Reinventing The Super Eagles

Sonala Olumhense

Reinventing The Super Eagles

Stephen Keshi, the coach of Nigeria's senior national soccer team, is doing something the country has not done in decades. He is trying to rebuild the team from the ground up, using players on the local scene.

Some of our recent local coaches have given the impression that such "local" players are not good enough. I have argued, in the past, that it depends on what you are looking for, and that local players ought to provide the bulk of the national team. A certain kind of complex instructs us to pay prime attention to players abroad; we reason that if a "top" European team signs such a player, he must be very good. And if he is that good, he should be in the national team.Super_Eagles

It is true: you have to meet certain qualities to be considered by those established teams overseas, but soccer is a team sport with many dimensions, including physical and psychological angles. An illustrious player who migrates to Europe is not the same player who comes back to compete in Africa, especially when he has only a day or two to train as well as deal with relatives and friends.

While many of our good players play abroad, they sometimes lose the edge when it comes to competing in Africa on account of such factors as weather, travel, food, scheduling, training equipment, and playing pitches.

Whatever is his own reasoning, Mr. Keshi seems to share my faith in the quality of the local player, at least in intra-African competition.

In support of his efforts, I offer the following story from 2003 about a football team called Akwuegbu United.

The Owerri-based clubside was actually a collection of soccer talent from the streets of the Imo State capital which came together through the initiative of Benedict Akwuegbu, a Super Eagle who at that time played club football in Austria.

Mr. Akwuegbu, concerned to see so many talented footballers being swallowed up by unemployment, crime and lack of opportunity, set up the football club at his own expense, and with the collaboration of another former player, Sony Opara.

The industrious Akwuegbu then prevailed upon another former frontline national team player and 1980 African Cup of Nations winner, David Adiele, to coach the team, reportedly pro bono. Mr. Adiele, a disciplined, hard-nosed defender in his time, accepted.

The new coach had the blood of a Challenge Cup winner flowing in his veins from the remarkable Bendel Insurance team of 1978. That year, the Insurance team swept its way through the competition to take the trophy.

What was really remarkable was that the team featured very young talent, such as Sam Okpodu, Henry Ogboe, and the late Chris Ogwu. It was equally remarkable that the teams it defeated in the semi-final and final were two of Nigeria's best: IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan and Rangers Football Club of Enugu.

That experience was what Mr. Adiele brought with him when he took up Akwuegbu United and began to prepare them for the rigors of Challenge Cup, competition. His rag-tag team, built on limited resources, began to win and win, defeating multi-million Naira teams as they went along.

In one match played in Benin City, the players were forced to sleep in an abandoned building because the team could not afford paid accommodation. Still, they won their match. In the zonal finals in Kaduna, they reportedly played on empty stomachs when they faced Amodu Shuaibu's Sharks. Lacking transportation, they also had to walk to the stadium.

Despite all of those setbacks, when the zonal playoffs were over, Akwuegbu was only one point behind the mighty Sharks. They then needed to return to Owerri, but unable to pay their hotel bills, were stranded in Kaduna.

They played on, eventually losing a controversial quarter-final encounter to Lobi United, one of the top Division One teams in the country.

It remained a marvel to me that, in the end, the team disbanded as abruptly as it had begun, because nobody would come forward with the small amount of money it needed to remain in business.

But that is beside the point: Mr. Benedict Akwuegbu wanted to give the boys of Owerri a chance to do something they loved to do. He did, and then he proved something else: the depth and quality of the soccer talent in the streets of Nigeria.

That situation has not changed today, although it may be far more difficult to scout the entire country now than was the case just 10 years ago.

In our local leagues, schools, streets and unemployment queues, there is tremendous talent waiting to be identified, encouraged and trained. If a true national team were ever developed, it will be on the basis of that pool rather than a routine and regular importation of "top" players from all over the world.

The truth is that anybody can import players, give them shirts and call them the national team, but not everybody can coach. What is really needed is what Mr. Keshi is providing: building a team on the basis of players available for him to work with.

Having players available, within the concept of team development, to talk and train together regularly, is how a coach knows who is available, who is match fit, who is motivated, and who has the quality to run through trees for him. Experience teaches us that the fact that a man is making the headlines in Bulgaria or Russia does not mean he is ready for the tortuous journey to Nigeria, the horrors of Murtala Muhammed Airport when he arrives, or the humidity of Addis Ababa two days later.

I have never understood why a man who has been playing in frigid winter conditions for months is flown into the hostile heat of Abuja for transmission to the torturous turf of Pointe Noir in the Congo to do anything other than try to save his own life. Unless his quality is miles above what is available at home, the objective circumstances make him an inferior participant to his local counterpart for the battle to which he is being invited.

