Let’s Revisit That Abysmal Performance by the Super Eagles of Nigeria

As the clock ticked towards the 90 minute mark, the looks on the faces of the fans in the stadium were filled with anxiety, bereft of the joy that the Eagles had brought in their opening World Cup qualifying games.

Gernot Rohr’s first competitive defeat, coming in our own backyard. The concealed anger on Godswill Akpabio’s face was reflective how the game had gone itself. Amaju Pinnick was there too, the disappointment clearly etched on his face. The lack of ideas apparent too.

NFF Logo: Are we there yet?

If the friendlies had masked our failings, this game certainly exposed them. From the lack of movement in the attacking third, to the lack of defensive organization as well as the absence of creativity in midfield, the Super Eagles goose was truly cooked.

Every long ball into the box was a dagger driven into the heart of Nigerians; because the ball even rarely got that far. The players lacked any sort of cohesion or understanding.

It begs the question as to whether they played to tactics or if there were any tactics at all. Kelechi Iheanacho looked isolated up front, Alex Iwobi cast a shadow of a Nigerian Professional Football League player lacking confidence, Wilfred Ndidi and Ogenyi Onazi didn’t bring any form of calm to the midfield as they were taken apart bit by bit by a very well organized South African midfield.

It is quite clear that Gernot Rohr seems not to know the task ahead of him. The pool of players being invited has become too large. Not every Tom, Dick and Harry can pull on the green jersey. This might only yet be an early setback, but the road to Cameroon just got more complicated and difficult. There are fifteen more points to win, but on the back of today’s performance, it begs to ask if we could win one of the five fixtures remaining let alone the entire five.

The performance has now cast fresh doubts ahead of the crunch double header against Cameroon on the road to Russia. If we cannot control South Africa, how much more the African champions, who seem to have the momentum?

Many can make an excuse on the absence of Mikel and Moses. Some have even mentioned that Rome wasn’t built in a day and we remain a work in progress. But there is no evidence that this work has made any reasonable progress. Football is evolving, so are the nations playing it.

The Bafana Bafana came with a clear game plan and executed it to perfection. They paid every bit of attention to detail of the way the Eagles played. How we played long balls, our height, our sluggishness and our incoherence out of possession. The manner in which they exchanged passes made me green with envy.

It was not a rare sight, it was what their fans had begun to get used to after wholesale changes were made in the football structure over there.

If that was painful, the fact that we couldn’t handle pressure well was what let me down the most. It was the first time (should we get used to this?) in a competitive match under Rohr that we had gone behind. There was no hint of response from the bench or from the players themselves.

They pressed the panic button and lost every form of organization that once was. A clear indication of where our football is. 2017 as a year may as well go down as the worst in our footballing calendar. And should we fail to book a ticket to Russia, it would add to the failures at youth level, where the under 17s and 20s have been watching their counterparts take the world by storm.

If we must progress and see the evidence of our progress, we must start from mental and psychological exercise on the playing staff. It’s what is in vogue now. An expert psychologist who would read the mood of the players and relay the most mentally strong of the players to the coach. Those who are calm under pressure, those who aren’t, those who can die for the shirt and those who would rather not.

Then we can start to discuss basic football lessons such as passing, ball control, et cetera. Then would we can proceed to the stage of teaching basic tactical lessons about player zones, player movements, the essence of which position amongst others.

I have since noticed that the only reason why Nigerian players get tossed to and fro is because they lack tactical knowledge of the game and can rarely read it. Maybe it’s time for us to go back to the basics.

You ask why?

Because every time we watch this horror show of games this current crop of eagles serve us, we may be tempted to think the glory days are indeed well and truly over.

Do you have a different opinion? Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment.

Football: Entertainment, Loyalty and the Politicking

The history of football can be traced to about 4500 years ago, the obscure origins of the sport makes for fascinating reading given its glowing popularity. The inability to pin football to one name is a mystery in itself with many other sports accountable for. However, historians believe Ancient Egyptians did play the sport with balls made of linen spotted in Egyptian tombs dating back to 2500 BC.

It was however in ancient China around 476 BC to 221 BC when a sport called ‘cuju’ was played in a rectangular playing field with a piece of cloth hung n between two poles serving as the goal posts. The game was so popular, it was seen as a means of keeping soldiers fit. It was however in the nineteenth century, football gained ascent with the English and in 1863, the Football Association was formed. With this came the rules and the sport we have come to love today.

I tell my friends this daily: football is an entity and like every entity or personality, it has phases. Take for instance, in the 1860s, it was more about getting to grips with the game, a kick-about of some sort with clubs been gradually formed and the birth of the FA Cup, it was all for passion.

The 1930 World Cup

The 1930 World Cup. Photo credits: FIFA

By 1930, the FIFA World Cup had begun and the pride of wearing one’s national team shirt had become an extra incentive. By the ‘50s, Football had begun to take wider significance with the birth of the European Champions Cup and the 1960 launch of the Henri Delauney European Championship.

Brands were built as far back as the ‘70s when Pele became the face of the North American Soccer League of then, with the World Cup having been televised in 1966, football’s appeal became a global thing and come the late ‘70s into early ‘80s, 1million pound players had become a norm with Trevor Francis leading the way. Diego Maradona became the most expensive in the late ‘80s following his move to Napoli and then there were the disasters; Heysel and Hillsborough both in the ‘80s; which would go on to explain the dangers of extremism in football till today.

