Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Brazil 2014: Super Eagles back to the future

The Super Eagles’ (World Cup) sojourn in Brazil has ended and very much like I expected, the Eagles failed to go one better than a second round berth. I am only pained by the fact that another chance to improve on the country’s Round of 16 placing at the World Cup has just been wasted… by one individual.

The team’s performance can without a doubt be attributed to the poor choice of personnel resulting from a tactically deficient coach’s vindictive refusal to invite certain players who would have helped seal the yawning gaps in certain departments of the team. Like Lionel Messi did against Iran and against even against the Eagles, a player’s individual brilliance can win a game for his team where tactics fail; more so for a team as tactical inept as the one Nigeria paraded in Brazil.
The pains, the gains
There has been much ado about how the Eagles “were determined”, “tried their best” and “played well” at the World Cup. In four games, the Eagles won one game, lost two and drew one game, scoring 3 and conceding 5 goals.
Football is a game of goals where a team is expected to “play well” and score more goals than the opposing team. Anything other than this is a big waste of energy.
The mark of successful teams is not so much about the energy or effort expended, but about tactically deploying players’ individual and collective skills and strengths to exploit the opponents’ weaknesses and convert scoring chances when they come. The Eagles lacked tactical expertise and the quality of players required (at this level of world football) to do the aforementioned.

It was believed this would be John Mikel Obi’s opportunity to register his name amongst football’s greats after his performances had come under heavy scrutiny and criticism in recent times. Unfortunately, the high quality of football at the world Cup not only confirmed Mikel’s decay as a creative midfield force, but also exposed the magnitude… and a coach could not take him off due ignorance, insufficient manpower and lack of tactical options.

Ogenyi Onazi battled almost alone to save the soul of the team, and when he went off injured against France the centre could not hold any longer, so things fell apart.

The attack suffered the most from the lack of support and creativity from the midfield. Never in the history of the Eagles have we seen the strikers drop so deep. Emenike and Odemwingie were mostly in the midfield trying to create the chances they should have been upfront trying to score. On many other occasions, they were far back defending.

Vincent Enyeama was a source of pride to an entire continent and was easily one of the reasons the Eagles even made it out of the group stage. The defence was somewhat a make-shift one, depleted by injuries. However, Yobo, Ambrose, Omeruo and Oshaniwa rose – even if not convincingly – to the occasion.

Aside injuries, the some players’ form and fitness levels also counted against the team. Enyeama, Efe, Oshaniwa, Omeruo, Onazi, Musa, Babatunde, Uchebo, Odemwwingie, and Emenike who played regularly for their clubs performed in sharp contrast to the laboured displays of Mikel, Moses and Ameobi who were inactive for long spells at the clubs last season.

There is no doubt the entire contingent did the best it could to ensure success. For this I commend them. It is rather unfortunate (though hardly surprising) that despite past experiences and assurances given, the perennial financial issues still came up and bedeviled the team. This was a big shame on all involved.

Congratulations to Joseph Yobo for being the first to make a century of senior international appearances and good luck in your future endeavour. Kudos too to Coach Keshi, who despite his massive flaws, has more or less equalled Westerhof’s Nation’s Cup and World Cup second round feat. He has considerably reduced the workload for the next coach by providing something of a foundation on which a better team can be built (at least, we now know which players to weed out as we kick-start the next phase of the team’s evolution).

The future
Keshi's time is now officially up, and he has duly stepped down. The future should belong to an experienced tactician and man-manager who must be guaranteed a conducive working environment to build on the gains (or ruins?) of the Brazil expedition.
Going forward, there is a rich pool of young players coming through with which whoever is taking over should be able to build a young but better team boasting at least two quality players in each position.

There is sufficient backbone in Omeruo, Oboabona, Echiejile, Onazi, Moses, Musa, and Emenike. For the immediate future, Leon Balogun, Joel Obi, Lukman Haruna, Sone Aluko, Obinna Nsofor and Chinedu Obasi will have to be a recalled alongside the likes of Gbenga Arokoyo, Kenny Otigba, Michael Olaitan and Imoh Ezekiel.
Longer term, Wilfred Ndidi, Chidiebere Nwakali, Musa Yahaya, Kelechi Iheanacho and Success Isaac will have to be incorporated. The “player-for-the-future” syndrome should be discarded. If a player is good enough, he is old enough to play in the Eagles.
This future starts today.

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