As Nigerians celebrate the Super Eagles of Nigeria World Cup qualifier win against the Chipolopolo of Zambia, with a ticket in the kitty for the World Cup in Russia, there is need to commend Nigerians for their onesness. One critical factor that was evident in that encounter against Zambia was team spirit. One man who should know the essence of team spirit is one time chairman of Nigerian Football Association, Group Captain John P. Obakpolor. He shared his thoughts as far back as 1992 at an event organised by the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria, SWAN.
According to the retired Air force officer, in football, the basic requirement for a successful outing is team work. But in Nigeria, he argues that the system portrays a team in “exile”.
“Three weeks to a major competition, letters are sent out to our professional players abroad, inviting them to come home to play in an international match involving the Super Eagles. Personal contacts are made by telephones, telex and other methods used to get across to the players. Oftentimes, all these things are done without due considerations given to the player’s club schedules. Sometimes, the competitions run in conflict with clubs schedules which may lead to the absence of the players.
Meanwhile, the home based players are busy slugging it out hoping to be considered, but more often they are dropped for the late comers from abroad. This is one reason why every player wants to go abroad.
The system of collecting players all over the continents could be attributed to; laziness , lack of confidence in the footballers available within the country, the urge to achieve quick result and lack of proper planning on the part of the technical crew incharge of the national team”. This system he insists, is not only cumbersome and frustrating, but very expensive. Money may not be the problem for now, but the issue is; for how long can we sustain such a team without a break due to clubs’ commitments, he asked.
The former NFA boss maintains that the present system builds our national team around the professional players abroad and as such, when some of the players are not available, the home based are used as substitutes. You would not expect a substitute to excel when he knows that he is just a “stand-in”. The result of this action is confusion and lack of proper understanding within the team.
Furthermore, the aeronautical engineer notes that these foreign based players don’t belong to one club but different clubs in Europe under different coaches of different nationalities and cultures. It becomes a major problem trying to blend these players within a short time. The difficulty, he explains is not in the inability of the players to adapt to our system but getting them used to it within a short time and perfecting it without any trace of adulterating the one they are used to.
He wonders if we do understand the problems of a foreigner playing professional football abroad. “He is faced with numerous problems and the important one is getting a place in their clubs first team. The competition to get a place in well established and famous clubs is very high and that is why, when they finally make it, they do everything possible to remain there. Hardwork is the name of the game.
Moreover, he advises it is high time we stopped this system of collecting players from abroad to form the bulk of the national team. In his opinion, the fact that the home based players have not impressed fans in some international matches should not write them off as misfits in our future teams. The difference is that a star-studded team is easily exhausted than a well blended and cohesive home based team because of the former’s individualistic approach.
Group Captain Obakpolor agrees with the assertion that the standard of our professional local league is very low, adding that we should not expect much from where we have not invested adequately.
“How can we expect the standard to improve when the body tasked with the job is busy scheduling and rescheduling matches as if that the main objective?, he queried. “The Technical adviser is busy scouting for players overseas to make his own team rather than watch local league matches and make his observations to the Technical Committee for a review with a view to finding a solution to the observed defects”. He believes it is through the local league that a common play pattern for the national team can be formed.
Group Captain Obakpolor made his observations more than two decades ago. Has anything changed between then and now? You be the judge.
•Till next week, keep attacking.