Super Eagles And The ‘If’ Permutation

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Football-loving Nigerians at home and in diaspora are sad again, for the umpteenth time. The country’s senior national team, the Super Eagles, have disappointed them again by their unimpressive performance and consequent ouster at the on-going South Africa 2010 world cup.

Like it was in the country’s last appearance at the mumdial  in Japan/Korea 2002, the Eagles could only get a draw in three group matches. While the only draw was 2-2 against Korea Republic at South Africa, it was 0-0 against England in 2002.

By their last Group B match against Korea, the Eagles had no point, having lost to Argentina (0-1) and Greece (1-2) in their first two matches.

However, there was the mathematical chance that if they could defeat  Korea Republic, and Argentina could do same to Greece, Nigeria could quality.

The scenario reminded close watches of the one on the final day of qualifiers for the on-going World Cup: if the Eagles could defeat Kenya in Nairobi, and Mozambique could do same to Tunisia on home soil, the if permutation.

Luckily, the permutation favoured the Eagles, and they proceeded to South Africa, only to find themselves in the same if permutation scenario again.  

Blames have long started pouring in from all angles. As expected, most of the blame is on the players. Yakubu Ayegbeni seen to be the number one culprits for missing that vital goal with an open net staring at him against Korea.

Sani Keita is another culprit. He can hardly be forgotten for attracting the red card that distabilised the already wobbling Eagles team that saw them lose 1-2 to Greece.

Another set of people are also blaming the Eagles’ coach, Lars Lagerback, for not presenting good team at South Africa 2010. Only quite a few people seem to have paused and pondered to view the entire scenario concerning the Nigerian team to South Africa. Only these few seem to have appreciated the fact that the performance of the Super Eagles is only a reflection of their ill preparedness and unfitness.

Surely, if the truth must be told, it would have been a great injustice to the game if the Eagles had gone beyond the first round going by the performances of all the teams that qualified for the last 16 stage.

This has nothing to do with patriotism. In fact, if patriotism should be mentioned in this issue without questioning the patriots in those who manage Nigeria’s football, particularly regarding preparation of teams for major championships, it would amount to a display of high level of ignorance in what it takes to do well at that level of the game.

Sincerely, to have expected the Eagles to do more than they did in South Africa is natural and can only be done out of patriotism considerations, because they really did not merit it.

Not that on a good day the players, individually, are not good, but rather because Nigeria, not the players in isolation, was not prepared for this world cup.

The picture painted here is a parent sending his child to a major examination, knowing that he did not create an enabling environment for the child to study real hard for the exam, but relying on the child’s previous knowledge.

Meanwhile, the parent decides to provide every other thing in abundance to encourage the child on the day of the examination, with high expectation of the child excelling at the end of the day.

For those in this picture, they seem to have forgotten how times have changed even in the football world. So much so that from being a means of entertainment, football has in addition become a huge business.

Also, that world football governing body, FIFA, almost on daily basis does everything possible to make the game more technical and difficult for any unserious country to reap from its benefits, while also making the game more interesting.

In the process, FIFA has gradually changed the game from being more physical, as it was in the early days, to being more scientific. It thus requires more mental work than physical work.

Consequently, the displays we watch on the turf, by which we judge teams, only constitute about 40 per- cent (Probably less) of total work required to enhance success in a championship in the fold of the world cup. A lot of other factors make up the remaining 60 percent.

 These factors include such things as the coach/technical adviser of the team, whether he is the right choice, his strategy and how long he has to achieve set goals; the quality of players and their psyche before and during each match; as well as how long members of the team has to function as a team, different from individual performance.

Also, how best these factors turn out is to a large extent a function of how committed the managers of football in a country or team are the extent to which they are committed to ensuring success, and sustaining same.

Again, all of these factors could be in place, and a team can still fail without the element of luck, which is another factor. However, a team can also have only some of these factors and can still succeed with luck.

But it amounts to a misnomer to depend solely on luck because luck thrives better when all other factors are in place.

In the case of the Super Eagles to the South Africa 2010 World Cup, the country, better still, managers of the country’s football, relied on luck because every other factor were either not in place, or there was not enough time for such factors to mature. Lars Lagerback, the Eagles helmsman, may be one of such factors.

To do better in future world cups, therefore, Nigeria must first seek to put that 60 per cent in proper perspective. It will be easier for the 40 per- cent to fall in place after then.

It is what the French did from the mid-eighties that saw them produce a solid team that gave them the world cup tile in 1998. A little painstaking research can do the trick for Nigeria.