The authorities must do much more to redeem our football
Nigeria’s declining fortunes in football took another hit last Friday when Guinea Bissau came to the Moshood Abiola Stadium in Abuja to snatch a 1-0 victory from our senior national football team, the Super Eagles. Although the Super Eagles won the reverse fixture in Bissau on Monday by a lone goal, that victory cannot take away the fact that there is an abysmal decline in football fortunes. Even if we end up on top of Group A of the qualifying series for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) scheduled for Côte d’Ivoire next January, there are still issues with our football.
For a team with some of the highest goal scorers in European leagues, the performance of the Super Eagles calls to question the competence or otherwise of the technical crew saddled with handling the team and football administration in Nigeria. With the likes of Victor Osimhen, Ademola Lookman, Terem Moffi and Paul Onuachu, it remains a sad commentary that fans have had to endure the type of pains they went through last year when Ghana’s Black Stars came to Abuja to deny Nigeria qualification to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. It is unfortunate that despite the recent launch of a 10-Year Masterplan (2022-2032), the fundamental anomalies that perennially upend football development in the country are still very much with us.
Before last Friday’s defeat in Abuja, the Super Eagles had played seven matches under the watch of coach Jose Santos Peseiro, losing five and winning just two. Nigerians were told that those matches were mere friendlies and that in actual match situations, Eagles were going to play differently. But nothing has changed in this run up to AFCON 2023. In short, the loss to Guinea Bissau is the fourth consecutive defeat for Eagles with no sign of any improvement. It is noteworthy that former Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr was fired from the job for similar poor results. One had expected a drastic change and a lift in the quality of offerings from the Super Eagles. Alas, it appears there is no difference between Rohr and Peseiro.
In his legion of Europe-based players in the squad, the likes of Ahmed Musa, Joe Aribo, Kelechi Iheanacho, Wilfred Ndidi, Kenneth Omeruo and even the goalkeeper, Francis Uzoho have not seen quality playing time in their various clubs this season. Like the Guinea Bissau coach, Baciro Cande pointed out shortly after his team’s win in Abuja, big names don’t matter anymore in this game. Every player must earn his place in the squad based on current form.
Meanwhile, the national Under-23 team, the Olympic Eagles that is next in rank to the Super Eagles is also struggling as it suffered a stunning defeat at the hands of Guinea thus cancelling the bid for the Olympic football event in Paris next year. The Super Falcons who are nine-time African champions have also lost their fire power and are now the continent’s fourth best team to the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand later in the year.
Unless something drastic happens now to halt this drift, the next four years may be full of heartaches for football loving Nigerians. Like some critics have pointed out, champions are made from past works. Since the 1994 golden generation faded out of circulation, no concerted efforts have been made to recreate that era. What we are reaping now is the manifestation of years of “looking for immediate results”, using footballers bearing our indigenous names but lacking in that Nigerian football philosophy that served us well in the past.
Now is the time to return our football to the basics and rebuild.