President Goodluck Jonathan with the Super Eagles
Please don’t get me wrong. Reading the above headline may imply that I am one of those ‘bad belle’ people never wishing well for Nigeria - this is far from the truth.
I’m a very patriotic Nigerian who would very much love to see the Super Eagles lofting the Nations Cup trophy for the world to see on February 10 at the end of the final in South Africa next year.
Of course why not! Like millions of other football fans and Nigerians who will not love to identify with victory - besides there is nothing like national pride!
We all know how passionate we are when it comes to supporting our various club teams be it in the English Premier League, La Liga, Serie A or even Nigeria Premier League, but there is nothing like one’s national team.
When the Eagles are in full flight that is the only time that tribe and religion (I’m sure even Boko Haram will ‘cooperate’ at this time) mean very little to us and we actually do become true Nigerians in both name and reality.
I can remember vividly how millions of Nigerians kept ‘night vigil’ while Dream Team I defied the odds to lift the gold medal of the football event of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta.
The feel good factor was overwhelming, permeating all facets of the society, both highly placed and not so highly placed individuals were all caught up in the euphoria of being an ‘Olympic gold medallist’.
I’m not sure that there was any part (even hamlets) which was not delighted by win.
Twelve years later the same thing almost replayed itself out when another Dream Team reached the final of another Olympics (Beijing) where they put up a gallant fight before narrowly going down 1-0 to Argentina.
With the game taking place around the time of the first services of churches, many witnessed an almost wholly women’s and children’s turnout as most of the men stayed behind to watch live the action from the Far East.
So acutely aware of how much football means to Nigerians I wonder why our officials will toy with it by repeatedly ranking up the drum beats of ‘Nigeria will triumph in South Africa’!
Have we forgotten that there are 15 other nations harbouring the same dreams and at the end of the three-week competition only one nation can lay claim to being kings of Africa.
While there is nothing wrong with dreaming high, one should also view things in context. My own feeling is that while this current crop of Eagles are a decent bunch I don’t see them as the finish article yet and as such talk about trampling on all other opposition in South Africa is a bit premature. Besides the coach himself (Stephen Keshi) has repeatedly said he was still rebuilding his team.
I believe that even a final appearance by this squad is more than an impressive achievement since their focus should be on qualifying for Brazil 2014 – after all having already won the Nations Cup twice before, it should no longer be a big do for Nigeria; rather being the first team from Africa to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup will be a far bigger achievement in this day and age. But if we can do both all the merrier.
Earlier in the week this is what assistant coach Daniel Amokachi had to say: the senior Nigerian football team has evolved from ‘Work in Progress’ to the one that can be relied upon to deliver the aspirations of football-loving compatriots.
I don’t blame the former international because this is what we like hearing – lofty promises without anything to show for it afterwards.
Other officials have also been caught up in this bug promising that the Eagles will return to the country with the Cup.
Towing the ‘official line’ this is what First Vice-President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Chief Mike Umeh was quoted as saying: “We are not just going to South Africa to make up the numbers but to win the cup and return home with it. The signs are already there now that we have a team that can match the rest of Africa.”
He went on to assure Nigerians that the “Eagles would return from South Africa with the cup as directed by President Goodluck Jonathan.”
So now my big question is: what will happen if for any reason the Super Eagles flop in South Africa? Will all the people making such promises eat their words and fall on their swords after failing the nation?
The answer we all know is: no. Instead they will come up with reasons for the setback promising to atone for this at the next competition.
I still feel we should learn not to play to the gallery and let our performances do the talking on our behalf.
Recently I spoke with a member of the Eagles set up and he confessed that while they are privately hoping that Nigeria can go all the way, they will also be more than satisfied with a final appearance.
Kadiri Ikhana showed other officials the way by throwing in the towel as Falcons coach after failing to guide the team to victory at the African Women’s Championships even though he met the NFF’s mandate of reaching the semi-finals.
So once again I will like to appeal to our officials to stop playing to the gallery, roll up their sleeves and concentrate on giving the Eagles the best possible support for the good of the nation.
After all we all know how we respond to victories with no questioned asked about monies spent and so on. But let us flop and immediately questions are raised over how much money was ‘chopped’ in letting the country down!
With barely six weeks to SA 2013 kick off, rather than mouthing victory; football officials should ensure the Eagles are given the best possible preparations and who knows we just might be celebrating come February 9!