SUCCCESSFUL START TO A LONG AND DIFFICULT JOUNREY!
Posted: Apr 02, 2011
It was a good start. Last Sunday Nigerians were ecstatic with the victory of their beloved Super Eagles in a one-sided match against the Antelopes of Ethiopia. The celebrations all over the country were as if Nigeria had just won the Nations Cup. They reminded me of a similar situation almost 20 years ago during the Barcelona Olympics. Nigeria’s 4 X 100 female relay quartet had run a blistering race and had come either third or fourth, a situation that would have to be settled by a photo-finish technology. Waiting for the replay on the stadium screen had held everyone in the stadium and viewers around the world in nerve wracking suspense. All eyes were glued skywards in anticipation of the television replay that would determine who came third (not first!).
Nigeria and an Olympic Bronze medal were separated by this very thin line that required technology to resolve. Then came the moment of truth. The entire stadium went quiet. All eyes were riveted to the giant screen above. The Nigerian girls held their breaths in wide-eyed anticipation.
The picture was played back in slow motion. It took an eternity. And then the revelation - the Nigerian anchor had crossed the line ahead of her rival with a hair’s breath! The earth erupted! The Nigerian girls ‘flew’ in jubilation! They ran an entire lap of the Barcelona Olympic stadium tracks in a frenzy of ecstatic celebration, they along with thousands of their fans in the arena and millions more watching all over the world. It was such a great moment for sport that, 12 years later, on the eve of the Athens Olympics, the pictures of that scene captured by cameras formed the background to a memorable global advertisement for the Olympic Games. The lesson for us Olympians, and indeed for the world, is that at the Olympics you do not have to come first to be a winner just as was depicted by the Nigerian girls. In that moment the countries that came first and second had been temporarily forgotten. The world was not necessarily celebrating ‘third place’ at their expense but rather the manner the third-place ‘victory’ came about! In an instance a Bronze Medal was almost as good as Gold! Thats how certain victories affect people.
But not so in football! In football, everything is about winning!
That’s why, last Sunday, Nigerians were back in their mood of celebration even when it was not because the Eagles were brilliant, or that a truly new team had been born. It was clear to me that the country had been starved for so long of a clear and resounding victory at senior national team level that when the Ethiopians came and were roundly trounced Nigerians were so relieved and over-joyous.
It did not matter that three of the four goals were ori bamise (gifts by fate) goals; that the Ethiopians were easily the worst team the Eagles have played in decades; and that the make-up of the Nigerian team was neither a total departure from the ordinariness of the past nor was it an offer of something really new and exciting. There was a noticeable refreshing experiment though - Mikel Obi was made to play a new role as the creative midfield player, which meant that new discovery, Joel Obi, had to play more defensively. Having said all of that, what was important and that I caught in the expression of the crowd at the national Stadium in Abuja, is that the Eagles won the match by scoring many goals. That alone was worth a lavish celebration like the Nigerian girls in Barcelona ’92!
One must commend the team and its new handlers for bringing relief to the people and restoring confidence to the national team. Samson Siasia needed to start on that kind of note, creating a psychological platform to which his future ambition, plans and team will be anchored. It is a blessing that his first official assignment was against a weak side like Ethiopia. The Ethiopians made a mockery of the ‘passing game’ that has made Barcelona FC one of the best teams in football history. Unlike Barcelona FC though, the Ethiopians ceaselessly and meaninglessly tried to play possession football at crawling pace, with small harmless interchange of passes that was heading to everywhere else on the field but towards the opposing goal. I cant recall watching a worse team. There was not even one serious attempt by them at Nigeria’s goal. They could not even convert a gifted opportunity in the second half of the match that came from a harmless and tame cross that Nigeria’s goalkeeper, Dele Aiyenugba, bungled in front of the Ethiopian forwards.
In moving ahead Nigerians main interest is the emergence of a new Nigerian team. What we saw gave some glimpses of hope and possibilities. But truth be told, the Super Eagles have not changed much.
