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Soccer News of Saturday, 16 October 2021


These Super Eagles can’t fly

The Super Eagles of Nigeria play videoThe Super Eagles of Nigeria

Super Eagles are the biggest brand in the country to market to the corporate world. They fall over themselves chasing one form of marketing each time the team is on the threshold of history. Will you blame them? Certainly not. Firms are in business to sell their goods and services. The window of exposure Eagles give to firms is unquantifiable, especially if the team ends up performing well in the designated competition. One of such football competitions which investors strive to place their monies on is the FIFA World Cup which holds after every four years.

On Monday night, Germany on away soil beat North Macedonia 4-0 to become the first country to qualify for the Qatar 2022 World Cup. What it simply means is that Germany, under a new manager Flicks has a long period to prepare adequately for the competition through quality friendly matches which should help blend the players into one solid indivisible unit that would shock the world next year. The Germans won the trophy in 2014 and their antecedents at the Mundial are legendary.

The Germans were winners of the Confederations Cup in 2017, winning the trophy with younger players which most pundits thought would make them stronger the following year in Russia. It didn’t happen as the Germans were beaten in the Group stages. It was obvious that a fiasco awaited Germany in Russia due to the personality issues the former manager Joachim Lowe had with the big boys in the team who felt the emergence of the new boys in the 2017 Confederations Cup squad meant their exit was nigh.

It was easy for an embattled Lowe to throw up the aging stars in the build-up to the country being the first nation to qualify for the Qatar 2022 World Cup. Lowe had quietly groomed their replacements such that even with his exit from the German side, his successor Flicks did the needful by continuing with the boys he met. Herein lies the difference between football nations and pretenders such as Nigeria. No country grooms her national teams using foreigners who don’t know here. Countries judge their growth in the beautiful game by the number of home-groomed players in their senior teams to the Mundial. Not the presence of Nigeria-born players like we have in the Super Eagles.

Lessons from the German transition of being World Cup winners in 2014 and Confederations Cup champions in 2017, irrespective of the team’s shambolic outing in 2018, are such that Nigeria ought to learn from if our administrators know what they are doing. Germany’s former manager Lowe knew that some of his players were aging. Rather than parade the World Cup champions in 2014 filled with fulfilled and unmotivated players for newer heights in the game at the 2017 Confederations Cup, instead, he chose younger, fitter, and much hungrier players who had the fight in them to participate in the competition. It would never happen in Nigeria because of our fixation on how the Eagles should look, even if many of them are in the throes of their exit in the squad.

In Nigeria, Lowe would have been sacked after the country’s shameful exit from the 2018 World Cup. The Germany FA left Lowe to finish his term, knowing that he had sown the seeds of growth with the new players he bloodied into the team in 2017. Since football in Germany is run on autopilot on credible and tested templates, it was easy for the German soccer chiefs to headhunt Flicks as Lowe’s replacement even though both managers’ contracts with Germany and Bayern Munich was still subsisting.

Germany has a well-oiled soccer academy with standards that must be met and adhered to. The Bundesliga can compete with other renowned football leagues in the world. The league is structured in such a way that it continually produces new talents who play for the lower cadres of all the senior teams. The Germans know when their different leagues start and when they would end unlike in Nigeria where the game’s competitions have no calendars. Of course, the German players get paid as at when due, and teams are run as a business with every club knowing what its duties are to the players across all spheres of the game. Need I mention the number of times German sides have won the UEFA Champions League diadem, a measure of how formidable and organised teams which lift the trophy are?

Besides, the German and other serious European leagues know those who should qualify to play for their different national teams unlike in Nigeria where anything goes. There should be a benchmark on which players are invited to the Super Eagles, including invitees from Europe. Any player not within the benchmark stays out, even if he is scoring in the moon in such novelty leagues. This idea of inviting 29 players from Europe for games against the Central Africa Republic (CAR) translates to a waste of funds, more so when the manager has spent almost four years on the job. What then are the manager’s technical inputs to the team if he needs such a motley crowd to beat CAR?

Rather than imbibe the tradition of fielding competent young men into the Eagles, we like fielding older ones hinging our decision on their experience in the game. How would the younger ones acquire the needed experience when they are not given the chance to play for the country? Do they acquire this experience by sitting at home? How do you invite 29 players only to play 14 of them in the game? Does it make economic sense to invite the 15 who didn’t play the last game for the next match? A coach worth his onions would invite 18 barring injuries but also pick some home-based players he has seen before the game for training purposes. A coach who has spent close to five years on the job shouldn’t be allowed to invite 29 foreign-based players to camp.

Nigeria should stop playing domestic football if we can play a two-legged competition with only one home-based player who the manager said has reached the expected level to command a first-team shirt. This is unacceptable. It is a shame that a country that won the FIFA U-17 World Cup cannot sustain a renowned football nursery. This lacuna speaks to the actual ages of players we paraded in our age grade teams in the past. If Nigeria truly had veritable nurseries to discover, nurture and expose the talents to the world, we would have been world beaters at the senior level.

Football nations globally insist on clubs in their elite leagues having good youth teams where they can spot talents who would replace aging players or injured one in their teams at short notice. These youth teams are engaged in weekly competitions like their senior sides. It is from these youth teams that their countries fill their age grade outfits. The importance of nurseries is that it provides the data bases for kids discovered who are then monitored until they attain stardom.

It translates to failure of leadership at all levels of our football if we keep relying on kids discovered in other climes to fortify the Super Eagles. It is the reason we haven’t been able to establish a playing style for all our national teams. If you watch any Cameroonian team, male or female, they play the same way. Their mentality is the same. You can say the same thing for the Senegalese and North Africans.

We have had enough experiments with the Super Eagles since the manager arrived with the players unable to beat smaller football nations resoundingly. What we hear before games from the manager are complaints about the pitches as if the other team didn’t play on the turf. The Eagles blew away a 4-0 lead against Sierra Leone in Benin. Would the manager blame the pitch? If we don’t start vetting the manager’s list, Super Eagles won’t fly as high as we would have wished in competitions. What happened to the Eagles against the Central Africa Republic in Lagos is just a marker. Nigeria deserves a better team. We can do better with a more tactical manager. Not the docile one we have now.