AFCON : WE ‘RE CELEBRATING MEDIOCRITY By FAN NDUBUOKE

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As a stakeholder and more importantly a concerned Nigerian, I religiously followed our preparation for the recently concluded AFCON tournament up till the day the team was hosted by President Bola Tinubu.

In my character, I deliberately kept mute watching all the whole event with keen attention and interest like a movie reeled out by its producers in seasons or episodes. And traditionally, I wasn’t disappointed by our usual gullible ways of accepting anything and everything that comes our way. It is a part of our peculiar nature and character as a people and a nation.

We sweep vital issues of national discourse under the carpet. We let go important things that ordinarily should help shape our nation positively and we ignore pressing matters capable of rocking the boat of our national existence.

It hurts to see us turn a blind eye to reality and realities thus, embracing illusion. We chase shadows just as we seem to chase away those who speak the truth yet possess the solutions to the problems starring us in the face even as we pretend the problems do not exist.

AFCON tournament has ended. I hope the Technical Department/Committee in conjunction with Jose Peseiro will prepare a report for the board of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) which should serve as a working document cum tool towards making the next AFCON which is about a year away successful. This suggests that we must win it.

Such report if at all it will be prepared should summarize Super Eagles performance and participation in the tournament, the technical input and capacity of the Jose Peseiro led technical crew and above all tell Nigerians if the NFF is satisfied with the team’s performance.

Permit me to speak as someone who had been involved and who had helped midwife Super Eagles to win AFCON tournament in 1994 and qualified the team for its first ever World Cup appearance in USA ’94. It will be a disservice to the football loving public of Nigeria for anyone to suggest let alone say, he or she or Nigerians as a people are satisfied with the overall performance of Super Eagles leading to a runners-up finish in Cote d’Ivoire.

Before the tournament commenced, only a liar would say he or she knew, thought or believed Super Eagles would reach the final let alone win the trophy. This speaks volume of how bad the team was and still is….and a far cry from the Super Eagles we used to know.

Aside the search for a quality goalkeeper, we could hardly name the first team or first 11 of the team. A strong team presents itself in the mind of it’s fan(s) who could readily tell the first 11 even before the team files out for a game. This cannot be said of this team even after winning a silver in Cote d’Ivoire. It tells the capacity of the man heading the technical crew of the team. I’m talking about Peseiro.

It was glaring to all football minds that Peseiro either lost the trophy in the final game to tactical ineptitude or he simply sabotaged his employers, Nigeria. No sane football manager or coach would start a final game with the trophy starring you in the face, by defending till the very end of the game.

Through that game Peseiro told the watching world that he had never heard of ATTACK BEING THE BEST FORM OF DEFENCE. Peseiro equally didn’t bother to see the video of the match where Cote d’Ivoire conceded four goals against Equatorial Guinea in the group stage. That video would have given him clues on how to beat Cote d’Ivoire. Equatorial Guinea attacked from the first minute till the 90th minute. They didn’t relent even after scoring four unreplied goals. Poor Peseiro, he didn’t see or learn from that.

Without a strong team, Peseiro struggled till he stumbled into the final and even when the trophy would have been won convincingly if Super Eagles had taken the fight to the host team, his tactlessness blew Nigeria’s chance of a fourth AFCON title.

His formation was very faulty. If you want to sit-back and rely on counterattacks, you would need an enegergetic midfielder with skills who can pick up loose balls run into space, motivate his colleagues and create chances. Certainly, Alex Iwobi who Peseiro gave that responsibility doesn’t possess the requisite qualities to make things work.

Peseiro should have known his squad and the capability of all the players. Counterattacks are for teams with pacy players who can dash to the flanks running wide with the ball to create openings in the middle thus confusing the opponents who obviously would be in desperate need to stop such flow of blazing attack thereby committing more blunders.

Peseiro made a mess of Super Eagles in that meaningless strategy to soak up pressure from the Ivoriens who kept raiding the Eagles defence till it crumbled. Thankfully, Peseiro himself confesed that his strategy and formation failed hence Super Eagles lost the game to Cote d’Ivoire. If that was an apology, it is unacceptable because the damage had been done.

I am not surprised that some persons are calling for Peseiro to be handed a new contract. Those involved in this campaign failed to ask: How a make-shift indigenous coach, Emerse Fae led an almost rag-tag Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire team to defeat Peseiro, Super Eagles and Nigeria.

