In search of quality players for Super Eagles
THE first task before Super Eagles coach, Stephen Keshi, who recently got another two-year mandate to handle the senior national team after failing to qualify the team for the 2015 Nations Cup, is to ensure that Nigeria made the Gabon 2017 edition of African football’s biggest competition, as well as the Russia 2018 World Cup.
Keshi is also expected to build a formidable team that would compete excellently in both competitions. In fact, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) expects Keshi’s Super Eagles to get to at least the semifinal of the 2017 African Nations Cup and also make the quarterfinals of the 2018 Coupe du Mundo.
To achieve these targets, Keshi is expected to harness all the countries best materials, both those based abroad and the players at home, to form the all-conquering team the country desires.
However, these are daunting tasks given the current situation of some of the countries big exports to the foreign leagues. Most of these players, including John Mikel Obi, Emmanuel Emenike, Victor Moses, Osaze Odemwingie, Efe Ambrose, Ogenyi Onazi and Joel Obi, among others based in Europe, are peripheral figures in their teams.
They hardly get the opportunity to play for their clubs. A lot has been said of the promise shown by the current crop of the national Under-20 team players, but some pundits believe that Nigeria’s delay in handing these boys bigger responsibilities could hamper their transition from youth champions to full fledged internationals.
Another worrisome trend is the penchant of the national team handlers in recent times to entrust the fortune of the team to players from some obscure leagues, including the Chinese, Danish and some other Asian countries not noted for their prowess in football.
The recent performance of the Super Eagles in friendly matches against Uganda, who beat Nigeria 1-0 in Uyo, and South Africa exposed the soft underbelly of the country, which just two years ago was the most dreaded side in Africa.
However, despite the recent bad results, some pundits believe that Stephen Keshi has the experience and technical ability to give Nigeria a team worthy of representing the country in international competitions.
But they also say that to achieve the targets set by the NFF, Keshi must first do away with some the prominent stars in the team, who have outlived their usefulness and start from the scratch to raise a solid team.
Before the ‘Big Boss’ signed his recent contract with the NFF, the Federation’s Technical Committee Chairman, Felix Anyansi Agwu, told The Guardian that the body was worried by the fact that most of the national team players were benchwarmers in Europe.
But he assured that the federation would work round the clock to ensure Keshi got quality players for his rebuilding project. According to him, “We will work closely with the coach to source for quality players in and outside the shores of the country.
No player will hold the Eagles to ransom even if the players play for the best clubs in the world. Our goal in the NFF is to return the team to the right track and using the right players to prosecute matches should be the first step.”
Keshi’s recent statement that he would only invite players that are active in their clubs if fully implemented, according to some football followers, would give the coach the chance to pay attention to the local league for quality players.
Former Super Eagles’ Coach Christian Chukwu, who argues that Nigeria no longer possessed the type of players that could scare other countries, still believes that Keshi would succeed in building a quality team if he set aside sentiments and go for only the best players available for selection. He said: “I am not happy with the standard of football of Nigerian players in Europe.
As it stands now, I don’t think Keshi will have good players that will give him the required result in the qualifiers. We don’t have quality players in the Eagles any more and this ugly trend is a big challenge ahead of the coach.
“Unfortunately, Keshi doesn’t have the luxury of time to source for players. Had the NFF decided early enough to give Keshi the Eagles job, he would have had an ample time to fish out credible players for the team.
Now, Keshi has a great task ahead of him, but I also believe that working closely with the NFF, Keshi can revamp the team.” To former Super Eagles assistant coach, Joe Erico, Keshi can still build a solid team even when Nigeria no longer has quality players in Europe.
Erico explains that Nigerian football has gone beyond the era when the team is built around some set of players, adding that Keshi would employ every method within his reach to build the team.
“I don’t think that because we don’t have enough players playing regularly for big European clubs the Super Eagles will not excel under Stephen Keshi. Keshi needs to go all out to source for good players irrespective of where they play. He should not pick players based on the fact they are regarded as Nigeria’s Super Stars.
“Getting the right players that would give a coach the required result is a generational process. Most of our players in the 1994 set of Eagles were commanding first team shirts during their hey days in the game and it must surprise you also that the bulk of those players were discovered in Nigeria. Some of them even grew to the extent that they became captains their clubs.
“The Eagles can get better again if Nigerians give Keshi the patience to source for players from anywhere in the world. Brazilians were humiliated in front of their home crowd in their last match at the 2014 World Cup and heaven were not let loose.
Assuming that incident happened in Nigeria, it would have been another issue. Keshi will survive with or with out the big stars.” Erico is optimistic that the Super Eagles would return to its former glory if Keshi got the required support from the NFF and Nigerians.
He added: “The coach must have realized his mistakes and made cogent moves to correct the anomalies. Having played some series of tune up matches, the Eagles’ boss must have seen one or two good players from the squad used in the friendlies. For Keshi to accept the Eagles job again after much criticisms implies he still has something to offer.”
In his own submission, former Super Eagles Skipper, Henry Nwosu, says Nigerian players have failed to excel because most of them are not prepared to improve themselves.
“Nigerian players are lazy, that is why you can‘t find any of them performing in their clubs. Keshi should focus on discovering new players that will make the Eagles a force to reckon with again. During my days, every player in the Eagles worked hard to meet up with the challenges ahead .Our players now only focus on money not fame.”
Former Super Eagles’ midfielder, Patrick Pascal, sees a bright future ahead for the national team based on the quality of players in the country’s current youth teams.
He told The Guardian recently that Nigerians will really begin to see the team of their dream when the current crop of national Under-20 team, the Flying Eagles, graduate to the senior level.
He said, “The Flying Eagles can hold their own in the Super Eagles, but we have to integrate them into the team gradually. You can see from what they did to the big boys during the expanded Super Four tournament in Abuja that they are ready to move up. “In advanced countries, players under 18 years of age play for their senior national teams.
Pele, Rooney, Ronaldo, Messi and Owen, among others, started playing for their countries at very young ages. That gives them long stay in the team, which also ensures that they have the experience that helps the team in the long run.
“Although all of the members of the Flying Eagles cannot make it there at the same time, I believe some of them can fit in if given the opportunity. But it all depends on what the coach wants.”
The Olympian picks out Kelechi Iheanacho, Musa Yahaya and Taiwo Awoniyi as some of the Under-20 players, who are ready to step up to the Super Eagles, saying, “we failed to qualify for the last Nations Cup because we had players who were no longer hungry for success. “Iheanacho and Awoniyi are the future of the Eagles.
There are other good young players who deserve invitation to the Eagles. “If Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge were Nigerians, nobody would invite them to the senior national team.
But they have been playing for England. Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney started playing for their countries in their teens.”
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