Permit me to jump on the Super Eagles bandwagon, even if it’s for a little bit. The Eagles have “represented us well’’; I had absolutely no faith in this team especially the composition of the final 23, which I felt reeked of various self-interest and amid unconfirmed rumours of bribes of various sums being paid to members of the coaching crew.
I believe that we have gradually become accustomed to the fact that Stephen Keshi’s team starts slowly in competitions; this has been the hall mark of his tenure as the Super Eagles Gaffer. In terms of performance, this has to be considered our best at a world cup since 1998, but then I have my fears for the future, because we as a nation have failed to plan for the eventual exit of Stephen Keshi and the eventual departure of some players from the team, we should expect more players plying their trade in the back waters of Europe as the conveyor belt of age grade competitions continues to be maligned by cheating and age falsification.
As the departure of Stephen Keshi is imminent and the retirement of Nigeria’s first centurion; Joseph Yobo guaranteed; we chronicle the team’s performance as a collective.
The collective called the Super Eagles had what I would call a decent World Cup, from the moment the invitees were called up, I had very little confidence in the ability of the team and its handlers like I always do going into a major competition especially due to the non-invitation of some leading lights such as Ike Uche, Taiye Taiwo,Sone Aluko, Bright Esieme etc. The team as a whole lacked depth, creativity, substance and overall quality that is ascribed to participating at a World Cup.
During training camp, Elderson Echiejile got injured; there went Nigeria’s ‘’best left back’’ with the only option Juwon Oshaniwa; the beginning of elevated blood pressure for Nigerians once the left side of the Eagles defence is under siege. Fast Forward to the first Match, Godfrey Oboabona gets injured, a look at the bench has the much maligned Captain and prospective Centurion; Joseph Yobo, Azubuike Egwuekwe, Kayode Odunlami ; only sensible option unlike during the Confederations Cup was to play Yobo. Micheal Babatunde, due to no fault of his breaks his wrist, Victor Moses struggled with a thigh strain through out and was a complete shadow of himself and of course the injury to Onazi just demonstrated the vulnerability of the entire squad selection.
With better options, specialist players for specific positions, selection on merit and devoid of sentiments and self-interest; the nation may have fared better.
Keshi’s Tactical Approach
It still remains unclear what Stephen Keshi’s football philosophy or tactical approach is; most times it goes from the bizarre to the utterly bedazzling. The team is set up more often than not to be difficult to defeat; this part he has succeeded in achieving. The part the reels me is the poor, slow and snail like pace of the team’s transition from defence to attack; this is despite the abundance of pace in the side, instead there is a reliance on playing the ball long. One reason why I believe this is so is the limited capabilities of our midfielders with the ball to feet; they cannot carry the ball, they cannot drive forward with the ball at their feet.
The Super Eagles Formation is also another confusing one, as a nation; Nigeria is known as a 4-4-2 playing country; but under Keshi, the Eagles have gone from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 and most recently 4-2-1-3 with a certain Micheal Babatunde, the man to play in the hole; which came as a huge surprise. A man who plays somewhere worst that the back waters of Europe was saddled with the creative responsibility of the Super Eagles, hmmmmm!!!!!
Making tough and bold Decisions
You have to say in the period of Stephen Keshi’s stewardship as head coach of the Super Eagles, he did take some tough decisions, taking 16 debutants to the victorious nations cup, keeping fate with the home based lads, dropping Yobo after the first game of the Nations cup.
These are decisions we gave him credit for, but if you ask me tactically Keshi was quite restrictive and predictable; his approach was in no way imaginative nor innovative. Take for example the performances of Mikel Obi at the World Cup, it left a foul taste in the mouth for most Super Eagles Supporters, but then you would say who would replace him. I would answer by saying the coach left himself with no choice especially with the fact that he took only 5 midfielders to the competition. What about the Onazi injury? It left us bare as the only supposed replacement was a man with no club affiliation. There was no alteration of tactics as our best midfielder was stretched off, Didier Deschamps instead reacted immediately with a substitution to utilize the spaces available due to the exit of Onazi.
I also once opined that why can’t Keshi’s Eagles play three at the back bearing in mind that he took six central defenders to the world cup, leaving specialist full backs like Bright Esieme, Taiye Taiwo, Mutiu Adegoke etc off his list. Take a look at Holland, playing around their limitations and getting the best out of the team; some would say I am comparing apples with Oranges here, but the same people predicted doom for Holland as Van Gaal filed out with a back 3 against erstwhile World Champions, Spain. It’s called having Balls, big Balls to take the big bold decisions.
What does the Future hold
Well, knowing NFF and our ways we will dance around naked for some months thinking of who to appoint as the new manager because the talent pool from the Class of 1994 is quite thin; which foreign coach worth his onions would want to work under conditions where he would be owed salaries for seven months or more. As far as I am concerned this is a clear case of failing to plan; it has been audible to the deaf that Keshi was on his way to South Africa; why not put in place a successor or are we saying Daniel Amokachi is the heir apparent? Take the Dutch for example, it has been well documented the coaching changes that would be made up till the 2018 World Cup and these individuals are either already part of the coaching crew or already waiting in the wings.
Which way Nigeria?
Conclusively; Stephen Keshi deserves commendation for putting Nigerian football back on the Map, let’s take away the less than complementary issues that surrounded his reign; he put a smile back on the faces of Nigerians and made people believe in the team again; for this we say a big thank you to the Big Boss.