FEATURE ARTICLE

Temple Chima UbochiFriday, November 13, 2009
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Bonn, Germany

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EAGLES FLEW OVER TUNISIA AND EAGLETS REFUSED TO SOAR WHEN IT MATTERED MOST

A minute's success pays the failure of years. (Robert Browning)
You always pass failure on the way to success. (Mickey Rooney)
To follow, without halt, one aim: There's the secret of success. (Anna Pavlova)
I know of only one bird - the parrot - that talks; and it can't fly very high. (Wilbur Wright)
Each success only buys an admission ticket to a more difficult problem. (Henry Kissinger)
It is possible to fail in many ways...while to succeed is possible only in one way. (Aristotle)
Having been here before and lost, to be here and win, I've got to tell you, winning is really a lot better than losing. Really a lot better. (Kate Winslet)
If you wish success in life, make perseverance your bosom friend, experience your wise counselor, caution your elder brother and hope your guardian genius. (Joseph Addison)
Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing. (Abraham Lincoln)
Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up. (Thomas A. Edison)
The toughest thing about success is that you've got to keep on being a success. Talent is only a starting point in this business. You've got to keep on working that talent. Someday I'll reach for it and it won't be there. (Irving Berlin)


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n Nigeria where there is dearth of good news, Nigerians usually turn to football to give them any semblance of joy and hope. In a place where the day after is always worse than the one before, Nigerians have only known agonies, miseries, pains and hopelessness. Football can give them momentary relieve from their sorrows.

Football can give joy as well as pain, nobody should under-estimate the power of football. Some might say that it’s just a round leather kick around by 22 people in a field, but, there is more to it than just that. Win can bring overwhelming joy while defeat can also bring devastating pains. For instance, Robert Enke, a German national goalkeeper, took his own life just few days ago by thrusting himself to a fast moving train (180 Km/h), because he was suffering from chronic depression which he managed to conceal from his team mates for almost two years. For not responding to his therapy well, his doctor decided it was time for him to be admitted to a hospital for treatment. Knowing that admission to a hospital would have exposed his illness and might scuttle his chance of keeping for Germany during the 2010 world cup in South Africa, he decided to call it a quit with his life. The mere fact that his football career would have been in jeopardy and the fear of missing out during the 2010 world cup, was enough reason for him to stop breathing.

Football is the only thing that gives Nigerians a sense of belonging. Whenever any of our national teams is in action against another country, Nigerians tend to jettison their ethnic/parochial tendencies and start talking as one. Football gives us a sense of oneness. This makes it imperative that any Nigerian government that knows its onions, should always endeavour to invest in football in particular and sports in general, because the re-banding effort of any government can get a boost and might even be made easier through giving our national teams and sportsmen/women all they need to succeed. It’s not only money and equipment that bring success. Having the right trainer and officials, psychological upliftment, regards for the athletes, determination on the part of the players, goodluck etc all play one role or the other in bringing success to a team or an athlete.

This is how FIFA’s website described Nigeria (an excerpt): “Despite being a major producer of oil, gas and minerals - the country's main natural resources and sources of revenue - Nigeria remains relatively poor.

Following numerous civil wars and coups, it is now a federal republic. Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, the Nigerian head of state and president, has the delicate task of governing a country beset by ongoing tension between Muslims and Christians.

Although Nigeria is home to 250 different ethnic groups, its vast population shares one uniting passion: football”. (fifa.com)

The bane of our sports has been bad administration, greed, under funding, embezzlement and corruption on the part of the football governing body. Performance is jeopardized through ethnicism, because, sometimes selections are not based on ability, but, on ethnic or personal considerations. For us to see more successes, these ills must be done away with. Unfortunately, corruption is a citizen of Nigeria, it touches everything in Nigeria. A petition alleging financial recklessness on the part of the organisers of the just concluded U-17 World Cup in the disbursement of N12.1 billion, is reportedly receiving the attention of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC). A rights group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), petitioned the commission, following sustained allegations of fraud in the disbursement of the money released by the Federal Government.

We are happy that the U-17 has come and gone, Nigeria was caught napping with the preparation. 48 hours to the start of the tournament, everything was in disarray: School children for callisthenics were abandoned in barracks, 35 musicians for opening ceremonies were not paid, stadium to be used for the opening ceremony was overgrown with weeds, 50 laptops for operations was appropriated by top government officials etc. The beginning of the tournament showcased our unpreparedness for everything.

