As Nigeria takes on the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in a back-to-back clash for the 2018 World Cup ticket, the views of the legendary Roger Milla on the problem with our national team comes to mind. During an interview with ‘Africa Number One’ radio based in Gabon, some years back, Milla said there were three countries in Africa he reckoned with because of their special attributes.
These countries according to him are; Ghana–for technical ability, Cameroon–for continuity, and Egypt–for good organisation. While crediting Nigeria with abundant talents, the 1990 World Cup hero, pointed out poor selection as the bane of the Nigerian national team, adding; “they are always experimenting with different players.”
Regrettably these challenges are still with our national team till date. But some -how, we had overcome these shortcomings to emerge victorious in Africa. The present crop of Super Eagles is hungry and desirous of going to the World Cup. The saying goes; ‘to be fore-warned is to be fore-armed.’
In the words of late MKO Abiola, “Africa, and indeed , the world, can be conquered in the field of sports, especially football, by Nigeria”. But to make this possible, he highlighted areas that must be addressed. These are: organization, intelligence gathering, early and strategic planning, as well as motivation and welfare of players and their officials.
Notwithstanding all of these perennial challenges, Super Eagles are condemned to beat Cameroon in the first leg in Nigeria today. We should have enough information about the Indomitable Lions, having watched them lift the African Cup of Nations, and their participation at the last FIFA Confederations tournament in Russia. They are physical, a blend of experience and youth, pacy and forceful, especially from the left flank.
This is a match we need to field players with spine, nerves, flexibility and stamina. We don’t need to play champagne football with Cameroon. Let’s be careful who mans our left wing back. Kelechi Iheanacho is at his best as a support striker. For national interest no more information about our national team will be discussed here, at least for now. But let the coaches pick players based on their current form not on names.
These players don’t belong to one club but to different clubs. The clubs are handled by different coaches of different nationalities and tactics. It becomes a major challenge trying to blend within a short time. The difficulty is not in the inability of the players to adapt to a particular system but adulterating the one they are used to. Hard work is the name of the game. Let us rally round these players today, not because we are in an ideal situation administratively, but because of national pride and the fact that we have the players to beat Cameroon. Go Boys Go!
CONTINUED from last week
Some readers have called to disagree with the assertion that no one is born with the talent for a specific sport, insisting that “stars are born and also made”. They are not entirely wrong.
However, what the “stars are born” with are the biomotor abilities that have been frequently mentioned in earlier articles. In 2007 as part of their preparation for the Rio Olympics, 2016, sports authorities in the United Kingdom launched a public appeal calling for “tall athletes”. Out of the pool of 3,500 persons that volunteered, 45 of them were placed in the Olympic programme. Many of them won medals in canoeing, kayaking, and cycling for the first time in their sports history.
Put differently, Nigeria began competing in the Olympics as an independent country at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The present population of the country is estimated at 170 million. If no Nigerian died between 1964 and now, our population would have gone well over 200 million. Then, is it possible that not a single Nigerian out of 200 million was born with the talent for Archery, since no Nigerian has ever participated in that sport?
Talent remains talent until it is harnessed through talent development. The goal of Talent Development is to turn an athlete who has the potential to be proficient in sports to a successful senior athlete. In other words, talent development is employed to physically and mentally prepare young people for high performance sports, not the haphazard recruitment that currently goes on in this country. For example, the role of the academies of football clubs around the world is to develop identified young potential footballers. Similarly, almost all male and female tennis grand slam winners of the modern era are products of the Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida, USA. When the right athlete meets the right coach, a sports star may emerge.
Development of talent is a delicate process and must be properly executed in order to enhance training adaptation and also avoid injuries. Training prescriptions for children must take into account, the peculiar demands of the growing and maturing child. Growth and development are accompanied by physical, physiological and psychological changes in the child.
It has been emphasized on this column that childhood is the best time to develop the appropriate motor skills and coordination. Children grow and mature at different rates, sometimes showing differences of as much as 4 years. The rate of growth in height and weight of a child are known as the Peak Height Velocity (PHV) and the Peak Weight Velocity (PWV) respectively. These rates determine the biological age of a child. The biological age of a child, therefore, is the level of physical maturity of the child. The variation in physical, physiological and psychological makes it imperative that exercise prescription for children should focus on the biological ages of children rather than chronological ages. Many decades ago in Nigeria, physical maturity rather than chronological age was used to determine participation in age grade sports and even in school enrolment for children. This was done by asking the child to touch the ear with the hand of the opposite side stretched across the head.
Young athletes should be re-assessed every 6 months to determine their biological development. Emphasis during these assessments should be placed on physique, body mass, fat percentage and leg length. It should also be noted that females grow and mature differently from males, with males maturing a year or two slower than females. Puberty sets in at about 11 – 13 years for females and 12 – 14 years for males.
•Professor Ken Anugweje, is a professor of Sports Science and Medicine, University of Port Harcourt
•Till Next week, keep attacking.