team that used three different coaches, and three different captains, over a 4-match qualifying series! Instability!!!!!!!

Following the rules of justice and fair play, the Egyptians, deserved their victory, and eventual qualification, for AFCON 2017, as the best team of the group. Rather than blame the players and the technical crew, Nigerians, owe them a debt of gratitude, for having put up such a gallant fight, in the face of a near impossible task. From the deepest bottom of my heart, one says a big thank you, to the Super Eagles and their handlers for the gallant fight they put up throughout the AFCON qualifiers; they were inhibited by factors, certainly beyond their control! For Coaches: Samson SiaSia, Emmanuel Amunike, Salisu Yusuf and Aloy Agu, I say another thank you, for taking up a job many a coach would have rejected. They are all future substantive Super Eagles coaches! Coach Samson Sia Sia, is in my considerd opinion, the next most qualified indigenous coach, for the Super Eagles job! I believe his time, will come sooner or later!

And the NFF ? I wouldn't join the clarion call for the resignation of Mr. Amaju Pinnick, not withstanding the two missed AFCON tournaments under his watch. One prefers he continues in his position as NFF president, but one expects him to learn from the mistakes of the past. Leadership, is among things, about being able take a decision, regardless of whose ox is gored! A leader, who is incapable of this, has no business in leadership!

In conclusion, soccer -crazy Nigerians, should please take heart at this latest disappointment. Never in the history of the Super Eagles, have they failed to qualify for two consequetive Nations' cup tournaments; but it doesn't mean their situation is hopeless. Americans believe that every crisis, presents an opportunity ( to make amends, and shoot to glory)! I believe the Super Eagles case, is certainly, no exception; one expects the soccer authorities, in the light of this popular American wiseness, to seize the moment and do the needful; and the Super Eagles would fly again!