There is allegation that Nigeria is not doing so well in football because of those running it. Dr. Sam Jaja, who doubles as a former board member of the then Nigeria Football Association (NFA) and the former boss of the Nigeria Referees Association (NRA), said football is completely dead and has no hope of resurrection unless the present board of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) is sent packing from office. Jaja did not mince words in castigating the Sani Lulu Abdullahi led board of the NFF as well as Dr Adamu of NSC, saying that “Nigerian football is dead and the NFF and Amos Adamu killed it. Let me tell you this, Nigerian football will not move forward if this board remains there, it is not a curse, because this board is reaping the bad things they planted, when you get to a position you are not entitled to, definitely you expect anything but failure. If by mistake we allow this board to return to office, then I am very sorry for Nigeria, because that would be the dead end”. Jaja maintained that NFF board lacked direction and the capability to lead Nigerian football to the Promised Land, insisting that if Nigerian football is to be revived, the present board should be flushed out. But unfortunately, the said President of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Sani Abdullahi Lulu remains recalcitrant. He was quoted as having said that only God can remove him. The Guardian Newspapers of October 15, 2009 wrote “President of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Sani Abdullahi Lulu, believes that only God can take him away from the federation despite the agitations against his administration from different quarters. The NFF chief also believes that he would continue to lead the federation for as long as possible no matter what his detractors do to unseat him”.

Another problem with our football has to do with the attitude of the players towards one another. One of the Eagles’ players, Joseph Yobo, confessed of series of in-fighting in the national team. He feared then that the situation could also harm the country’s ambition to make it to the World Cup in South Africa. For him “We quarrel in the Super Eagles camp often. Our disagreement is not based on ego, but it is purely on taking responsibilities while on duty”. (Tribune October 18, 2009)

I was one of those who wrote the Super Eagles off, as far as qualifying for the 2010 world cup was concerned. The team blew the chance to have a smooth qualification earlier and we knew that for them to make it to South Africa, the effort would not be only theirs. Even at a time, the Eagles coach, Amodu, said that the ticket to South Africa 2010 was no longer in their hands, he resigned their fate to the other teams’ performances. ThisDay of September 7, 2009 wrote: “After squandering a golden opportunity to grab the three points at stake in yesterday’s South Africa 2010 World Cup qualifiers against the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia, Coach Shaibu Amodu says Nigeria no longer have control over the Super Eagles dream to pick the lone Group B ticket. Of course his wards were pelted with cans of bottled water after the 2-2 draw game with Tunisia by the fans who filled the 60,000 seating capacity Abuja Stadium. Amodu no doubt admitted at the post match press conference that the Eagles lost to carelessness”.

Mozambique helped us through their performance. They defeated Tunisia to hand us the chance. The Mambas (snakes) of Mozambique, through an 83rd-minute Dario Monteiro goal, which gave them a 1-0 victory over Tunisia, made it possible for our Super Eagles to qualify. So it was a close shave. We pray that the Super Eagles would in future, save some of us from the “high blood pressure and heightened pulse” which their lack-lustre performance throughout the qualification series put many of us through. Whenever the Super Eagles are playing, many of us start “carrying our heart in our hand”. According to Kunle Sanyaolu: “Eagles performance could break one's heart, cause headache or raise blood pressure. Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi confessed that the Eagles' spiritless showing against Tunisia gave him severe headache and almost led him to hospital. Someone else said the match against Mozambique almost gave him a heart attack.” The Eagles should stop toying with our hopes; they should know that in a country not known for success in other fields, football becomes our only hope. Football is life for so many Nigerians.

Nigeria has no reason to fail in sports, most especially, football, if everybody does the right thing and the players show commitment and dedication to the sport. We’ve the number in the sport to make a difference in Africa. There are a total of six million, six hundred and fifty three thousand, seven hundred and ten players (6,653,710) in Nigeria. A breakdown of the record shows that of this total, six million, three and forty four thousand, six hundred are male players (6,344,600), while the figure of female players is three hundred and nine thousand, one hundred and ten players (309,110).Nigerian professional male footballers are two thousands and eight in number while three hundred and sixty female players are professionals. Twenty five thousand, four hundred and twenty account for male amateurs, while the female amateurs are seven hundred and fifty. Thirty thousands players are in the male under-18 amateur categories. (Source: fifa)

The Super Eagles should know that the harder part of the job starts now. It’s a shame that the Super Eagles have refused to surpass the achievement of the 1994 team, proving my point that in Nigeria, a day after, becomes worse than the one before, right. The qualification was a close call for them, they were lucky, but, they should know that miracles do not happen always. The world cup proper would not be like the qualification series. The teams coming to South Africa are the best of every continent: The Brazilians, Germans, Argentines, Italians, French and others will be in South Africa. So the Super Eagles should know that it’s not going to be a picnic or a walk over. They should get prepared for the onerous task ahead, we don’t want to be disgraced, most especially in our continent or even anywhere else and we don’t want them to give us reasons to start questioning why they even qualified in the first place.

