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Nigerian football – Rising from debris of Qatar 2022

By Segun Odegbami
09 April 2022   |   3:47 am
I am drawing inspiration from the fountain of philosophy. ‘Curse not the darkness, for underneath it are hidden treasures’.

Nigeria’s Frank Onyeka (L) vies with Ghana’s Thomas Partey (C) during the World Cup 2022 qualifying football match between Nigeria and Ghana at the National Stadium in Abuja on March 29, 2022. (Photo by Pius Utomi EKPEI / AFP)

I am drawing inspiration from the fountain of philosophy. ‘Curse not the darkness, for underneath it are hidden treasures’.

The above is not an exact quote. I have added my words to a quote whose origin I do not even recall as I write this. The words have been a nutrient to my understanding of life for decades, resurrecting at critical times when distracted from the higher blessings that come out of every disappointment.

Admittedly, it has been hard to put behind the pain and anguish of Nigeria’s failure to qualify for Qatar 2022, and to concentrate on what next to do to stabilize the flailing ship of Nigerian sports as a whole, and football, in particular.

‘Failure’ has started to take its toll on the psyche of Nigerians and the number of victims is mounting, distracting even those not directly involved in football administration in the country from looking beyond Qatar at the greener pastures that lie elsewhere in the vast sports firmament.

The distractions have been many and worrisome. The entire technical crew of five indigenous coaches, three of whom are ex-internationals of legendary status, have been consumed already, fired without the opportunity to re-apply or to appeal.

All the other coaches in all the cadres of the national teams have suffered collateral damage. They may all have been fired!

Augustine Eguavoen, the temporary head coach of the Super Eagles, has resigned from his temporary assignment. He may have been returned to his previous position of Technical Director, a position higher in authority and responsibility within the football-house structure than that of coach that he temporarily held and ‘failed’ at.

How that works out as a development strategy I cannot work out.
It even gets more complicated. Until a few weeks ago, before the two matches against Ghana, one-time African Footballer of the Year and very well-travelled Nigerian coach, Emmanuel Amuneke, was touted as one of those most qualified as an indigenous coaches that could take over the job of the national team. He was, in fact, an anointed-coach-in-waiting of the Super Eagles.

Then, to reinforce the coaching crew after the failure at AFCON 2021, he was added to the Augustine Eguavoen-led consortium of coaches as a support-act for the last two crucial matches against Ghana, an assignment that lasted less than one month.

The two matches have now been ‘adopted’ as his own litmus test. The failure of the team has become his own failure as well, as his chances of becoming national team coach have now gone with the wind.

So, also have the chances of any of his other Nigerian ex-international colleagues. They are now considered birds of the same feather. Great African football players do not make great coaches. That will become the tune for another decade.

Then came another mind-blower.
Last week, the Federal Ministry of Sports met with the board of the under-fire Nigeria Football Federation, NFF. It was reported that they assigned the responsibility of proposing new coaches for all the national teams, including those that have been doing well, within a period of 5 weeks. From the report of the meeting, there is an obvious bias in the body-language of the NFF officials that they are leaning towards a foreign coach for the Super Eagles. This is less than 6 months after sacking the last one.

Meanwhile, the technical committee of the NFF is not a body of technical experts. Many are members of the failed board.

Except there has been a foreign coach in waiting, given the manner the teams’ technical crews were sent packing, this is already an accident-waiting-to-happen. It is a hurried, medicine-after-death prescription.

Definitely, another foreign coach, so soon after the 6 wasted years of Gernot Rohr that were the foundation of the present poor state of domestic as well as international football in Nigeria, is not a well-thought-out-enough reaction to the present fiasco.

The issue of another foreign coach at this time is delicate. It will definitely get the full attention of those of us vehemently opposed to going back to that old, tested and failed route – hiring unknown, journey-man coaches without pedigree, or serious credentials, from Europe on the basis of the colour of their skin and the ‘slavery mentality’ that Whites are of superior knowledge and experience, without any evidence in our history that they achieved what Nigerians never did.

So, we live to see. The football administration that has lasted almost eight years and failed to deliver on its primary mandates of developing domestic football, winning international laurels and taking the senior national team to the World Cup, is now driving the responsibility to take us into the immediate future with less than six months to the end of their tenure.

It is preposterous. I just can’t get it. Things do not add up. This is like returning to our vomit, adopting a process that has failed over and over again, and hoping for a different result! I tire o!

At the end of the day, all the above are distractive to those of us that have chosen not to dwell in the pit of failure and grope helplessly in despair and frustration. Live’s best treasures lie aplenty in the ‘dark unfathomed caves’, so, we shall not curse the dark places.

The entire world recognizes Nigeria’s potentials to become one of the greatest sports nations on earth, if only the country did the right things. After the debacle of Qatar, that’s where the country should be heading to, converting the ‘failures’ into lessons and stepping stone, thinking new ways going forward, looking out for new ideas and fresh faces.

In this quest, one mistake that must not be made again is to discountenance the twin ‘towers’ of History and Experience.

Nigeria has a very rich history of foundational football administration and grassroots football development from which football administrators, after the new elections into the board of the NFF in September 2022, can drink lavishly.

In doing so, they will avoid the mistakes and pitfalls of the past and chart a new path.

Experiences, positive and negative, become valuable weapons to have in navigating the minefields of the complex world of football. Those experiences cannot be bought in the marketplace. They are not taught also in the classrooms of Harvard or FIFA. There are still a few persons in Nigeria imbibed with that rich past, neglected and wasting, that can be of help in the process of charting that new path.

Finally, the world is a different planet from what it was even 20 years ago. Nigeria is now full of young, vibrant, smart, innovative and creative thinkers that can envision how to lift Nigerian sports above the present plateau where the country has remained for almost three decades, and threatening to go southwards. The country must identify and find them, create the opportunity for their participation in the process of change, and add them to the new ‘mix’ that will not be distracted or deterred by the fear or the pain of past failures, but challenge them to become the candles that can expose the treasures in the present ‘darkness’.

Nigeria has a few months to think through a new future, and then act. Qatar 2022 is, but should not be, a distraction.

The country must rise above it, now, take useful lessons from it, and from the debris, start to make courageous, hard, painful but correct choices without which the present opportunity will be lost.

Without doubt, it is a daunting task and a great challenge. Football has the power to rise from the debris of Qatar 2022 debacle to become a model of change for the whole country.