They failed to ask those in charge of the sport, Why it’s difficult to appoint an indigenous coach? Or don’t we have coaches more qualified than Peseiro and Ivorien coach, Fae? Everything here is looked at from the perspective of politics, religion and ethnicity. At a point the Ivoriens knew that their white coach isn’t thinking right in the tournament, they gave him a boot. The result of that decision the world eventually applauded. Quality and swift decision is the hallmark of a serious football playing nation. But you must equally have good thinkers with experience and pedigree to come up with such decision..

When a coach takes 24 foreign based players out of the stipulated 25 to a tournament, it tells you his mindset or how he views the domestic league. It tells you how he views the country. It is tantamount to saying there are no important people here. That’s a big insult on the Nigerian people and population.

It was from this same league that Late Stephen Keshi picked six players to join 17 of their foreign based counterparts to win AFCON in South Africa 2013. It was from this league that Clemens Westerhorf took almost an entire squad to Algiers ’90 AFCON and finished runners-up behind host Algeria. Needless reminding us that the 1980 AFCON winning squad was entirely made up of home based players. So what is Peseiro telling us?

But come to think of it, isn’t it part of his briefing, schedule and obligation to help develop the league, monitor local players and invite those good enough for the Super Eagles? Or is Peseiro suggesting to Nigerians that no single on-field player is good enough for his team yet Cote d’Ivoire who won the trophy had home based players? Same as South Africa, Egypt, Senegal, Morocco among others.

Honestly, I think whoever hands Peseiro a new contract is an undertaker ready to bury the Super Eagles and by extension Nigeria football. Such decision must be condemned and rejected.

To note that six Nigerians including a prominent politician and a businessman lost their lives while watching Super Eagles in this AFCON due to high blood pressure tells how much the team and football means to Nigerians. Government should take note of this.

The easiest means to kill a Nigerian is by ensuring Super Eagles play badly in a tournament. That suggests that government should do the needful to fix sports generally and football in particular. It is the heartbeat the nation. It is the life-support of a nation battered by political and economic troubles. It is the binding force of a nation divided by a rancerous election.

This brings us to the issue of the rewards and awards given to the players by the Federal Government. Sincerely, it came to me as a rude shock seeing the Federal Government give out lands, flats and national awards (Member of the Order of Niger) to the players. Whoever adviced Mr. President in that line is an enemy of the Nigerian state who obviously isn’t grounded on national issues especially as they concern sports development.

A critical mind would ask, What will the FG give to the players if they had won the trophy? Haven’t we by this reward set a precedence of giving lands, flats and national awards to any team that simply reaches the final of a tournament without winning it?

There is nothing wrong in rewarding people in this case players) when they excel. But I dare ask, Did Super Eagles excel in Cote d’Ivoire? Do we call a runners-up finish excellent? Didn’t the FG reward mediocrity by this singular error? I make bold to say that this reward method will be counter-productive.

In all, the tournament has come and gone. In our usual style and ways of doing things, we won’t bother to correct these errors even as the 2026 World Cup qualifiers resume and the next AFCON (Maroc 2025) approaches. We may even repeat the errors and keep doing so.

Talking about correcting the errors and in the spirit of moving forward, we need a SUMMIT ON SUPER EAGLES. If you ask me, it should be a SPORTS SUMMIT to look at the issues bedeviling our sports totally. For instance, why would the NFF appoint or hire a foreign coach for Super Eagles and allow him pick his assistants but if the NFF appoints an indigenous coach, they pick his assistants for him?

We all witnessed Peseiro bring in four of his men from Europe at the eve of the AFCON tournament in Cote d’Ivoire. These men were taken care of by him we learnt but can the NFF allow such arrangement by an indigenous coach? Why is that the NFF will always go for a consortium of coaches once the job is to be given to an indigenous coach? Isn’t that creating an environment of failure for the indigenous coach who can hardly take a decision on his own under such arrangement?

Sincerely, I think a SPORTS SUMMIT is needed and a possibly separate SUMMIT ON NIGERIA FOOTBALL is equally needed moving forward.

•FAN NDUBUOKE, former board member, NFF, former Special Adviser to Late Sports Minister, Comdr. Emeka Omeruah, former National President Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN) and immediate past Executive Chairman, Imo State Sports Commission.

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