Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Super Eagles, sustaining the winning streak

Hearty congratulations to our football heroes, the Super Eagles, who did us proud at the Africa Cup of Nations 2013 held in South Africa. I salute the gallantry and sterling performance of our soccer ambassadors and the coaching crew led by Stephen Keshi, and other technical and support group.
On Sunday, February 10, Nigeria won the AFCON for the third time (the previous times being 1980 and 1994) and after several failed attempts spanning 19 years. It was a sweet victory for the underdog Super Eagles who though did not lose any of their six matches in the tournament, were not favourites to win the cup given their slow and lacklustre performances during the group stage. Their matches against Burkina Faso and Zambia at that stage were average while their 2-0 victory over Ethiopia saw them qualify from the group stage as the second best from Group C. It was not until the Super Eagles defeated the more fancied and experienced Elephants of Cote D’Ivore in the quarter-Final and walloped the Eagles of Mali by 4-1 in the semi-final that millions of soccer-loving Nigerians gave the team a chance of bringing back the trophy. Nigeria as African champion has thus qualified for FIFA’s Confederations Cup which will hold later this year in Brazil. The last time Nigeria participated in the competition was in 1995 when the competition was launched and played then as the King Fahd Cup in Saudi Arabia.
The Super Eagles did not only beat the Stallions of Burkina Faso 1-0 to win the AFCON, individual players also won honours for themselves. While Victor Moses won the Samsung Fair Player of the Tournament, Emmanuel Emenike was the Pepsi Tournament Top Scorer and Mikel Obi, Orange Man of the Match for the final match. Furthermore, the Confederation of African Football selected five members of the Super Eagles for the Africa Best Eleven. Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama; defender Efe Ambrose; midfielder Mikel Obi; and forwards Victor Moses and Emmanuel Emenike were selected for the African XI. The AFCON victory also meant Nigeria coach, Stephen Keshi, became the second man to win the tournament as player and coach. The other man to accomplish that feat was the late Egyptian Mahmoud El Gohary, who helped his country defeat Sudan 2-1 in the 1959 final and guided the Pharaohs to a 2-0 victory over South Africa 39 years later.
Now, as we indulge in backslapping, wining and dining over the Super Eagles’ victory, we must not allow the import of the victory to elude us. We need sober reflection on how to maintain the winning streak so that we don’t quickly become former champions too soon. The tragi-comedy of the resignation and subsequent withdrawal of the letter by Keshi on Monday night leaves a sour taste in the mouth. It became apparent that the Nigerian football family house is on a quicksand rather than being on a rock and that things are not at ease between the Nigerian Football Federation, the coaching crew and the players. Issues of backlog of salaries, owing of match bonuses, lack of an official car and distrust of the competence of chief coach came to the fore. This is a very unfortunate development which all stakeholders must quickly address and redress.
The Super Eagles and other national teams on continental or international assignments must begin early preparations. To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail. Nigeria’s World Cup qualifiers begin in March while the FIFA Confederations Cup is in June and all hands must be on deck to ensure that the Super Eagles remain focused. Adequate funding, early preparations, free-hand or independence are what our coaching crews need to excel in their assignments.
Six home-based players were among the 23-man squad that represented us in South Africa, just as 17 of them were making their debut at the fiesta. It was a home-based player, Sunday Mba, that scored the winning goal in the quarter final and the final. The question then is, what is the state of Nigeria’s Premier League? Starting with the stadia, many of which are in deplorable conditions. Federal and state governments need to rehabilitate the national and state stadia that dot our landscape. Otherwise these sporting facilities should be privatised for better management. It is heartwarming that the National Stadium, Abuja is currently receiving attention after public outrage on its dilapidated state last year. Same attention needs to be paid to other national stadia including the ones in Kaduna, Lagos, Ibadan and Port Harcourt.
Cantankerous members of the board of Nigeria Premier League who have been using litigation to draw back the hand of progress of the NPL need to sheathe their swords and allow peaceful settlement of their bickering. The Minister of Sports, Bolaji Abdullahi, National Sports Commission, NFF, Football Club Owners Association, Nigeria Football Supporters Club, the private sector and all other critical stakeholders in Nigerian football must synergise to ensure that the new dawn that was birthed with the AFCON 2013 win is sustained.
We need to revive our local league; and make it attractive to our sport fans to identify with. I must hasten to mention that the Women’s League also deserves equal attention too as the men’s. Female football has given Nigeria more continental trophies than the male’s. At the last count, the Super Falcons have won the African Women Championship a record six times! Due recognition and attention must therefore be given to female football.
It is high time the private sector invested heavily in sports. The business of sport is huge and very rewarding if well-structured. The ‘food is ready’ attitude of our private sector is condemnable and should be discontinued. A good number of companies are identifying with Super Eagles only when they are coasting home to winning the trophy. Many of them did not deem it fit to meaningfully support the national team when they were preparing for the competition.
It is good that a number of sport academies have sprung up but post-academy mentoring is also necessary. Sport promotion and marketing are a gold mine that can be exploited. Sport management, I mean, coaching, managing footballers and athletes, agency representation and many more are very profitable. The athletes themselves are cash cows especially when they get juicy contracts either abroad or within the country. The positive contribution of our foreign based athletes to our national economy is gargantuan while the image laundry and honours done the country are also enormous. The victory of the Super Eagles is therefore a wake-up call to harness our sporting potential for national development.