By the early 90s, merchandising had become the in-thing with clubs possessing branded sponsors and even national teams! Albeit for training purposes. This far reach of football had made it the ultimate market for everybody; young and old even the rich and the poor. The tag of loyalty had become an essential feature as rivalries were built over the years, some caused by geography, others by pure constant clashes and tussles for the biggest prizes.

Players came and went, coaches became Managers as the scope of the game widened and even they came and went, presidents came and went but two things still remain constant; the allure of the fans and the game itself. No matter the number of balls used both past and present, from the linen balls, to the rubber balls, the hard plain tango balls, the gravity-defying Jabulani, the famous Brazuca, football still remains football. It is this allure that has seen the face of the game change with politicking at the highest level becoming a sort of regularity.

Take for instance, Florentino Perez, rich construction magnate who has everything the world has to offer but still longs to be President of Real Madrid and looks set to stay for a long time yet; or look at the trouble that Sandro Rosell went through to become President of Barcelona, only to be told he couldn’t last long because he was involved in a transfer deal that is shrouded in mystery conducted for the club, adding salt to injury?

The allegations were levied against him by his club socios. Maybe this would fascinate you; the fact that Borussia Dortmund chiefs, Hans Joachim Watzke and Michael Zorc chose to fire Thomas Tuchel (who handed them their most successful season since 2013-14) because he disagreed with them on the scheduling of a Champions League Fixture.

I wouldn’t know what Luciano Spalleti’s sacking at Roma would count as either with the board choosing to hand him his P45 after leading the side to their best Serie A points tally in more than a decade. That may not hurt, but this should, PSG’s ultimate firing of Laurent Blanc for failing to bring them European success despite dominating the scene on home front.

If these don’t count then maybe we could talk about some 50shades of crazy on behalf of club owners all a sign of politicking; case in point; the Pozzo family; who have fired the last three Watford coaches despite granting a club of their stature Premier League survival; what about the man who sold Palermo this year, Maurizio Zamparini, who made at least twenty coaching appointments since he bought the club; Massimo Cellino (former owners of Leeds United) who hired seven managers in three years; the list goes on and on. It’s amazing what football has become.

The years of ‘Hustle, Loyalty and respect’ are long gone with many footballers interested in only enriching their pockets and getting the best pay checks possible. Imagine the reality that Kelechi Iheanacho has rejected a move to PSG and Dortmund because he wants to get a British passport? What happened to more playing time? A better career trajectory?

It’s no surprise players who think like that end up in mediocrity. Take the instance of a 25-year old Oscar who has moved to China but will get double the amount he earned at Chelsea. His is not even as painful as that of a certain Hulk, who oozed class but has let his prodigious talent go to waste by making moves that only lace his pockets. One may not blame these players, the determination to never become poor again has played a role. Emmanuel Adebayor once said; he would only move to where he’s got a paycheck. Why? Because that’s why he plays football.

If the hustle is real, the loyalty and respect art is dwindling terribly. Francesco Totti, Andres Iniesta and Phillip Lahm are a dying breed. In fact, the former and the latter are now retired while Iniesta is a threatened species at Barcelona. Reason? He is considered old.

The board believe he is a liability, a stress on the wage bill. Just ask Dani Alves, Raúl Gonzalez and Andrea Pirlo how it feels. Their service has been forgotten. The mantra has changed to ‘thank you for your service, we think it’s best for you to go now.’ A subtle yet polite way of giving a player his matching orders.

The players aren’t alone in this quagmire, the managers share in it too; P45s are now cheap to acquire, mainly because the ‘business’ that is football needs to be kept up with.

A manager who fails to deliver earns that sack faster than he earned his job. Take this for an example: Zinedine Zidane might have just won the Champions League and La Liga double, but just over a month ago, he could have been fired. Why? Real lost to Barcelona. Jose Mourinho and Claudio Ranieri won league titles for their clubs only to be handed P45s six months later for poor performance.

In reality, how we see what we see is what we see, what do we see? The manner of politicking even in the boardrooms among the board members are off the hook. Take the Jordi Cases v Sandro Rosell issue at Barcelona, The Ramon Calderon v Florentino Perez situation at Real Madrid, the factionalization that took place at Ajax in 2011 when Johann Cruyff returned, Silvio Berlusconi’s wily old tricks at Milan, even on the national front; the sport is seen as some sort of trump card, a bargain tool to some and an inheritance to others.

Issa Hayatou spent twenty eight years in power in CAF swatting aside every wind of progress that came with several men either feeling the wrath of his mighty hand or been rewarded with other positions of office. He wasn’t alone, Sepp Blatter & Michel Platini are paying the price for a game gone wrong after the former monopolized FIFA and intended to hand over to the latter in what was an obvious arrangement. Even government of nations now interfere. With poor performances raising questions of capability and systems.

Football is not a perfect sport. In fact, it is the most imperfect there is but while technology, marketability and merchandising are all good. It would be best if we rid ourselves of this vice of politicking from our sport. We stand to lose more than we would gain.

 

Yours thoughts? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment.