By Omisakin Ayobami
Another year has gone by. Questions abound, opinions vary as to how successful the year was for Nigerian Football. A fact that cannot be denied, though, is that Football fared much better than other sports in Nigeria; Team Okagbare (or is it Team Nigeria) was the only consolation in Athletics, and relative success was recorded in Weightlifting and Cricket. However, for this write up, I have decided to narrow it down to the N.F.F and male national teams, others will follow soon. But before I throw my weight behind any assertion, I would like to run through the good, the bad and the ugly events that shaped Nigerian football in 2013.
The Super Eagles victory in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa came as a surprise to Nigerians. Interestingly though, the Super Eagles AFCON 2013 success could turn out an albatross to Nigerian football if the situation is not properly managed for therein lies the key to opening the door to a whole new vista of opportunities that can either take Nigerian football to the highest level or cripple it totally.
In retrospect, Former Super Eagles defender, the late Uche Okafor once described the Atlanta ’96 Olympics success as the worst thing to have happened to Nigerian football in that success got into the head of the players and they saw themselves as untouchable, all to the detriment of the team. According to Okafor that was the beginning of the slide of Nigerian football into an abyss of poor performance, in-fighting, power tussle, administrative ineptitude etc. that has taken decades to creep out from. A similar scenario of managing success presents itself with the 2013 AFCON victory and it is only proper that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.
About nine months later, Nigeria won their record fourth FIFA U-17 World Cup championship with a 3-0 win over Mexico in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates; producing the best player and best goalkeeper of the tournament in the process. It was one of the most enticing football events this year for Nigerian and African fans alike. African soccer analyst, David Legge says the Golden Eaglets played a beautiful brand of passing football in the UAE, and the team, if it stays together, has the potential to win more medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics and in future international tournaments. The victory serves as a ray of hope for the future if the right steps are taken to ensure the complete metamorphosis of these Eaglets into Eagles.
CAF unveiled a shortlist of 10 players in early December for the continent’s premier individual football award billed for Lagos, Nigeria on January 9. Four Nigerians: Ahmed Musa, Emmanuel Emenike, John Obi Mikel and Vincent Enyeama are in line to be named as Toure’s successor. This is very good news as it has been long since Nigerian players ever stood a chance of claiming the most coveted individual crown in African football.
Looking ahead to 2014, Nigeria has its sights set firmly on Brazil, where it’s grouped with Iran, Bosnia-Herzegovina and two-time champion Argentina for the first round of the FIFA World Cup. This will be Nigeria’s fifth World Cup appearance and even though I regard it as a birthright, it can still be listed as one of the year’s achievements.
The whole year can be summarised thus, 11 wins, 8 draws and 3 losses; the Super Eagles moved from the 52nd position in the Fifa ranking at the beginning of the year to 37th position at the end of the year.
The performance of the Super Eagles at the Confederations Cup will definitely come under this heading. The outing was horrendous; conceding a goal against Tahiti was bad enough but adding the defeat against Uruguay and the lack of finishing experienced against the La Rojas makes it absurd. Hopefully that outing is not an echo of what is to come in Brazil 2014. The performance of the Super Eagles at the tournament tells us two things; the team lacks depth and needs clinical and experienced striker.
Only administrative faults will be listed here and when we talk about the administration’s misdeeds, the slashing of players’ wages without proper notice and consultation readily comes to mind. The action in itself is not wrong but the timing and method of its implementation by the N.F.F leaves a lot more to be desired. The ugly nature of this decision pales in comparison to its consequences; the Super Eagles refused to represent the country at the Confederations Cup. It was a very ugly incident indeed.
Furthermore, the N.F.F added to this list of woes by failing to pay Keshi and his assistants for several months and eventually declaring bankruptcy. While I would not be dwelling much on this issue is because it has already been discussed in a previous article, it is germane to note that the N.F.F has never owed its foreign coach their salaries which are much more than what Keshi earns.
Hopefully, events like this will not rear their ugly heads in the coming year.
The year 2013 was a year of trophies and victories on the pitch but failures at the glass house. The hope of Nigerian football does not just rest on the shoulders of on-pitch performances but also on the effectiveness of the administration which will always have its bearing on the on-pitch performances.