Let me forewarn the Super Eagles: Nigerian fans can be friendly and can also be very hostile, if there’s failure. We are not dreaming that they would win the world cup, although if they do, we would appreciate it greatly, but, Nigerians would want them to go a bit far in the competition. There would be a way for Nigerians to gauge their performance to know whether they had relative success or failure.

The Super Eagles should not forget how they and the officials of the Nigeria Football Federation went into hiding after Nigeria faltered to an annoying 2-2 draw against Tunisia’s Carthage Eagles at the Abuja National Stadium. They did this as enraged fans threatened to deal with them after Nigeria’s hopes of reaching next year’s World Cup in South Africa became dimmer. Also the Tribune of September 13, 2009 wrote how Okocha saved Eagles from crowd assault. That “The former Super Eagles captain, Austin Jay Okocha, was his brothers’ keeper last Sunday (the day of the match) as angry Nigerians poised to pounce on the players of Super Eagles who were forced to a 2-2 draw by the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia in a Group B African qualifier played in Abuja. Riding in the same bus with the Eagles on the way to their hotel, Okocha warned the players to protect themselves from fans wielding harmful objects and cursing the players as they were being driven out of the stadium amidst heavy security. A source who was in the bus reported Okocha as saying: ‘’Boys, I had been in this situation before, close the windows, draw the curtains and duck for the entire minutes we shall be driven safely out of the stadium.’’ The source added that though Okocha’s instruction was carefully followed, it also caused tremendous commotion in the bus as lesser-endowed players were trampled on by heavyweights in the team. Immediately, Okocha gave the instruction, the players who were trading blames, kept quiet and buried themselves on the floor, with big players rolling over tiny ones,’ added the source”. So for the Eagles to avoid these kinds of ugly scenarios in future, they better start getting their act together.

The Golden Eaglets, although, started on wrong legs, quickly found their mark. They had very enviable results; they were getting better and better in every match, but, ended the final on a sorrowful note. The Eaglets deserve praises and no matter what anybody thinks, the players gave a very good account of themselves throughout the tournament. They played 3-3 with the Germans, 1-0 against Honduras, 2-1 against Argentina, 5-0 against New Zealand, 3-1 against South Korea, and 3-1 against Spain, but, went down 1-0 against Switzerland. The Eaglets lost the final in the first half of the match, they failed to convert many chances they had into goals in that half. Another issue here was that our pride went before our fall. The Nigerian officials, players and people started celebrating as if the cup has been won hours before the final match was played. Even before kick off of the final match, so many people had started talking as if we were the U-17 champions already. We started counting our chicks even before the eggs are hatched. Their performance was still enviable, although we wanted more, ‘cause the dream was for the Eaglets to win the U-17 world cup in order to compliment Ghana’s effort in winning the U-20 world cup few weeks ago.

The defeat of the Eaglets in the final mirrors all that is wrong with Nigeria. When everybody thinks that Nigeria would be improving, it would be retrogressing. Even controversy trailed the Eaglets throughout the tournament. It was good that FIFA came a day before the final to give the Eaglet captain a clean bill from the allegation surrounding his age. Nigeria should endeavour to keep up to rules. Many members of the cadet team were disqualified few months before the start of the competition because they were over 17 years old. The controversy surrounding the real age of the Eaglets’ captain was a big distraction, so Nigerians should always do the right thing to avoid such a shame in future. Having said that, it’s worth mentioning that raising up of that issue at that stage of the competition was mischievous on the part of Adokiye, it was ill-timed. Although he did it with good intention, he created more problem than he wanted to solve for Nigeria. We should avoid such embarrassment in the future.

