Nigeria’s football enthusiasts already know that 32 national football teams will be playing 64 matches to decide who will take the World Cup back home at the end of the FIFA World Cup competition of June 2018 in Russia.
Recent Nigerian pre-World Cup friendlies that ended in 1-1 draw with the Simba of Democratic Republic of Congo and 2-1 loss to England’s Three Lions remind one of mixed feelings of anxiety and confidence expressed at The Sun Newspaper’s seminar, under the auspices of the River State Government.
The seminar, with the theme, “That Super Eagles May Excel In Russia 2018 And Beyond,” sought to whip up support for the Super Eagles at the Russia World Cup. One hopes that whatever misgivings, reservations, or disagreements anyone may nurse against Nigeria’s sports administrators can be put aside for now. There is fire on the mountain.
Former Coach of the Super Eagles, Adegboye Onigbinde, sounded cautiously optimistic about the Super Eagles bringing the cup home. He offered insights and counsel that should be useful for the World Cup in 2022—if they are coming too late for 2018.
Onigbinde revealed that football would have had the largest population in the world were it a country. He offers that on some occasions, football administrators get early mention ahead of political office holders in the order of protocol.
Danladi Bako, a former Director-General of the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission, in acknowledging that there are money, power, and glory in football, also thought that the Nigeria Football Federation president could be introduced even before governors. He celebrates the Super Eagles as a strong brand.
Emeka Inyama, Chairman of Aba Football Club, who thinks that football can be used as a tool for international diplomacy, admonishes that football administrators must be conscious of the marketing prospects of football, and must not depend solely on government funding.
Inyama hinted that the bill that will strengthen the NFF is already on the table of President Muhammadu Buhari, awaiting mandatory presidential assent. Pundits think that its passage will free Nigerian football from the whims and caprices of government officials.
Onigbinde suggests that a winning team must play together long enough to develop cohesion that enables players to think and act like one man in the field of play. In explaining the need to groom a team to be cohesive, he narrated how he trained some Under-14s that later formed the nucleus of the national team of Trinidad and Tobago.
A trained teacher, Onigbinde suggests that the first principle in developing Nigeria’s football is to develop the coaches. He argues that a coach cannot give what he doesn’t have to his players. He notes that whereas Ghana, with a population of 29.40 million has more than 3,000 FIFA trained coaches, Nigeria, reported to have a population of 198 million, has less than 500.
You will agree that Onigbinde, who at various times was technical instructor, and Technical Committee Member of FIFA, Confederation of African Football, and NFF, must be conversant with the standard of football in Nigeria, Africa, and the rest of the world.
He enumerated conditions that must be met before the nation, or the team managers and technical advisers, can expect top performance from a football team. The most fundamental of these is the availability and early release of adequate funds to the team. Otherwise, both the team and its handlers may be thoroughly demotivated.
The funding must be used to recruit what sports journalist Ikeddy Isiguzo defined as “relevantly qualified” personnel, like coaches, trainers, and psychologists, as well as provide appropriate facilities and equipment, which should include training grounds, and consumables like training kits, balanced diet, and medication.
In responding to Onigbinde’s submissions, Dr. Patrick Ekeji, former footballer, coach, sports administrator, and lecturer at the Nigerian Sports Institute, who thinks that a team must be resilient, recalls how Nigeria rallied from goal deficit of 2-0, to defeat Argentina 4-2 in a friendly in November 2017.
Isiguzo insists that long term planning that emphasises the development of footballers from youth is essential to the success of a football team. In a teasing response to Onigbinde, he adds that a player must know what to do when he doesn’t have the ball.
The attributes that a star player must have, as enumerated by Onigbinde, are physical or physiological fitness of stamina, strength, speed, endurance, good breath, and flexibility; and psychological fitness, whereby the player has no worries, or is sure that his problems will be taken care of.
Onigbinde adds intellectual fitness, or evidence that a player can intelligently read a match, and make quick adjustment of strategy; and medical fitness, or near-total absence of injury or illness through preventive, curative, rehabilitative, and therapeutic means.
Onigbinde pitches technical fitness, or what a player does as he receives, retains, or releases the ball; and relationship fitness, which is demonstrated by the way the players relate and complement each other as a team.
Danladi Bako, creator of “Master Sports,” the highly successful NTA sports show, suggests that the President of Nigeria should endeavour to speak to the players whenever they have away matches. A picture that showed President Buhari watching a Super Eagles match while he was recuperating in London was a great PR initiative.
Bako advocates that government should ensure adequate live TV coverage of the World Cup matches. He pleads that Nigeria’s organs and personnel of mass media must be patriotic, and refrain from promoting players on filial, tribal, pecuniary, or other considerations.
Bako, who agrees that bonding is important for building team spirit, suggests that relationship amongst players must be cordial; they must pray together, be in the right frame of mind, and should not fear any of the teams they will be playing against.
He thinks that the players can be integrated through language and inspirational songs. He suggested that Nigerians living in Russia should be encouraged to join the Super Eagles Supporters’ Club that will be coming in from Nigeria.
In agreeing with Onigbinde that a football team must be cohesive, Bako suggests long-term plans to groom players from Under-17 Golden Eaglets stage, to Under-21 Flying Eagles, on to the Super Eagles. He also cautions that football administrators must not interfere with the coaching crew.
Bako commended the NFF for having a strong technical committee that has the good sense to employ a sensible (albeit foreign) coach that he thinks has built a good team. He however warns that the team’s defence is weak. Nigeria’s German Coach, Gernot Rohr, confirmed this after Super Eagles’ draw with the DR Congo: “We have some problems with our full back,” Rohr admitted.
Fanny Amun, a former Super Eagles coach, doesn’t seem to agree with Inyama that football must be freed from government administrators. He insists that state governments must be involved in football development.
He advises Nigeria to start working towards the 2022 World Cup now, as he reveals that he has spotted seven members of Super Eagles squad who can be groomed for 2022. He wants players to play constantly to be in form.
Even if Coach Rohr did not consider Inyama’s counsel that Nigeria’s team must comprise youths who are hungry for fame, you’ve got to root for the Super Eagles still