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It has been a remarkable experience these past 15 weeks even as the dust of the World Cup finally settles. The global conversation is shifting from the various national teams to the individual players that left their mark in Brazil.
It was an enthralling World Cup full of shocks and surprises, celebrating great football, beautiful goals in completely unpredictable matches, superb athletes and a truly World-class organisation.
At the end, I am left with one very strong feeling – I think I now, finally, know how a country can win the World Cup!
Through 5 World Cup finals, since Nigeria first went to the event in 1994, I have been a student of the championship, observation, reporting, marketing, analyzing and presenting aspects of its best and worst practices. Finally, in Brazil, it all came together that it takes a special formular, a unique process, no short cuts, to become an authentic contender for the global championship. That’s why only a few countries (8 so far) have ever won it, and breaking the tradition never comes easy or cheaply!
Now, as the curtain draws for the end of yet another glorious chapter in the history of the beautiful game, I am filled with the excitement of belief and a conviction that I know what it takes, how to go about it, what to do, what to put in place methodically to win the World Cup. With the contributions of several persons, including me, I see an African country winning Africa’s first World Cup the next time the continent hosts it (not before). That will take a process that starts now and ends in 16 years time, in 2030! I am that convinced!
Meanwhile, in the past week the theatre of football has shifted from Brazil back to Europe, to the wheeling and dealing of the best players in the world, and their shuffling between the biggest and richest clubs. I shall also join in that game, but, first, I have to rest my World Cup narrative with a final look at the Super Eagles of Nigeria!
The ‘giant of Africa’ has been rumbling since the World Cup ended. I must admit that I have not followed closely and, so, do not fully comprehend, the reasons for the tumultuous events going on in the Nigeria Football Federation. As I write this, I am reading a report that the President of the Federation, Alhaji Aminu Maigari, who took Nigeria to the World Cup, has been removed by his Executive Committee members.
That makes the whole issue even more complicated for I had thought that with the remarkable achievements of his regime these past four years, particularly in the performances of the various national teams, plus his political dexterity that I witnessed and was a victim of some 4 years ago, he would be an almost automatic choice for a second term! Apparently, as an outsider to the goings-on in the administration of football in the country throughout his regime, I know very little to make a proper judgment, so even now, I will not.
But having said that, I must state that in personally experiencing the arrangements in Brazil for the World Cup matches, the geographical size and logistical challenges that Brazil posed put in context, the NFA under Aminu Maigari did a commendable job!
But I digress.
In the aftermath of the World Cup, Stephen Keshi, has become the centre of conversations. His contract with the Nigeria Football Association ended with the World Cup.
But did he do enough to deserve a renewal? Is he available even if the country wants him to continue with what he started some 3 years ago? Has he concluded rumored plans to head South and team up with Bafana Bafana? If not Stephen Keshi, then who?
Those are very big questions that most cannot answer adequately without confronting the steps of the past that led to failures. For example, who now dares to bring up the dead and unwanted idea of another foreign drain on the resources of the country through the hiring of a foreign coach? Or, which Nigerian coach has the knowledge, the experience, the background in the game, and the confidence of Nigerians to take over now and not be felled by criticism of a mob?
It is a dilemma for whoever will take up the responsibility to chaperon the administration of Nigerian football through the next 4 years!
Once again, I digress.
I can already hear the approaching drum beats of the 2015 African Cup of Nations. Countries have to move very fast.
Meanwhile, the Super Eagles, the way we saw them depart from Brazil only a few weeks, have imploded, ending another chapter in the checkered history of Nigerian football. For sure following the performances of the team in the World Cup, a new page must be opened for Nigerian football.
This, in my humble opinion, is their World Cup scorecard.
The Super Eagles played exceedingly well. The players played hard and fought hard. They earned their place in the second round. When the team fell against France, they played their best match in the championship for 60 minutes and then self-destructed!
I think in the end Nigeria deserved what they got. The team did not have many truly outstanding players. It was not even an assembly of the best players the country could have taken to the championship. Fate seemed to have dealt Nigeria a poor hand.
Keshi was right at a point during the championship when he asked rhetorically: ‘where are the outstanding players I did not invite?’
For several reasons the domestic leagues are not producing outstanding players for the national team in large numbers anymore. This is mostly (and I know that not everyone will appreciate it or accept this) the result of the upsurge in the use of artificial turfs around the country. They are beautiful for television, pleasing to the ordinary eye, but ruinous to the development of outstanding footballers!
A few of the better and tested players suffered injuries that kept them out of the final World Cup team – Elderson Echiejile and Bright Dike.
There were some key positions that Keshi could not fill simply because the players were not available – left back, attacking and central midfield!
Several of the once-outstanding players had not been playing regularly in their various European clubs and their forms had dipped so badly by the time of the World Cup. The short time for preparations could not put them back in tip-top shape – Victor Moses, Brown Ideye, Sunday Mba.
Some of the players were rookies, too fresh and inexperienced in the game to absorb the pressures of debuting at the World Cup – Mike Uchebo, Uche Nwofor, Ejike Ogenyi, Juwon Oshaniwa.
Some were left out of the team not because for reasons other than their football capacity –Ikechukwu Uche, Nosa Igiebor
A few players did not deserve to be in the team because they were just not good enough at the time – Reuben Gabriel, Ramon Azeez, and Shola Ameobi!
By the time all of the above are put together into a team of 23, it becomes apparent that Nigeria went to Brazil 2014 not fully armed with the right quality and quantity of ‘soldiers’ to win the most difficult championship in football.
Nigeria were in a ‘soft’ group and down a path that would have taken them, with a little bit of luck, to the quarter-finals and probably beyond. That’s why their exit when it came, was painful.
But having said all that, with the quality of players Keshi finally took to the World Cup, the team did exceedingly well, probably beyond their capacity.
They played well enough to raise some glimmer of hope, ‘fumbling and wobbling’ their way through all the matches.
Unfortunately, they spoiled the party for even their biggest supporters when they allowed financial issues to distract them. Fate intervened and their luck ran out against France.
A few players stood out and deserve some commendation:
Vincent Enyeama – he was outstanding until his one fatal mistake against France.
Peter Odemwingie – he proved his mettle and justified all those who clamored for his recall to the national team.
Kenneth Omeruo – he was the pillar of the Nigerian team in defense, hardly putting a foot wrong. The young man would one day captain the Super Eagles.
Ogenyi Onazi – his work rate is phenomenal. He was the anchor between Nigeria’s attack and defense and did a good job of it. He was such a big influence in the team that the moment he was injured and was substituted the Super Eagles’ structure collapsed.
Finally, the team needed a level of mature management and administrative guidance that was clearly absent, resulting in the inability of the officials to deal quickly and effectively with the inevitable crisis upon which Nigerian football is forever built!
I am eternally grateful to the following for making my World Cup experience worthwhile, enjoyable and possible – Engineer Nat Ikem, the NFA, Stephen Keshi, and my sponsors – 1960Bet!