Nigerian football and the circus dance of emotion that attends it.
| Too often, we allow our emotion to dictate the pace in crucial matches of practical awareness and intellectual analysis. And so cloudy an element in our national football atmosphere this is it had accounted (and threatens to continue to account) for much of our woes. We shamefully failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany due, among others, to the incredible fact even administrators, the press and a host of arm-chair analysts lacked information and knowledge of the head-to-head rule and hence our home match against Angola was one we could not afford not to win. Only recently, even the print and electronic media and sportscasters went to town claiming Nigeria had already qualified for Angola 2010 Nations Cup on account of our unassailable lead in the first group phase when information about the real format of the qualifying series, which had always been there for all to know, had not been accessed. We appear to have formed an amusing habit of relying on the imagination of our emotion for the information of our position.
And on this account, issues capable of making a mess of our immediate and long-term future aspirations would almost always make destabilizing invasion of our football sensitivity. At inauspicious times, and in submission to such onslaught, we tend to put on our loose garments ready for the circus dance of emotion. Just following some impressive performance by a group of boys in one age-group competition, we go to town, in the emotional euphoria on the spur of the moment, with the noise that we already have, in the group, the team to win the very next edition of the World Cup itself. Or, at worst, the team has arrived to immediately displace the current senior national team and go ahead to compete at the open level – the ultimate - where all nations bring out their very best in administration, coaching and player resources irrespective of age, base, experience, tactical sophistication and technical efficiency.
A good number of football-playing nations are out there with unimpressive age-group tradition but yet belong among the world’s elites at the open (senior) level. Brazil, the world’s greatest in World Cup achievement, has, for instance, never won an Olympic title. (Remember, Olympic football has always been a “closed” arrangement. Before the present age-grade format, professionals from the elite football nations were not allowed at the Olympics).
The injection of fresh bloods into a full national team in the truly great football-playing nations is not an emotional issue, but a gradual, visionary and programmed process. Check out the Wayne Rooneys, the Theo Walcotts and even the Julius Aghahowas and Nwakwo Kanus of this world. Such fresh bloods, bound for later greatness, usually start by first interacting with the teams, then sitting on the bench, then playing as closing minutes’ substitutes and so on. Experience has shown that virtually only such players whose injection was so programmed truly attained their full potentials.
The prodigy, Diego Maradona, mesmerized the world with incredible football en-route winning the World Youth Championship (WYC) with Argentina in l979 but was a blue-chip flop three years later at the 1982 World Cup and he himself admitted to immaturity. He came back four years later, 1986, not only to dazzle the world but also to win the World Cup with his country having now paid his dues. And that was even an exceptional being.
It would not have been at variance with practical expectation therefore, that, of the eighteen boys that won the inaugural U-16 tournament in China, 1985, only two – Nduka Ugbade and Jonathan Akpoborire made any real impact at the full senior level. Also among those l993 Japan U-17 world champions, only Nwakwo Kanu, Wilson Oruma and Celestine Babayaro did anything meaningful with the Super Eagles. Folks who depend more on their heads than their hearts for their positions are well informed in the intricacies of the concept of individual differences. Some footballers, at the age of 24 years are, as they say, already “finished.” Yet there are those who it is at that age that their potentials are just beginning to blossom!
There is no doubt the Dream Team IV boys of China 2008 Olympics fame, for example, are emerging stars and as such Super Eagles heir-apparents. But it was even regrettable that we shut our eyes, in our emotional circus dance, to the fact that a good number of those boys were already full-fledged members of the Super Eagles, or had, at least made their Super Eagles debuts or appearances. Osaze Odemwingie had been to three Nations Cups already and Obinna Nsofor, two. Even those who did not make China – Obi Mikel and Taye Taiwo – had also been to two Nations Cups. And one wondered why the post-Olympics emotional outburst concerning up-grade!
Another issue of destabilizing potentials, also a fall-out of the 2008 Olympics action, was the call in various quarters for coach Samson Siasia to immediately displace Super Eagles coach, Shaibu Amodu. Sebastian Broadericks won the inaugural U-16 tournament with the Golden Eaglets in China, l985, it did not make him the best coach in the land. Fanny Amun won the l993 U-17 tournament in Japan with a team that included today’s legend, Kanu. Two years later, right here inside our backyard, the same gentleman, “the hottest coach on fire around,” fumbled and wobbled with the Flying Eagles. Bonfere Jo did better than Siasia, winning the Olympics gold medal in l996. He turned out a monumental disaster with the ultimate, the Super Eagles. It took an unrecognized Amodu who came to the rescue, to bring us from the very brink of disaster and miraculously qualified us for the 2002 World Cup.
