Following widespread criticism – despite some result-oriented performances – of Stephen Keshi's invitation and non-invitation of certain players ahead of others, the Super Eagles’ coach has explained that team unity supersedes talent in his choice of players.
I quite agree that success cannot be achieved without unity and discipline, which I believe Keshi is trying to ingrain in the team. Consequently, it is difficult to fully question Keshi's decision to alienate certain players, especially having done quite well with the team so far. But this quest for "unity" and "discipline" has resulted in a seeming preference for mediocre players in the stead of obviously more talented ones.
Another downside to the Keshi’s selection policy is that the exclusion of certain players is not purely on the grounds of indiscipline. It is difficult to see where Ikechukwu Uche, for instance, has been indiscipline. From his days at Togo, Keshi has exhibited a glaring penchant for a Master-Servant relationship where players are not entitled to an opinion for fear of being accused of insubordination, indiscipline, or not being played.
Now back home with the Eagles, this coaching unprofessionalism is evident in his inability to take criticism, resulting in exchanges even with NFF members and even his fellow ex-internationals.
Coach Keshi’s decision to leave out some of the country's more talented and experienced players is largely because of his ego, masqueraded as “instilling discipline”, and this is not in best interest of the country.
Even at clubs, not everybody gets along; many players even have altercations with their coaches. Any coach worth his onions is supposed to effectively manage and get the best from even his most recalcitrant players, and not victimize them. Coach Keshi's reign has been an exhibition of sheer arrogance, further fuelled by a Nations cup victory and World Cup qualification.
Noble achievements, it must be said, but it’s important to note that so far, Keshi is only getting it right (competitively) within Africa. His "exploits" with a team devoid of some of its more experienced players has only been within the continent; it failed woefully outside – at the 2013 Confederations Cup. The World Cup is a few stages higher, and herein lies my fear for the quality of Keshi's current team, however unified.
The victory in a sub-standard Nations Cup has given Nigerians the erroneous belief that we have arrived. We continue to applaud the "fighting spirit" in the losses to Uruguay and Spain (at the Confed Cup) and in the friendly draw against Italy, forgetting that winning is all that matters in competition; forgetting that the Super Eagles have yet to beat any world-class opposition in competition situation!!
For all this talk about building unity in the team, it does not take rocket science to realise that:
Unity and discipline in the team will not suddenly inject speed into Efe Ambrose when he is caught on the overlap by Cristiano Ronaldo at the World Cup.
Unity and discipline in the team will not improve Azubuike Egwekwe's glaring mediocrity if or when he comes up against cunning Luis Suarez and Neymar at the World Cup.
Unity and discipline in the team will not turn Sunday Mba into a world class creative midfielder in the next 6 months, despite his obvious talent.
Unity and discipline in the team will not suddenly make Ahmed Musa's final deliveries or his decision making more precise in a tension-packed World Cup quarterfinal; like it won't, Brown Ideye's goal conversion.
Unity and discipline in the team will neither create nor score goals (or even win penalties) if the likes of Emmanuel Emenike and Victor Moses are injured or suspended.
Unity and discipline in the team will not provide adequate back-up for John Mikel and Ogenyi Onazi in the event of injury or suspension.
Unity and discipline in the team will not prevent certain inexperienced players from losing their heads if and when frustratingly wrong decisions go against them at the World Cup.
No sane player will don the national team shirt and deliberately play badly at the World Cup. If Keshi and his crew sincerely desire to make the expected impact (we all know the team is capable of) at the World Cup next year, some new players need to be invited and assessed (Ramon Azeez, Sone Aluko), some currently alienated ones recalled (Onyekachi Apam, Joseph Yobo, Taye Taiwo, Lukman Haruna, Emmanuel Ekpo, Ike Uche, Osaze Odemwingie), while some currently enjoying the coaches’ sentimental patronage (like Gabriel Reuben, Azubuike Egwekwe, Sunday Mba) need be dropped.
The World Cup is a not a platform for coaching experiments. The World Cup is too big an occasion for a whole country to be held to ransom by one man's ego, sentiment or selfish interest under the guise of instilling discipline and unity.