In my last article I questioned the rationale behind the reinstatement of Keshi as coach because it was all too certain that his continued stewardship was edging unproductively towards disaster. As it turned out, this was correct. The decline I talked about eventually culminated in the Super Eagles’ non-qualification for next year’s AFCON.
After the dismal performances that left the team in a precarious position with two games left, it made some sense to freshen things up by getting new ideas in through the appointment of Shuaibu Amodu (if anything, he had come out tops after being similarly deployed in the past). While there were no guarantees that Amodu would have actually qualified the team for the AFCON, I strongly believe that in a game the Eagles needed the full points against a side that had nothing but pride at stake, the Super Eagles struggled to come back from a two-goal deficit to end in a stalemate against 10-man South Africa, because of Stephen Keshi’s ineffectiveness on the sidelines – and my reasons follow.
Primarily, the team was short of adequate personnel to prosecute this match; a shortage only Keshi is culpable for. Tokelo Rantie single-handedly tore apart the Nigerian central defensive duo of Azubuike Egwuekwe and Kenneth Omeruo on the night, when there are other defenders who would have done a better job on him. With injury to Godfrey Oboabona, and Omeruo only just leaving the treatment table, I thought Kunle Odunlami would have been recalled and Efe Ambrose drafted into the centre of defense. Unfortunately, in his inanity and indiscretion, Keshi paired a convalescing Omeruo with his ever-unimpressive Egwuekwe.
Secondly, Keshi is reported to be blaming the players for underrating South Africa. If he did not underrate the Bafana Bafana, why did he not take everything in his armoury to ‘war’ against a side that had nothing to play for? If Keshi realized how much was at stake, why did he not invite Victor Moses who has rekindled his lost spark at Stoke City?
In a game the team needed an outright win, goals were all that mattered. Moses’ inclusion coupled with the return of Ike Uche would have paved way for a 4-2-2 or 4-2-4 formation that would have accommodated a twin strike force of Emmanuel Emenike and Ike Uche upfront with the versatile and mobile Victor Moses and Ahmed Musa attacking from the midfield. Instead, Keshi rendered Emenike ineffective and frustrated (struggling to do what Moses would have done effortlessly) on the flanks, in a bid to sustain his “infallible” 4-3-3 formation – and we saw the result.
Going by his overall contribution in the last two games, it was obvious to all that if Keshi had invited Ike Uche from the onset of the qualifiers the team would probably have done better.
The players no doubt share in the blame as they did not shown the requisite fervour early in the qualifiers. It was only when the reality of impending elimination dawned on them that they stepped up their game. This clearly shows that due to complacency (and diminishing returns setting in) as hangover of the AFCON success, Keshi was not able to significantly inspire the players to give their best (like when he first started).
I have been constantly accused of being “anti-Keshi” because I have criticized his ineptitude. It hurts that all I have been saying is now reality at the expense of the AFCON ticket. But that is what you get with a bureaucracy such as ours. It will not be out of place to say that we deserve what we got.
All these are now in the past, but the scars remain. It is time to turn our attention painfully to the future, hoping the full lessons will be learnt.
It is now the right time to get a new coach in to begin a proper rebuilding process. He does not need to be black or white; he only needs to be able to effectively utilize the country’s talents to build a stronger national team that will do well with the 2018 World Cup and beyond in view.
The NFF should continue to ensure that warm-up games are constantly arranged at every international break, especially since the team will lack competitive games in the coming year.
The new coach should rebuild the new team by deploying players who are not only hungry and talented, but who will still be young enough to be on top of their game for another four years or more and getting rid of those on a decline.
It would be encouraging to see the likes of Gbenga Arokoyo, Leon Balogun, Kenneth Otigba, Tiago Ilori, Obiora Nwankwo, Mikel Agu, Lukman Haruna, Abdul Ajagun, Imoh Ezekiel, Michael Olaitan joining up with Oboabona, Omeruo, Echiejile, Oshaniwa, Onazi, Akpan, Musa, Moses, Emenike, Aaron, Uche.
In line with this, there should be a programme for the development of (the prospective players from) the 2015 Under-20 and Under-23 teams.
The Eagles can fly again. It only requires that the right things be done, by the right people. Herein lies the task before the Amaju Pinnick-led NFF.