Whatever is lacking in the Super Eagles has always been developed here, not imported: the dead ball wizardry of Sebastian Brodericks, Friday Ekpo and Christopher Ohenhen; the heading precision of Peter Anieke and Mutiu Adepoju; the in-box deadliness of Thompson Usiyan and Segun Olukanmi; and the patriotism in the national colours of Segun Odegbami and Kanu Nwankwo. Foreign coaches cannot bring it, and imported troops that are suddenly bigger than the national team do not have it.

Perhaps the greatest enemy to building the team of Mr. Keshi's dream will be his ability to ensure that in his camp, equality reigns and everyone is simply a player trying to earn a shirt on the training ground. Players should be encouraged to keep their private lifestyles to themselves while they are in camp in order to minimize distractions to the team.

The principle should be that there is a team in Nigeria, from which those invited to the national camp, whenever it opens, will contribute.

Most of all, the objective should be to re-establish the concept of team, and teamwork. A good team will always be superior to a collection of stars, which is where Nigeria often gets it wrong.

It is also where Mr. Keshi should work hard to integrate long-term planning, facilities maintenance, as well as player monitoring and documentation, into his new job. If he can prove he has the ability to be fair to every player, he will enjoy one of the greatest pools of players in the world from which to win competitions.

· sonala.olumhense@gmail.com



1
Reinventing The Super Eagles
Sonala Olumhense posted on 02-26-2012, 11:41:28 AM

Sonala Olumhense


Reinventing The Super Eagles


Stephen Keshi, the coach of Nigeria's senior national soccer team, is doing something the country has not done in decades. He is trying to rebuild the team from the ground up, using players on the local scene.


Some of our recent local coaches have given the impression that such "local" players are not good enough. I have argued, in the past, that it depends on what you are looking for, and that local players ought to provide the bulk of the national team. A certain kind of complex instructs us to pay prime attention to players abroad; we reason that if a "top" European team signs such a player, he must be very good. And if he is that good, he should be in the national team.Super_Eagles


It is true: you have to meet certain qualities to be considered by those established teams overseas, but soccer is a team sport with many dimensions, including physical and psychological angles. An illustrious player who migrates to Europe is not the same player who comes back to compete in Africa, especially when he has only a day or two to train as well as deal with relatives and friends.


While many of our good players play abroad, they sometimes lose the edge when it comes to competing in Africa on account of such factors as weather, travel, food, scheduling, training equipment, and playing pitches.


Whatever is his own reasoning, Mr. Keshi seems to share my faith in the quality of the local player, at least in intra-African competition.


In support of his efforts, I offer the following story from 2003 about a football team called Akwuegbu United.


The Owerri-based clubside was actually a collection of soccer talent from the streets of the Imo State capital which came together through the initiative of Benedict Akwuegbu, a Super Eagle who at that time played club football in Austria.


Mr. Akwuegbu, concerned to see so many talented footballers being swallowed up by unemployment, crime and lack of opportunity, set up the football club at his own expense, and with the collaboration of another former player, Sony Opara.


The industrious Akwuegbu then prevailed upon another former frontline national team player and 1980 African Cup of Nations winner, David Adiele, to coach the team, reportedly pro bono. Mr. Adiele, a disciplined, hard-nosed defender in his time, accepted.


The new coach had the blood of a Challenge Cup winner flowing in his veins from the remarkable Bendel Insurance team of 1978. That year, the Insurance team swept its way through the competition to take the trophy.


What was really remarkable was that the team featured very young talent, such as Sam Okpodu, Henry Ogboe, and the late Chris Ogwu. It was equally remarkable that the teams it defeated in the semi-final and final were two of Nigeria's best: IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan and Rangers Football Club of Enugu.


That experience was what Mr. Adiele brought with him when he took up Akwuegbu United and began to prepare them for the rigors of Challenge Cup, competition. His rag-tag team, built on limited resources, began to win and win, defeating multi-million Naira teams as they went along.


In one match played in Benin City, the players were forced to sleep in an abandoned building because the team could not afford paid accommodation. Still, they won their match. In the zonal finals in Kaduna, they reportedly played on empty stomachs when they faced Amodu Shuaibu's Sharks. Lacking transportation, they also had to walk to the stadium.


Despite all of those setbacks, when the zonal playoffs were over, Akwuegbu was only one point behind the mighty Sharks. They then needed to return to Owerri, but unable to pay their hotel bills, were stranded in Kaduna.


They played on, eventually losing a controversial quarter-final encounter to Lobi United, one of the top Division One teams in the country.


It remained a marvel to me that, in the end, the team disbanded as abruptly as it had begun, because nobody would come forward with the small amount of money it needed to remain in business.


But that is beside the point: Mr. Benedict Akwuegbu wanted to give the boys of Owerri a chance to do something they loved to do. He did, and then he proved something else: the depth and quality of the soccer talent in the streets of Nigeria.


That situation has not changed today, although it may be far more difficult to scout the entire country now than was the case just 10 years ago.