This was deduced from the Papers: “The controversy surrounding the true age of Golden Eaglets’ Fortune Chukwudi has finally been laid to rest following the clearance of the player by the Federation of International Football Federation (FIFA). Chukwudi has been at the centre of age discrepancy since the commencement of the FIFA U-17 World Cup which ends today in Abuja, Nigeria. Ex international, Adokiye Amesiemaka had released a bombshell declaring that the defender was seven years older then the age he claimed, backing his allegation with documented evidence including the player’s photograph. However, FIFA at a press conference held at the NICON NOGA Hotel, Abuja cleared Chukwudi of age cheat insisting that he is within the age limit for the championship”.

For the Golden Eaglets, after getting over the shock of losing the final, they should go back to work. They should not rest on their oars. As they graduate into the Flying Eagles category, they should work for more success. Nigeria expects nothing less other than the U-20 world cup from them, Ghana won it, we can also do it. The should know that their predecessors were failures during the last U-20 world cup hosted by Egypt, they lost their aura of invincibility in that tournament, so Nigerians are expecting a better result in that category and all hopes are now on them and failure is just unthinkable. They should get that into their heads. That they couldn’t win the U-17 world cup does not mean that they cannot win the one of U-20.

There’s something to learn here: We can see from all these that the distance between success and failure is only a heart beat. Had Tunisia held Mozambique to a draw or even had a win, the Super Eagles wouldn’t have qualified. Look at it also this way. What if the Kenyans had defeated the Super Eagles? Also, had the referee, during the U-17 world cup match between Nigeria and Germany, not given the German defender a red card, the Eaglets would have lost that match and I wonder if they would have had the courage to bound back as to get to the final of the competition.

We were told that the soulless and dour first half performance put up by the Eaglets in the Group B opening match against Germany riled Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, that he went straight into the team's dressing room after the break to give the players and officials a piece of his mind. Jonathan was so angry that he told the Sani Lulu Abdullahi led Executive Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to start counting their days as government and the people would not condone a poor outing by the Eaglets. We learnt that the Vice President had never been seen to speak in an anger laced pitch as he did on that Saturday, as he is considered to be very gentle and calm even when under pressure. According to our source, the mood in the dressing room was tense as Jonathan barged at the players and officials to brace up to the huge task. The VP had during the half time even underlined his disgust at the insipid display by the Eaglets. After the forceful peep talk the vice president had with the players, the Eaglets began the second half as a team, fought back and restored parity within a sustained attacking spell of seven minutes thereby underlining the effect of Jonathan's hard, but frank dressing room dress down.

Finally, Nigerians still have something to celebrate, at least. The International Football Association (FIFA) gave Nigeria a pass mark over our successful hosting of the U-17 Championship and we crowned it by winning the silver. With a huge helping hand from Mozambique, that beat group leaders Tunisia 1-0 in Maputo, Nigerian Flag will fly in South Africa. Nigerians from all walks of life have been reacting to this Super Eagles’ victory. The politicians were the first to jump into the fray, they know how to reap where they did not sow, but for now, it’s not important who worked for our success or who did not, the most important thing is that we have qualified for South Africa 2010 and our Eaglets won the silver at home. We should be celebrating, afterall, if we stop celebrating, where do we go from there? Then back to our sorrows, to the reality of Nigeria, which is synonymous with agonies, pains, miseries, hopelessness, corruption, lack of leadership and good government. Nigeria is retrogressing instead of moving forward pure and simple. As I pointed out in the concluding part of my last article (despite the typographic errors there): It's unfortunate that few Nigerians are telling us not to ask the rulers for constant electricity, qualitative health care, qualitative education, clean drinking water, good roads, good government and good leadership because Nigeria is only 49 and not 200 years old. Anybody thinking that Nigeria’s retrogression is a development because it is only 49 years old is entitled to his/her opinion, likewise some of us who disagree with such assertion.

To call it a quit for now, I just want to thank the Golden Eaglets for winning the silver and the Super Eagles for given Nigerians something to celebrate about. It would have been ignominious for the Nigerian Flag to be missing when the senior boys congregate in South Africa for the 2010 world cup tournament. Let it be said that the Super Eagles’ qualification would have been more meaningful with the Eaglets winning the cup, but, that was not to be. We wanted a double no doubt, but, we can still live without it. Since the politicians are not giving us things to make some of us to be proud of Nigeria, we recourse to football for succour, we are happy that the Super Eagles and Golden Eaglets (despite not winning the cup) did not fail us, at least for now.

THE THANXS IS ALL YOURS!!!

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