Date Published: 11/11/09
Super Eagles and the rest of us By Jude Egbas
So, in spite of all the anger and hate I have spewed forth on our country’s senior football team, the Super Eagles, via cyber space, I would be sitting right in front of the TV, praying the team achieves the goal of getting the three maximum points against the Harambee stars of Kenya and hoping the Tunisians come up short in the other fixture in Maputo. I still love the Eagles, make no mistake about it.
On Saturday, I would be its biggest cheerleader. For good measure, I would go on a fast on Friday, play the Super Eagles against the rest of the world on Play Station on Saturday morning, and don a replica of the team’s jersey around noon. Thereafter, I would hope and pray for the best. If we end up qualifying for the world cup, I would thank God for answered prayers, call a few friends to holler my congratulations and beat the Tunisians silly on Play Station to rub it in. if we don’t qualify, I would have a moody Sunday with popcorn and beer and dark sunshade while avoiding the dailies whose headlines could further ruin my day.
How did the Eagles get to this stage where world cup qualification now depends on tons of prayers from most Nigerians and all the heart palpitations that you can ever have going into a football game? Why do I have to envisage a moody day out in the bar in the aftermath of an Eagles game? Why ( in God’s name) is it easier to coach the Eagles into beating any team on Play Station than it is to watch them steamroll any team (as was so often the case in days gone by) today?
Let’s face it. Whether the eagles ply their trade in better organised countries in Europe, they are still Nigerians by gene; by functionality; by thinking. Worse, when they do get to wear the colours of the country, they become completely Nigerian—they become tacky, slow and disoriented—vices you can easily pick up in Aso Rock or wherever else decisions are made in this country. They become like us—non-chalant, unserious, good people, great nation.
In the ‘90s, we delighted the world with our eye catching, romantic brand of football based on keeping possession and drawing the opponents out of position. We were technically superior to most teams on the continent and were ranked fifth at some point in the world among football playing nations. The stock of our players rose in value as teams fell over themselves to sign up any player Nigerian and who could kick the ball really well. I grew up watching Stephen Keshi, Sunday Oliseh and the one so good he had to be named twice, Austin Jay Jay Okocha ( at some point, that became my moniker). Contrast that glorious era to what obtains today—a Nigerian team that plays with little verve, disoriented in its build up and very chaotic going forward. The Super Eagles would gradually become a team for the likes of Seyi Olofinjana ( how the heck does this guy always make it into the team?), Obinna Nwanneri ( now that is who you call a defenceless defender) and Yakubu Aiyegbeni ( never seen a striker so heavy with little guile). In the past, most of these players would not make it any where near the bench of the Eagles let alone being considered for inclusion.
As ‘Godfatherism’ of the Chris Uba variant crept into the polity with its debilitating consequences, so did it also find its way into the national team where call-ups are supposed to be handed out on merit—current form and suitability to the team’s tactics. The Eagles now play without fire in their bellies and at a pace you can call yaraduarish. Any wonder we are ranked thirty (what?) in the world today and find it difficult to beat Mozambique or Eritrea or even the Cayman Islands at senior level!
The solution doesn’t lie in firing and hiring coaches at the drop of a hat. To get the Eagles to become the beautiful bride it once was, we have to begin to get the basics of team building right—organisation, ethics, values and efficiency. Imbued in the rank and file of the team should be a culture that permeates the dressing room—that places a premium not on how much bonuses would he handed out at the end of every game, but how much honour and respectability comes from wearing the country’s colours.
Plus, we must begin to get it right, politically. We cannot divulge one insipid display after another from our soccer ambassadors, from a governmental system that has since imploded right through the middle, giving rise to hawks and wolves in sheep’s clothing. The boys know that the words ‘honour’ and ‘pride’ have long since taken flight from our body polity and have since been replaced by ‘avarice’ and ‘despicability’ and so put in half-hearted displays out on the pitch. A sad state of affairs, you would agree.
I am looking forward to the Eagles of old. And maybe that would begin with the game in Kenya with our hard earned world cup ticket well in the bag. Then I won’t have a ‘popcorn’ and ‘beer’ Sunday when I should be singing ‘Halleluyah’ in church.
Egbas is a company Executive based in Lagos