After a four years wait, the prestigious World Cup finally begins in Russia as the tournament’s two lowest-ranked teams, the hosts and Saudi Arabia, play against each other in the opening game at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
Unfortunately, the present crop of Super Eagles players give me no reason to be optimistic of Nigeria’s chances in Russia 2018.
The green jersey made legendary by the likes of Christain Chukwu, Adokiye Amiesimaka, Segun Odegbami, Mudal Lawal, Emmanuel Amunike, Finidi George, Jay-Jay Okocha, Nwakwo Kanu, Daniel Omokachie, Okey Isima, Stephen Keshi and Rasheed Yekini of blessed memories, has been demystified.
Presently any Nigerian who finds his way into any of the European leagues, even Turkey, Israel and Cyprus, would soon be invited to play for the Super Eagles.
This is what corruption that tore down the Nigerian fabric did to not only football, but sports in general. Actually, it is naive to expect that sport would be spared as the Nigerian ship is wrecked by the mindless corruption of the ruling class.
Due to corruption, those in the NFF and other sport complexes sit around, share among themselves money meant to develop football and sport and expect talents to germinate and develop naturally just because God loves Nigeria.
Once upon a time, the Super Eagles were the darling of world football fans. That was when Nigeria had players in Arsenal, Barcelona, Juventus, Ajax, Chelsea, Dortmund and other big clubs in European football.
Those at NFF did nothing over the years to reproduce the likes of Okocha, Amokachie, George, Kanu and Amunike who was on his way to becoming one of the world greatest players before injury cut short his career which had looked prosperous.
But because of corruption Ivory Coast and Senegal overtook Nigeria in producing football stars.
The clowns at the NFF who have no passion for the game and only interested in the budget, allowed the amateur clubs in the states to die. The budding stars were groomed there.
What happened to the YSFON and Manuwa Adebajo Cup and state inter school football competitions – not to mention the famous Governor’s Cup.
The attitude of those entrusted with the running of football in this country has been bizarre.
Because they did nothing in talent scouting and development, Nigeria went to the 2018 World Cup with a bunch of mainly average players, led by a captain no longer good enough for the Premier League.
Except for Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses, Leon Balogun and William Ekong, the rest of the players are not worthy to wear the green jersey and should have no business in Russia. Mikel Obi and Ahmed Musa are now shadows of what they used to be.
The internet is abuzz with the prediction of the legendary pig, (the one that predicted Trump’s victor) that Nigeria will get to the semi-finals. This has added impetus to the already spiked expectations of Nigerians over the chances of the Super Eagles in Russia 2018.
This is less surprising because Nigerians are masters in the act of self deceit.
After watching the coach Gernat Rohr boys lose to England and Czech Republic in their last two friendlies, I would be pleasantly surprised if they come out of their group, where they are paired against Argentina, Croatia and Iceland.
What worries me is not that they lost both matches, but the fact that they failed to create chances that could threaten any team.
The final third pass looked impossible. Captain Mikel Obi has not convinced many that he has the vision expected of a player who wears the number 10 jersey.
The fact that we are still talking about Mikel Obi in that position further underlines the failure of Nigerian football administration. It can never be possible that there is no one talented enough among the teeming Nigerian population who would have stepped into the big shoes left vacant by inspirational former Super Eagles captain, Jay-Jay Okocha after he retired from football.
One wonders how the present blind Super Eagles team, incapable of creating destructive chances, would make it to the semi finals?
I love my country and it saddens me that this Super Eagles team give me no reason to be upbeat about the world cup, like I had been in previous ones.
I have downgraded my expectations after watching the friendlies I mentioned above. And I will advice my fellow countrymen and women to do same to avoid heartbreak.
The truth is that there is simply no player in the present Super Eagles capable of making fans rise from their seats when he gets the ball.
Maybe, the pig that could see tomorrow mistook Senegal for Nigeria. Of all the teams representing Africa in Russia 2018, they are the only squad capable of doing Africa proud.
To win the world cup or do well is a long term project, which need good planning, funding and execution. You don’t wake up one morning and reach the semi-final of the world cup merely because you easily qualified from your continent.
If Nigeria is serious about doing well in the world cup, we need to retrace our steps and reemphasize on youth development. Not employing a coach who junkets around Europe and China monitoring only players who were lucky to find themselves playing abroad.
Nigeria’s approach to the world cup has been that of try-your-luck. This does not work. We need to have a development plan. We need to start from the scratch like Germany did after a disastrous outing at the European Championship in 2000. The country’s football took a plunge. They went back to the drawing board and the reform they started in 2004, then spearheaded by Jürgen Klinsmann, was what yielded dividend in Brazil 2014. It was not as if the Germans emerged from the blues to take the trophy.
Finidi, Okocha, Kanu, Amokachie etc are not the best footballers Nigeria has ever produced. The best are does who were not discovered because football administration is left in the hand of mediocre people only interested in buying Abuja and Dubai houses.
Nigerian football is run by a mafia. Those who played the game and have something to offer are steely precluded from the running of football. Instead, people are picked from a municipal market and teachers training college to administer football.
How could men who never made the first eleven of a secondary school football team be entrusted with the development of football?
To be able to leave a mark again at the world cup, the NFF should be taken over by people with knowledge and passion for football, who will pursue a rebirth of the feeder amateur teams across the nation that had disappeared.
When I was a young boy, growing up in Aba, for example, we had Royal Falcon (where I had played as a Greater Tomorrow), NEPA FC, Dubic football clubs playing in the then Imo State amateur football league. In Umuahia, there was the Golden Guinea FC and in Owerri were NEPA and Federal Works (where Kanu learned football). It was the same in Lagos, Kaduna and all over the country. In these clubs, precocious talents developed and polished their talents and that was how Nigeria became a super power African football and a force to be reckoned with at the world level.
The best player that ever wore a football boot, Pele is a black man. It continues to beat my comprehension how Nigeria, for example, with a population of about 180 million people cannot find 22 young footballers that would conquer the world.
We need to discover a new generation of players, who need to be taught the importance of cleverness (which includes falling when fouled), cat-eyed vision and ruthless finishing in front of goal. These are the vital ingredients missing in our football.
Once our teams could add these to their game, the world would go on its knees before Nigerian football – already endowed with skills, strength, pace, power and athleticism.
When this happens, I could then be optimistic about Nigeria’s world cup chances. Surely, if Africa would ever win the world cup, Nigeria is the most likely country to do it.