Now that all things have fallen apart in Nigerian football, can somebody in the nation’s football house for once tell Nigerians “we are sorry”. Can somebody show a little remorse for the grand deception visited on the country by the soccer mandarins? In this column before the World Cup, I had warned in an article entitled ‘Amodu needs help, not sack’ that sacking Super Eagles coach Shaibu Amodu would spell disaster for Nigeria at the World Cup.
Before you begin to impute public relations, let me state that I am not a fan of Amodu. In that article published in the February 4, 2010 edition of this column, I wrote “Amodu has no impressive pedigree in managing national teams. He’s a local breed who had stints in some local clubs and a short-term club romance in South Africa . Nothing more. There is nothing wrong with being home-bred. Egypt , the eventual winner of the tournament ( Africa Cup of Nations), has a local coach. And the Pharaohs have won the Cup for the third time in a row, a feat with all the trappings of history.
“But there is everything wrong if such a coach is ungainly and destitute of ideas at critical points. As the Eagles laboured through every match, Amodu cut the graceless picture of a rookie. He stayed, most of the time, rooted to his seat; his face dull and dour, expressing nothing but hopelessness and discomfiting surrender”.
Also in an earlier article before the end of the qualification series, I wrote “we need transformation now lest we may not get to South Africa , and even when we do, it might turn out a national embarrassment”. Yet, my inward wrench did not stop there. It prompted me to alert the nation to the danger of hiring Swedish Lars Lagerback just months to the World Cup. In that article captioned ‘Nigerian football as a bad enterprise’ I frowned at Lagerback’s selection formula and preparation thus: “It is barely weeks to the World Cup in South Africa and all the participating nations, except Nigeria, are busy playing ‘Grade A’ friendly matches. In Nigeria we are, as always, indifferent to the world. We play our friendly matches only on the pages of newspapers and inside the eerie boardroom of the Nigerian Football Federation, NFF.
“And to drive the final nail into the nation’s football coffin, Swedish coach, Lars Lagerback, is busy acting a script that will ultimately lead him to perdition. Lagerback first came out with a 44-player list. Without any of them kicking the ball right under his supervision he dropped 14 players. Now, he’s stuck with nothing but more of the same: the same old tired and jaded brigade of players who don their national jerseys for cash not honour or passion. It is a familiar path; and it has always left us with more of the same: failure when it matters most. Lagerback is helping us turn a good business into a bad enterprise”.
Now the bubble has burst. Lagerback’s shambolic preparation and the rotten rump in the NFF are exposed. I have never hidden my aversion to the inclusion of Kanu, Kaita, Aiyegbeni and a few others in the national team. They are unfit. Modern football is played on the basis of fitness, youthful vigour and team attitude. Ask the Germans, a youthful side that has never ceased to impress with gusto and gravitas. Check out the Ghanaians, an obviously youthful side that combined exuberance with maturity. Most of Lagerback’s players lack these. Attitude is key in modern football. And the right attitude comes from having the right bench. Nigeria went to the World Cup without the right bench. Hiring Lagerback at the time we did was the biggest football fraud out of Nigeria in recent years.
In a sense, may be it was right to have hired the Swedish coach. He and his misfits got us at least two awards: While Kaita plucked the ‘dumbest red card award’ his out-of-form colleague Aiyegbeni did not disappoint in the ‘daftest miss award’. Aiyegbeni missed a sitter in front of an empty net in a match the Eagles only needed to win by any goal margin to qualify for the next stage. They rebranded Nigeria in a manner that would make Dora Akunyili sulk.
But this warty chapter in our national football epistle must not be cast aside like most issues of national importance. We need to revisit the damning verses. Nigerians are asking, deservedly so, how much of tax-payers’ money was wasted in the South Africa jamboree in which the wives, mistresses and children of the football administrators got handsome estacode? How much was raised by the Presidential Committee for the World Cup headed by the governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi?
More importantly, we should start preparation for 2014 World Cup holding in Brazil. The NFF should review the performance of Lagerback and decide now whether to retain him or hire a better coach (local or exotic) who would groom for the country a team worthy of our national jersey. After Cameroon, Nigeria was the worst African team at the World Cup. It sucks. It hurts; like hell. May be like a friend noted cheekily, it is because among all the 32 nations at the Mundial, Nigeria is the only country that is still battling with generating 6000 MW of electricity for 150 million people in the 21st Century. Most Nigerian homes watch the World Cup matches by the grace of their generators yet the Obasanjo government spent $16 billion on power.
But no matter, we deserve better than this. Since our World Cup debut in 1994, FIFA has come to associate Nigerian football with poise, robustness, fluidity of passes and audacious exhibition of skill and sophistry. The Lagerback class of 2010 did not flaunt any of these. For that, I think the white man should be returned to where we borrowed him from: Sweden.