• Friday, April 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

Nigeria and the 2010 FIFA World Cup

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That Nigeria’s national team, the Super Eagles, was bundled out at the group stage of the ongoing 2010 World Cup in South Africa, did not come as a surprise to football followers. Except for die hard optimists, the manner of preparation of the team for the global fiesta had given enough indication of what to expect.

Sadly, the performance in South Africa marks the nadir of the slide of Nigeria’s football since 2000, when Nigeria last played in the final of a major competition she co-hosted with Ghana, the Africa Cup of Nations. From failing to qualify for the 2006 World Cup hosted by Germany, the Super Eagles had to rely on the favour of Mozambique to edge Tunisia to the sole ticket to South Africa 2010, on the final day of the African qualifiers.

In appointing a new coach for the national team, who could not meet the players until less than three weeks to the start of the competition, the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) had set what was generally considered an unrealistic target of a semi final berth for the coach and team. It was a target that had no bearing with the reality on the ground: there was no talent available to realise it, and there were no visible on-going plans to achieve anything meaningful. All that was visible was the typical Nigerian slipshod approach to most things.

Nigeria’s woeful outing in South Africa, when pundits had tipped her to perform creditably, underscores the crisis in the country’s football. Firstly, NFF is still mired in mediocrity with no articulate programme for the development of the game. Secondly, there is a glaring dearth of talent among the so-called top players; no Nigerian player in any of the top clubs in any of the top leagues.

Thirdly, there is not a genuine successor generation to the present crop of aged players. With the institutionalised deceit of fielding over-aged players in age grade competitions over the years, where puerile laurels were won, Nigeria is now paying the price for the short-sighted policy of abusing such competitions that were designed to groom young talents.

Given the controversy that characterised the FIFA Under 17 World Cup which Nigeria hosted earlier this year, when NFF wilfully fielded players who were up to 10 years overaged, people advocating for the injection of ‘new blood’ into the national team will again be disappointed.

Our football is sick, and the sickness has been orchestrated by years of official deceit and the absence of professionalism among administrators of the sport. The solution lies in adopting a holistic approach in overhauling Nigeria’s football. With the level of rot in the system, we cannot expect instant results. Years of careful planning, genuine grooming programmes of young talents, appointment of knowledgeable people to run the sport, and a programme for developing indigenous coaches, are all imperatives for the rebirth of Nigeria’s football.

The action of President Goodluck Jonathan in banning the national football teams from FIFAcompetitions for two years as announced Wednesday in Abuja might be a step towards the needed reforms. What the situation requires, however, is a carefully planned and vigorously executed programme that seeks to entrench a new culture in our football.