Nigerians, like the geographical entity we inhabit are a people filled with the most incongruous contradictions. This is a country where Resources are abundant but 70% of the population still live below the poverty line, which is the world’s 7th Largest Oil exporter and yet has to import Petrol to satisfy the demands of it’s teeming population, which has produced some of the world’s brightest people straddling various fields but only in the last year produced it’s first University educated President.
It’s also one of the countries where popular opposition to an idea, a government, a culture of doing things can be the most vocal. Where the press can be so chaotically vibrant and the plurality of views on any issue can be so varied that arriving at a consensus is often a futile venture. Indeed, it often seems as though the country is being pulled in the direction of the more than 250 ethnic groups that constitute it.
If there’s anything that unifies this vast country however, it is football providing as it does the best escape from the humdrum existence of people who live in a society where nothing works. It is therefore understandable that the Super Eagles rather less than glowing performance at the World Cup in South Africa continues to attract virulent vitriol from the populace. Invectives have been hurled at everyone associated with the team from the players to the officials of the Nation’s FA. There is universal disenchantment with the caliber of players that end up donning the colours of the National Football side. Everyone seems to be able to identify the problem, namely the win at all cost syndrome which ensures that there is an overwhelming desire to see the country’s teams whether at the U-17, U-20 or at the Senior level, do well. How those results are achieved, nobody cares. It’s this syndrome that makes an entire nation turn a blind eye, when players who are clearly over the age limit are drafted in to represent the country at age grade competitions. Yet we are all outraged when the products of this flawed developmental system appear past their best at the Senior Level when the ages on their passports indicate that they should be in their prime.
Even when an individual tries to take action to expose this sham, the entire nation with the active connivance of the country’s print media promptly shouts him down. This was the case last year when Adokiye Amiesemeka, an ex-international, attempted to lay bare the can of worms in the Country’s football establishment. One would have normally expected the media to champion his cause, instead they published only the views of those who were opposed to his one man campaign to bring sanity into the administration of football in the country. This was in-spite of the fact that there were allegations of age-cheating leveled against some members of the team. In the euphoria that gripped the nation during the course of the tournament, which was held in Nigeria, no one was anxious to dig deeper into the uncomfortable insinuations that several members of the team were over the allowed age limit.
There can be little doubt that with a population of over 120 million people, the vast majority of whom are soccer mad, the potential talent pool available to the country is limitless. The lack of emphasis placed on grass roots development is one of the prime reasons why Nigeria is unable to harness this treasure trove of talents.
The issue has never been a paucity of talent, but the development of a football infrastructure that can discover this talent at an early enough age and nurture it to ensure that fewer potential World beaters disappear through the cracks. The setting up of football academies is a step in the right direction, but of equal importance should be improvements in coaching and sport science.
The country’s domestic league also has to be looked at. Clubs in the Nigerian League are notorious for their disinterest in young talent and have to be encouraged to set up youth teams of their own. Perhaps a policy mandating that a certain quota of players should be either developed from within the club structure or should come from football academies would help.
Most of all, less emphasis should be placed on winning at all cost at youth tournaments. The development of a winning mentality is important, as successive German teams have shown, but this should not take precedence over the development of genuine youth talent.
If we are serious about becoming a global football Super Power, the Super Eagles woeful performance at this world cup should serve as a catalyst to engaging in reforming the shambles that is the current state of Nigerian football.