There was absolutely no doubt Siasia is a good coach and manager. However, getting too emotional, as we did, about his exploits in the Netherlands and China, could be misguided. Several other Nigerian age-group teams had played equally impressive football in the past under coaches that later failed the main or bigger tests. Stories from other football-playing nations also attest to this. Only very recently in Argentina, the Olympics gold medal-winning coach who defeated Siasia in China failed to land the national team job. The somewhat curious consideration of the enigmatic Diego Maradona ahead of him was clear indication the feat of the golden coach, Sergio Baptista, did not necessarily make him the best coach in that football power-house.
The emotional reaction to the issue of contracting of coaches even went as amusing as the call for foreign coaches for (could you believe it?) the Falconets and Flamingoes, especially following the nation’s comprehensive failures of 2008. In fact, a former Secretary General of the defunct Nigeria Football Association (NFA), who would never cease to make reference to the “exploits” of Clemence Westerhof, had always believed this country of a hundred and forty million souls would never survive without a foreign coach. While not taking anything away from the Dutch-man, it is instructive to note he only won the Nations Cup on his third attempt. No indigenous coach has had the luxury of two attempts. On his second attempt, he won a bronze and red carpet was not only laid for him at the seat of power his team was rechristened the Super Eagles! Amodu won the same bronze medal on only his first attempt and he was abused, cursed and humiliated!
Furthermore, the white man qualified Nigeria for the World Cup on his second attempt; Amodu achieved the feat on only his “halfth” attempt (Bonfere Jo had already led us to the brink of disaster before he took over). Berti Vogts is better forgotten than discussed. Austin Eguavoen, in his full charge of the Super Eagles, accomplished an intimidating competitive-match record of eight wins, one draw and only one loss (Westerhof never beat such a feat), yet he was humiliated. He lost a mere friendly game against Ghana in London and all hell was let loose.
In our part of the world, football is played only in accordance with the laws of our emotion. Even a good number of so-called analysts on radio and television who, as could easily be discerned, have no more than some 'kindergatten' knowledge of the laws of the game, are quick to blame referees’ decisions for certain failures. It could be absolutely disgusting watching, sometimes even administrators in their outbursts, openly display utter ignorance of the laws governing the game we all make noise about. For instance, for he who is learned in the laws of football, you wonder what the crime of the referee was in our loss at WYC Netherlands 2005. Coach Ladan Bosso had the amusing confidence to ascribe the Flying Eagles’ woeful outing at WYC 2007 to ‘racism’ because he was sure such rhetoric of appeal to emotion and sentiment would always find comfortable accommodation in the sensitivity of Nigerians.
But the best which the one who had no cause to descend to such abyss, Samson Siasia, deserved from us as gratitude, post-Olympics, was for us to allow the poor guy grow. Or we could be leading our Samson to be consumed in some emotional euphoria on the spur of the moment. This is why his own idea of running a football academy stood most ingenious and appropriate. A great opportunity for him to embark on intensive refresher coaching programs to sharpen his outstanding potentials.
Prior to the close of the China Olympics, and in this current tenure, Super Eagles coach, Shaibu Amodu, had played five competitive matches and won all, three of them away from home. There exists no realistic proof that either Siasia, Alex Ferguson, Jose Maurinho, Louis Aragones or Fillipe Scolari could have won eight out of five. The quality of opposition? South Africa and Sierra Leone were rated greater football-playing nations than the likes of Madagascar, Botswana, Libya, Malawi and Tanzania. Check out how those minnows took valuable points off the Camerouns, the Cote d’Ivoires, the Egypts and the Ghanas of this world. And so, the ideal Amodu deserves from us now is our total support in his focus to maintain, according to him, “a team where everyone is important and no one is indispensable.”
Agreed, football is a game of passion, and so emotion cannot be divorced from it. But we should learn to recognize where the circus dance of emotion ends and the realistic result-oriented business of the intellect begins. Offering our emotion a triumphant ride on the back of our intellect, and practical information thereof, could only smoothen the journey into the “Golgotha” of perpetual near-miss. The average we owe ourselves now is, at least, a little purposeful dribble away from such emotional gyration in the center circle. Only then do we stand any credible chance to make the much-desired incursion into the opponents’ goal area.