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Like Nigeria, like Nigerian football

Nigeria missed the last World Cup held in Qatar. Now, it’s about losing the ticket in a group that almost everyone thought would be a…

Nigeria missed the last World Cup held in Qatar. Now, it’s about losing the ticket in a group that almost everyone thought would be a walkover. Even if a miracle happens and Nigeria qualifies, what will be judged as progress is getting past the second round of the competition, which has been Nigeria’s best so far. Now, the qualification itself seems to be eluding us.

I know there are no more minnows in African football. There is no doubt that African teams are upping their game. But remember that while African teams have continued to progress, they still have not been able to match the progress reached by the top football-playing countries in the world. Much is then expected from one of Africa’s football giants.

All the same, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and the Ministry of Sports Development are already putting heads together to find a “solution” to the quagmire. They have resolved to hire an expatriate technical adviser for the Super Eagles. There are also plans in place to scout for “outstanding Nigerian-eligible players from across the globe who can add tremendous value to the nation’s flagship team” .

But I am sorry to say there is more to Nigerian football woes than meets the eye. Foreign football commentators continue to enthuse about the quality of talent Nigeria has. Now, this is an unbiased commentary. Some may argue that what we lack is a world-class coach. Finidi George is not a good coach. Is there any coach who has worked for Nigeria who has not been criticised? Even Alex Ferguson may struggle.

I am not a doomsayer. I am not being superstitious. From the age-grade competitions to the senior level, it has been the same. What is the missing link? Take it or leave it, the ‘Nigerian situation” is probably affecting our football. Perhaps Nigeria is jinxed. Some of the players themselves may have sensed this and are now dodging national duties. They may even feign injury to achieve this.

Going back in time, Nigeria won the AFCON three times. First time at home in 1980, then in Tunisia in 1994, which was the year Nigeria played in their first World Cup. Then we won the Nations Cup again in 2013. At the 1996 Olympics, Nigeria became the first African nation to win an Olympic gold medal.

Coming to the cadet level, Nigeria is the most successful nation in the Under-17 World Cup, having won the competition five times in 1985, 1993, 2007, 2013, and 2015. For the Under-20 men, they were runners-up in the 1989 and 2005 Under-20 World Cup. At the African level, the Flying Eagles won the Africa U-20 Cup of Nations in 1983, 1985, 1987, 1989, 2005, 2011, and 2015.

If you look closely, the last time Nigeria won any major tournament in football was in 2015, and that was by the Under-17 team, the Golden Eaglets. Now, it’s not as if Nigeria has ever been a paradise for a nation. But counting back from 2015, Nigerians fared better as a people than they have since “2016,” when they started experiencing hardship in the name of a “new government.”

The crux of the matter is that Nigeria’s football has been going down the drain since 2016, despite all the efforts being made to salvage it.

I cannot emphasise it more than by saying Nigeria’s problem in football cannot be extricated from Nigeria as an entity. Virtually every sector in Nigeria is in bondage. In many homes, a square meal is a luxury. Added to this is heightened insecurity.

 

Dr Cosmas Odoemena, a consultant family physician, wrote from Lagos

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