To make Super Eagles fly again
Given that Nigeria is a football-loving nation, renowned for entertaining and quality football and home to some of the biggest names to have ever played the leather game, the disappointment being expressed by many over the abysmal performance of the nation’s national team, the Super Eagles, comes as no surprise.
The Super Eagles failed to book an early ticket to the African Cup of Nations (AFCON), taking place in Cameroon next year, when it drew in its last two fixtures against the Leone Stars of Sierra Leone. In the first leg, which they played host to, the Eagles squandered a 4-goal lead, and still couldn’t find their wings in the return leg, which ended a barren draw.
The results from the games against Sierra Leone is a testament of the doubtful competence of Gernot Rohr of the Super Eagles, just as his choice as coach of the nation’s national team, in spite of repeated blunders, is a reflection of the administrative prowess of the handlers of the nation’s football federation: poor and bereft of depth.
Nigerians, with their rich and abundant talents, deserve better than what is currently being offered, which is why ex-internationals including Segun Odegbami, Felix Owolabi, Jonathan Akpoborie, Austin Okocha and Yakubu Aiyegbeni among numerous others have continually called for Gernot Rohr’s sack and wondered why the German’s contract was renewed earlier this year, and on terms highly unfavourable to Nigeria.
No doubt, Rohr is a major problem of the Super Eagles because, since he took over as coach, the Eagles have lacked enterprise in virtually all departments of the game, displaying annoying timidity against opponents who initially had much respect for them. Rohr lacked ambition, and this reflects easily in the Eagles’ style of play even when the team managed to win. It is regrettable that since 1994 when Nigeria was rated fifth in the world after its debut into the World Cup finals in the United States, the country’s fortune in football has been steadily declining. The country occupies the 29th position at the moment.
Beyond the incompetence of the Head Coach, the team suffers from absence of visionary leadership administering the affairs of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), which manifests in the crop of coaches engaged over time to manage the national team. Any coach who is made to operate the federal character policy in the selection of players, against the principles of competence, fitness and meritocracy will not fare well.
Whenever the government chooses to wield the big stick, the administrators of the NFF are quick to seek refuge under the FIFA rule of non-interference by host government in the affairs of football associations. However, they have failed to justify the huge investments by government in the sector. This in itself is discouraging for any government. If one may ask, what is the vision of the NFF for the nation’s national team in the next 10 years? Is there a master plan for the development of home based players other than the reliance on foreign-based players the bills for whose career development are picked up by foreign club sides?
Evidently, there is a clear correlation between the condition of local leagues, which suffer from lack of due attention, and the poor performance of the Super Eagles in recent times. Local leagues are the foundation for the development of national teams.
Apart from football being one of the most universally watched sports in the world, its potential in fostering unity amongst different tribes, creating youth employment and addressing social vices has been established in this country. Importantly too, the country has undercut itself from the immense economic benefits accruable from football in particular, and sports in general. At a time of economic recession and rising insecurity, the government needs to look more closely into sports development, not only to bridge the ever-widening gap between tribes and religions but also as a means of generating revenue.
Worldwide, football has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry. The English Premier League is a major part of the United Kingdom’s economy and has generated more than 3.3 billion pounds in tax for the UK government in the last three years. It directly employs about 12,000 people, while supporting some other 100, 000 jobs. There is no reason why Nigeria cannot tap into such benefits.
Government needs to do more in the area of infrastructural development and improvement of security to encourage private investors to venture into the business of football. Local clubs persistently suffer road accidents, robbery and kidnapping attacks most of which could be avoided with improved security and a functional rail network across the country.
Unfortunately, the country manifests poor maintenance culture towards public infrastructure, including sports facilities built with huge tax payers’ funds. Consequently, most of the critical infrastructure and facilities have been overtaken by weeds, rodents and reptiles, thus constituting regular drain on public resources.
Amidst a debate as to whether a foreign or indigenous coach is more suitable and result-oriented for Nigeria, the paramount consideration is to engage a coach who is willing and able to discover hidden football talents, blend local resources with foreign ones, manage the team efficiently and produce a squad that will position Nigeria appropriately as a footballing nation of repute. The coach should be versatile and sufficiently experienced to restore the Super Eagles to their lost glory. At all times, the NFF should be able to provide leadership and a clear vision.
While it is true that no team is a minnow in modern-day football, it is equally true that the Super Eagles of Nigeria can do much better than their present level. What is needed is an amalgamation of young, talented players, careful guidance by a competent coach and responsible leadership by the NFF.