Nigerians are passionate about the game of football. The time, zest, emotional and intellectual capital that teeming Nigerians invest in football are awesome.
Many Nigerians young and old, male and female will astound you with their expert understanding and passion for the ‘Beautiful Game’.
I have seen Nigerians, including the very young and very old, analyse the game of football with the skill and commitment of expert physicians in medical diagnosis.
I have seen Nigerians skipping meals and sustaining in hearty disposition because of the almost spiritual nourishment that they derive from the game.
I have heard of debtor and creditor in bitter acrimony, suspending hostilities for the 90 minutes tenure of the football game, to engage in friendly, hearty discourse in this passion, thereafter do return to the bitter matters pending, and then in lighter disposition.
Nigerians across divides, are enthralled, unburdened, and uplifted by the game of football. Big and small businesses recognise this lore and pursue advantage from it.
But it would seem that the managers of football at the national level, together with the Federal Government, barely grant whimsical lip service to this unifying goldmine.
Thus the loving football fans of Nigeria are tired of watching the national teams at all levels crash out of major international competitions.
It may not be out of place to posit that the future of Nigerian football is in a long dark barrel, with no light in sight. This is the major reason many Nigerians no longer care to watch when the country’s national teams take center stage.
Notably, for the past year, the men’s national teams have been faced with limitations; from the Super Eagles, down the line to the Olympics Eagles, Flying Eagles, and Golden Eaglets.
Recall that the Super Eagles had lost to Ghana in a double-leg World Cup qualification fixture last year, and as such failed to participate in the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which was won by Argentina in Qatar last December.
Next comes coach Salisu Yusuf’s Olympics Eagles’ 2-0 aggregate loss to Guinea in March, failing to qualify for the 2023 Africa U-23 Cup of Nations. As a result of the defeat against Guinea, the Dream Team won’t be part of the next Olympics games football event in 2024.
Obviously, because of the Olympics Eagles (Dream Team)’s poor outing and their failure to qualify for the U-23 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) which will take place in Morocco later this year in November, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) sacked Yusuf.
Furthermore, the Golden Eaglets failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup that will take place later this year after they were eliminated by Burkina Faso in the quarter-final stage at the 2023 U-17 Africa Cup of Nations.
A semi-final spot would have seen coach Nduka Ugbade’s side confirmed as one of the four representatives from Africa at the World Cup.
Their 2-1 loss against the Junior Etalons of Burkina Faso was agonising to watch. The Golden Eaglets’ expulsion made the level of preparedness under coach Nduka Ugbade’s watch questionable, and he was later sacked by the NFF.
Recently the Flying Eagles crashed out of the ongoing 2023 U-20 FIFA World Cup in Argentina, making them the latest Nigeria national team to be eliminated from an international tournament. The Flying Eagles were shown the way out of the World Cup on Sunday night after losing 1-0 against the Asians in the quarter-final encounter. Choi Seokhyun scored the winning goal for South Korea in extra time to ensure the Asians qualified for the semi-final stage ahead of Nigeria.
The national teams’ elimination from international competitions could be ascribed to their poor finishing approach in games. They may have tried their best at such times, but their best will not be good enough if their finishing is not good.
In summary, all the national teams from the senior level to the youth level have failed to make a significant impact in recent major tournaments.
The foregoing alludes to either the Nigeria coaches at national team levels not performing to the desired expectation, or the NFF has been ineffective in carrying out its primary assignment to ensure the right coaches or players represent the country.
This indicates the need for better short, medium, and long-term visioning, planning, execution, and sustenance from the NFF and their supervisors, the Federal Government, in this area, where our great nation, Nigeria, clearly has a comparative advantage.
The knee-jerk response of firing failed coaches just won’t do.
The states of Israel and South Korea, which have emerged as giant killers, defeating better-favoured teams in the ongoing U-20 World Cup and breaking into the semi-finals, are not traditional soccer-playing nations.
They are minions emerging by dint of a well-articulated and sustained master plan. We have seen both nations do this in other areas. It is their pedigree. Nigeria should hoist her pedigree too.
The Nigerian national teams have a group of players for the federation to build on. However, it is obvious that the future of Nigerian football is in danger at the moment. Therefore, it is the duty of the NFF to do the needful. If they can’t, then it is the duty of their minders to redirect, retool and retrain them, whatever it takes to save the future of Nigerian football.
It is relevant to state that it has to start with the head. The NFF needs to first get it right in terms of management, and then proceed to appoint the right coaches, invite the right players, and put all necessary adequate, appropriate, quality, and functional standard facilities in place to ensure they get the ideal motivated coaches they appoint to manage the national teams and the players they invite to represent the country.