Nigeria versus Tanzania… Matters arising!

Nigeria's Musa Mohammed (L) vies with Tanzania's forwards during the 2017 African Cup of Nations qualification football match between Nigeria and Tanzania in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, on September 3, 2016. PHOTO: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP

Nigeria’s Musa Mohammed (L) vies with Tanzania’s forwards during the 2017 African Cup of Nations qualification football match between Nigeria and Tanzania in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, on September 3, 2016. PHOTO: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP

I watched the Super Eagles last weekend labour against Tanzania in the last match in the series for AFCON 2018. Both sides had been earlier knocked out of the race. So, the match was a mere formality.

However, it was a match I needed to watch to glean the mind of Gernot Rohr, the new German technical adviser, whose engagement by the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) had attracted a lot of public opprobrium, controversy and debate over its propriety or otherwise.

I was one of those that loudly protested the return of Nigerian football to the era of journeymen foreign coaches masquerading as the redeemers of African football. I believe it is a mental enslavement that needs to be halted, as there are Nigerians with the basic qualifications and need the experience to take them to the highest level of coaching that the country seeks by hiring foreigners.

So, you can understand that, even as I prayed that the Eagles should do well and win, I was also looking at the team critically to see what difference the presence of a foreign coach would make to the team even from day-one.

So how did the Super Eagles and their coach Gernot Rohr fare that night?

To start with, Tanzania are not one of the super powers of African football. If the Eagles needed a soft first match to kick-start the Gernot era and build their confidence Tanzania were the perfect choice.

After 90 minutes, these are my thoughts.

The Super Eagles were the better team and deserved their victory.

There is an emerging new look about the team. In goal, Carl justified his first choice ranking amongst several other good goalkeepers available in the team.

The defense, the pair of Leon Balogun and William Ekong were an interesting new combination. They looked better composed, efficient, organised and more promising than other previous pairings. They did not ‘leak’ with organisational indiscipline as had been the case in earlier matches and rendered the Tanzanian attackers harmless most of the game.

In the midfield not much changed. That area had lacked compactness and creativity for several years now. The main man here had been Mikel Obi. Unfortunately, he has lacked that fine but necessary ingredient of a leader that takes charge, almost singlehandedly taking a difficult game by the scrum of the neck and delivering victory in critical matches. He has not been that kind of player or captain and so, is hardly missed when he is not fielded. Last weekend that was clearly again what reflected when he was substituted. Mikel Obi is a great player, but as captain on the field of play his style does not impact his team enough.

Unfortunately, the man who deputises for him, Ahmed Musa, is also burdened by the responsibility of leading the team from an attacking position. Rather than deliver the goals as was wont Musa’s performance often drops as a result of the additional burden of being captain. It showed again in the match.

The players that played like potential captains in the Nigerian team are in the Nigerian goal, and also in the centre of the Nigerian defense line up.

As captain of the national team in the twilight of my career, I was weighed down by the same responsibility, and although I was the highest goal scorer in Nigeria’s football history up till that point, the additional responsibility of captainship became a burden I could not properly carry on the field of play.

Outside the field, championing causes, speaking up for the team, in conduct and character, and motivating the players, I was a great captain. On it, scoring the goals, I became a poor example! Even I knew that. That’s what Ahmed Musa also suffers from every time he doubles up as captain and expected goal scorer. It happened again in the Tanzanian match.

In attack, Iheanacho is a new addition to watch very closely in the years to come. He has the potentials to be the new anchor of the Super Eagles attack if he sustains his present level of confidence and freely expresses the full range of skills that he obviously has in abundance.

As for the other players, we have either seen their best already (not good enough before Gernot) or they are just another bunch of ordinary players that cannot be depended upon to fulfill Gernot’s lofty ambition to qualify Nigeria for the 2018 World Cup.

I read several things that the German had to say about Nigerian football since his arrival. He has sounded very cautious and diplomatic, saying all the right things, spreading hope and assurance.

He says that Nigeria is awash with talented players; that the Eagles’ defense needs to be better organised; that he has no problem working with his Nigerian coaching assistants, as well as the Technical Committee of the NFF; that he would not return to the Uyo stadium for another match until the grass turf is properly fixed to enable good football to be played.

In short, he has not said anything to annoy or offend anybody.

So, overall, the team made Gernot Rohr to pass his first test as coach of the national team.
Greek Gifts – A Dangerous New Trend!

There is, however, a rather disturbing development from the Nigeria/Tanzania match.

At the end of the match, both teams were presented monetary gifts of thousands of US Dollars by the Governor of the State of Akwa Ibom that hosted the match.

The first worry is a question: where did the money he donated come from – taxpayers’ funds or his personal resources?

Secondly, that he also gave money to the Tanzanian team raises a lot of moral questions for those that are football puritans.

I do not understand it myself. It is never done. Such an act leaves a sour taste in the mouth. What would I think if money was offered the Nigerian national team by the opponent after losing a match away from home even if there was nothing at stake?

Knowing what I know about my people, hell will be let loose. It will not be farfetched to think that such is a payment for a favour successfully rendered.  The public display of it will be considered a mere smokescreen to camouflage the ugly act.

To give or accept such gratification is simply unacceptable and bad practice, an elongation of a poverty mentality.

That’s why also the gift given publicly by a Japanese businessman to the Nigerian Under-23 Olympic team for winning a Bronze medal as compensation for the hardship the team endured during their preparations may not have been such a good thing to accept after all.

Where else in the world would such an act be considered acceptable and honourable except amongst those driven by lesser values to disregard the nobility of sport and the Olympics, where material rewards are an anathema to the pursuit of excellence and of setting new limits of physical human capacity through clean and fair competition, with priceless medals only as rewards?

The Olympics feed on the diet of ethics and morality.

The Japanese gift may have been offered out of genuine compassion for a team that was left stranded by its government, but is this not a public indictment of an entire country, in this case a proud one, the most populated and, potentially, the richest Black nation on earth?

True, it was a lot of money for ordinary folks to turn down. But these players were not ordinary. These are already well-paid professionals in Europe with weekly wages that make the gift look like pocket money.

It was a cheap act in the end. Remember that even when the doors of the Olympics were thrown open to professional athletes in some sports no material incentives beyond the medals were ever on offer.

Somehow, these Greek gifts do not fit into my spirit, forgive me!

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