Qualifying for the Nations Cup can almost be taken for granted even though that should not engender complacency. As one analyst on a TV program put it, even the worst coach in Nigeria’s football history easily qualified the country for the African Cup of Nations, so there is no reason for us to fear that Samson would do any less. Nigerians must never make qualification for the African Cup of Nations a target for its coaches. It must aim for much more. Nigerians must accept certain truths though. The Eagles before Siasia were an ordinary team lacking truly outstanding players. Thats why the team could not achieve great things. Also, there were no better players outside of the web of coaches dragnet ‘hidden’ anywhere that could have significantly altered the poor results of that era. It was a generational issue. The players of the last decade were not a continuation of the quality of players of the eras before them.
As we enter a new decade, with a brand new coach, and a new spirit, what Nigeria needs now is a new generation that has to come from its few production platforms - some unknown youngsters that are accidentally discovered playing in some minor or major leagues in Europe (like Obafemi Martins), that come from the stream of football migrants leaving the country in droves; plus the few youngsters that are discovered during age-group competitions (NNPC/Shell Cup for example), several of whom are also taken abroad by scouts and agents to hone their talents (most of them end up in obscurity); and the handful of players that the local leagues occasionally throw up from the left-overs of those are perpetual search of the Golden fleece in foreign lands. Thats all. Nigerian players don’t come from any other organised source.
That’s why Samson’s assignment is cut out for him. He must find new players wherever they may be in the world to build a new team. In this regard he must get the support of the Nigeria Football Association and the National Sports Association to establish other platforms from which high quality young talented players can be produced and processed for use in age-group competitions and later for the Super Eagles. That is surely going to be a long and difficult journey. Anyway which way, Samson Siasia has started well on a note of success. All must join hands with him, Austin Eguavoen in charge of the Olympic team, and Monday Odigie in charge of the national Under-17 team, to sustain the present momentum of change that is critically required to take Nigerian football to even greater heights in this decade!
NNPC/SHELL CUP REACHES A CLIMAX THIS WEEKEND!
Hundreds of football matches have been played. Tens of thousands of young talented football players have participated at one level or the other in the past 4 months. Finally, the last 4 schools are now in the city of Lagos to settle their scores and produce the country’s national schools champion for 2011.
Coaches and scouts, including the national under-17 coach, Monday Odigie and, possibly, some members of the NFA Technical committee, shall be keen watchers of the matches holding at the Teslim Balogun Stadium yesterday (Friday) and tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon.
Interestingly of the 4 schools at the finals 3 are Government Secondary Schools from Yola, Kano and Owerri. The last is a private secondary school from Ondo.
The Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, a football player himself, and the Honourable Minister of Sports, Taoreed Adedoja, another footballer in his youthful days, are expected to be there to watch the new stars of Nigerian football exhibit and express their talent.
All roads lead to Surulere this weekend for the great encounters. The final match will be shown for the first time in 40 African countries by Supersports!
Expected also at the finals is newly appointed Executive Director of the South Carolina State Youth Football Association, former Nigerian international, Sam Okpodu, who is coming to watch the young students and establish a relationship between Nigerian young talents and coaches of High Schools and Colleges in the South Carolina State area.
NIGERIAN POLITICS AND SPORTS
I will not tire of repeating myself on this subject matter.
Sports are a useful tool for social change in society. Sports drive Child and Youth development. Sports are a source of wealth creation, job creation and youth empowerment. Sports have become useful tools to drive enrolment of children in schools. Sports have become invaluable catalysts of the tourism and entertainment industries. Sports and television (indeed the entire media industry) are like Siamese twins, each riding on the waves of the other to build humongous prosperity.
The United nations is using sports to drive its Millennium Development Goals programmes. FIFA has embraced the idea of using its football World Cup to drive awareness about the over 30 million out of school children in the world, and why governments must do more to eradicate the scourge.
A third of this huge army of illiterates come from Nigeria with Africa’s and the World’s largest concentration and number of Black people on earth. Obviously the issue of the child, of education and of the youths and of education should be paramount in the political campaigns around Nigeria’s elections.
Yet, through the past several months, and campaigns and debates, I have heard very little in length and with depth about any of the issues above. It is as if no political leader recognises the time bomb the country is sitting on by neglecting this very important segment of our social life.
The 1 Goal-education for all project in Nigeria is canvassing endorsement by political leaders to commit to doing something tangible in the areas of education and sport so that Nigeria would play an active role in achieving the Worlds Millennium Development target of 2015 which many now say has eluded the country.
As elections start this weekend let us all remember the place of sports and Education in our world.
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