Nigerian football analysts and enthusiasts fondly return to the proverbial drawing board after major tournaments. The last successive months have seen the flying eagles, super falcons and the super eagles participate in international competitions all with not too impressive outcomes. I want to use this medium to ink my own graffiti on that drawing board, if one can still find space there.
Let me begin even before any of these competitions kicked off. a few hours before the flying eagles jetted off for the FIFA U-20 world cup, I was engaged with a sports journalist on radio who argued that the bane of Nigerian football is our lack of continuity. He maintained that because we don’t have a habit of promoting our players collectively from the aged grade competitions to the senior teams, we weren’t getting the best from our football. I disagreed with him. I claimed that we can’t keep mediocrity in the name of continuity. I referred to players that end up losing their forms, players that were earlier dropped later upping up their games to displace those that made it ahead of them, players that decide to take up other interests in life, injuries, and not to talk of age fraud that tells on them later. Summary of what I was telling the guy in the studio was that all over the world, promotion is not a right, teams and individual players must earn it.
Anyway, the flying eagles gave an uninspiring performance during their short stay in Poland and not surprisingly, loud calls for them to be disbanded resounded.
I couldn’t get back to my radio pal but I wondered whether he stood his ground that those boys be kept together and groomed to the immediate rung above them or he joined the majority that wanted them dispersed.
More important is not whether we want a poor team disbanded or a good team upgraded but what exactly we want from our football. How do we measure a good team? is it winning or pattern of play or both?
aside just being a nursery from which players for the senior national teams are recruited, embryotic teams should reflect the football philosophy of the nation. It is at these lower cadres that our football language, style, pattern and ideology is being shaped. Of cause, results and entertainment will never be ruled out, but those indices are what we should look out for in age grade teams.
What this means is that the Nigerian football federation must be deliberate, through its technical department, in the formulation of a football philosophy tailored to our temperaments, resources, strengths, weaknesses and aspirations. This programmer, which will be subject to periodic reviews, will be similar to what the ministry of education does with schools’ curricula. This developed football blueprint will then be sent to football academies (which should be run formally and must all be affiliated to the football authorities). This also entails the training of pedagogues who should be the propagators by practical zing them in their various primary postings.
By the way, we should reconsider the habit of promoting the coaches of successful age grade teams to the next level. That a coach won the under 17 world cup doesn’t mean he should automatically be the coach of the same squad at the under 21 level. That’s like saying our primary four teacher should be our primary five teacher because we all passed our exams. Life doesn’t always follow such linear paths. Some pedagogues are specialized in nurturing juveniles to maturity and should be given all the encouragement they deserve so as not find fulfillment only in “promotions”.
Next is the super falcons. Despite being part of every women’s world cup since its inception in 1991 and pioneers of the women’s game on the continent, Nigeria still attends every Mundial with the disposition of a debutant and has seen its dominance in Africa clipped.
It not worrying that nations that just began female football less than a decade ago like Netherlands, Italy, Japan and even South Africa and equatorial guinea have practically overtaken us or at least muscling shoulders with us?
Ayodele Okunfolami Lagos.