Our national football team, the “Super (?) Eagles (?)”, now fully embodies all that is wrong with Nigeria-corruption, nepotism, state capture, poor leadership, absence of vision and planning, and mediocrity.
Just like our nation, except we change these retrogressive attributes, our football will not progress. Has anyone wondered why Ghana is on the ascendancy in African football-winning the 2009 under-20 world cup in Egypt; qualifying easily for the on-going 2010 World Cup (unlike Nigeria which needed prayers and a miracle to get through); and now moving into the quarter final while Nigeria, Cameroun, Algeria, Cote D’Ivoire and hosts South Africa went out in the group stage? Well, perhaps football mirrors national character. Remember Ghana is the same African nation US President Barack visited and commended for its “democratic consolidation” and relative good governance.
Nigeria lost twice and drew one game, going down as one of the three worst performers along with North Korea and Honduras! See the company our nation keeps!!! Why have we come so low? Because like our country, our football is erected on lies and corruption! One fraudulent foundation which, ostrich-like we pretend to ignore, is age cheating. We have players who claim to be in their 20s and early 30s but everyone knows they are close to or over 40 years old. Most players in our national teams at all age grades have shaved off five, seven or more years off their ages. The result is a national squad with an average age of probably thirty two years or more. When one man is expelled due to an unprofessional red card, a la Sani Kaita, the team collapses like a pack of cards. How can ten men, averaging 32 years old, play against eleven 25-28 year olds? We saw other teams remain competitive and even win in similar circumstances, but the difference is that these are young and/or fit footballers unlike ours-Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Danny Shittu, for instance, are fat, flabby and tending towards obesity! Is it a coincidence that the better-performing teams-Ghana, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Holland and Portugal-are all young teams?
But then we do not have the moral right to deal with age cheating, as our civil services, judiciary, and even the private sector, is riddled with the same malaise! Remember sports mirrors national character! The administration of football, just like the nation, is plagued by corruption, hijacked by persons with no interest in the game because the objective is personal profit rather than service. I’m told NFF now means “Nigerians Feeding on Football”! They take a 200 man delegation to the World Cup at national expense. There are allegations that some persons are taking a “bung cut” from Coach Lars Lagerback’s income, just the same way the Halliburton, Siemens and other corruption scandals are structured.
Just like our nation is denied the services of its best in politics, governance, and even the private sector, our sports officials impose mediocrity on the national team. Suddenly just before the games began, we saw the NFF’s media propagandists manipulating public opinion: Yakubu Aiyegbeni is “enjoying the form of his life”; Victor Anichebe is injured; Obafemi Martins is indisciplined; Sani Kaita is, in fact, the best player in the team!!! I knew then that Peterside Idah and the NFF’s propagandists were preparing our minds for decisions that had already been taken regarding team selection. It was precisely those nepotistic (or purchased) decisions that proved to be the undoing of the Eagles! See the contribution of Aiyegbeni and Kaita to the team! We went to the tournament with at least five players who should not have been there – Aiyegbeni; John Utaka; Danny Shittu (who plays with all energy and no brains, which explains his not playing a single match, whether as starting player or substitute, throughout the season for Bolton); Joseph Yobo, and Kanu Nwankwo. Like our recycled leaders who think the nation belongs to them, Kanu, Utaka, Yobo, and Aiyegbeni will not go away until they either die on the field or are disgraced!
Lars Lagerback (or perhaps the insiders Sani Lulu, Daniel Amokachi, Taiwo Ogunjobi, Bolaji Ojo-Oba, Austin Eguavoen, Peterside Idah etc who decide for him) left Martins and Osaze Odemwingie on the bench and persisted with playing Aiyegbeni who contributed nothing throughout the competition. Even though Anichebe impressed during the friendlies, they ditched him, claiming he was injured; a claim which was denied by his team doctor; they left out Olufemi Olubayo and Dele Adeleye who play regularly in good clubs; Utaka was selected but failed to play a single game; Mediocrity Writ Large!!! Ironically, as the competition was slipping out of his hands in the game against South Korea, Lagerback replaced Kanu, Yobo and Aiyegbeni, but it was too late. A coach who doesn’t make independent decisions and may have agreed to pay “kickbacks” on his salary, is off on the wrong foot!
Unfortunately the sports media (admittedly with some exceptions) are part of the problem. They disseminate NFF propaganda; act more or less like players’ agents; refuse to investigate obvious cases of age cheating and generally are complicit in the conspiracy of silence, falsehood, and corruption destroying our football. And the legion of sports entrepreneurs, just like our politicians, can’t be bothered about the national interest as long as their pecuniary needs are satisfied! Like football; like the nation.