In our local leagues, schools, streets and unemployment queues, there is tremendous talent waiting to be identified, encouraged and trained. If a true national team were ever developed, it will be on the basis of that pool rather than a routine and regular importation of "top" players from all over the world.


The truth is that anybody can import players, give them shirts and call them the national team, but not everybody can coach. What is really needed is what Mr. Keshi is providing: building a team on the basis of players available for him to work with.


Having players available, within the concept of team development, to talk and train together regularly, is how a coach knows who is available, who is match fit, who is motivated, and who has the quality to run through trees for him. Experience teaches us that the fact that a man is making the headlines in Bulgaria or Russia does not mean he is ready for the tortuous journey to Nigeria, the horrors of Murtala Muhammed Airport when he arrives, or the humidity of Addis Ababa two days later.


I have never understood why a man who has been playing in frigid winter conditions for months is flown into the hostile heat of Abuja for transmission to the torturous turf of Pointe Noir in the Congo to do anything other than try to save his own life. Unless his quality is miles above what is available at home, the objective circumstances make him an inferior participant to his local counterpart for the battle to which he is being invited.


Whatever is lacking in the Super Eagles has always been developed here, not imported: the dead ball wizardry of Sebastian Brodericks, Friday Ekpo and Christopher Ohenhen; the heading precision of Peter Anieke and Mutiu Adepoju; the in-box deadliness of Thompson Usiyan and Segun Olukanmi; and the patriotism in the national colours of Segun Odegbami and Kanu Nwankwo. Foreign coaches cannot bring it, and imported troops that are suddenly bigger than the national team do not have it.


Perhaps the greatest enemy to building the team of Mr. Keshi's dream will be his ability to ensure that in his camp, equality reigns and everyone is simply a player trying to earn a shirt on the training ground. Players should be encouraged to keep their private lifestyles to themselves while they are in camp in order to minimize distractions to the team.


The principle should be that there is a team in Nigeria, from which those invited to the national camp, whenever it opens, will contribute.


Most of all, the objective should be to re-establish the concept of team, and teamwork. A good team will always be superior to a collection of stars, which is where Nigeria often gets it wrong.


It is also where Mr. Keshi should work hard to integrate long-term planning, facilities maintenance, as well as player monitoring and documentation, into his new job. If he can prove he has the ability to be fair to every player, he will enjoy one of the greatest pools of players in the world from which to win competitions.


· sonala.olumhense@gmail.com



..Read the full article
Re: Reinventing The Super Eagles
Enyi posted on 02-26-2012, 12:20:14 PM
@Sonala,
You seem to forget that in Nigeria foreign products taste and look better. Did you not hear our President tell us that WB will vet our contracts? Yes, imported rice and palm oil taste better than local ones. I am looking forward to when we shall have imported President and NASS.
On a more serious note, I share your view that Eagles should be built around the Home grown players. These are hungary for exposure and subsequent big money. Some of our foreign-based players believe not only that they are doing the nation a favor by playing for the national team, but also that it is their right, irrespective of their condition and the tactical plan of the coach, to play.
North Korea reached the semi-finals of WC in 1966 in their first appearance. They were an unknown bunch making their first appearance. The determination and dedication of the players stunned many spectators. This is in line with the story of the Owerri boys which you have narrated.
The bottom line is that we have players with good potentials back home. They need encouragement and they need to be given the chance to prove themselves. As you have mentioned, football is a team game. Individuals must be able to blend together for maximum impact.
So, let's support Keshi in this project. It will take time to yield dividends but we must be patient. Similarly, there should be a long term strategy to improve on the quality of the home league. In order to achieve this, the government should create an enabling environment to encourage investment in football. All the clubs that our players run to in Europe are private enterprises. We should create similar situation in this. I guess the pros, cons and how of this can be discussed in a different thread.
Re: Reinventing The Super Eagles
Ajibs posted on 02-27-2012, 16:01:14 PM
Sonala,
Nice piece, but there are issues to deal with. We have discussed this in the village. Until our local league within Nigeria becomes good enough to prevent our players from being taken advantage of abroad, we will continue to suffer this problem.

What will save us is simply our players understanding that there is some pride involved in playing for your country.

Flying in from cold climates might be a factor, but should not be a problem. First, winter of only four months of the year so that is a limited window. Secondly, they need a day or two of rest and then they need to play ONE GAME not a whole series of games. So with proper planning and if the players are in shape, they can make it.

That said, I also agree with Keshi wanting to build a new team, I think it is necessary. My fear is will he be allowed to complete his lofty project? A team always will need some time to gel so we may not get fantastic result from the onset, but with the talent we have in Nigeria we certainly should be able to build winning teams.

As I have noted several times within the village, if our local teams can do well on the continent, like Enyimba, Sunshine Stars, and Heartland, these same players should be drafted into the national team.

Anyhow, that said, Keshi's first real test is two days away. I hope they do well. In fact, very well.
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