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A FEW ISSUES WITH THE QUALITY OF NIGERIAN FOOTBALL PLAYERS My dad was a speedy left winger who played

all the way into the then popular Nigerian Ports Authority Football team in Nigeria. He only quit playing football to pursue a career in Law. His younger brother was the captain of the legendary St. Gregorys College Football team, who were champions of the Principal Cup in Nigeria a long time ago. My mother on the other hand was a football freak who frequented stadiums with the paraphernalia of crazy soccer fans. She only stopped going to the stadium when she almost lost her ear when a fight broke out in a tension soaked match between Nigeria and Ghana in the 1970s. But she continued her support for local Nigerian teams of which Shooting Stars was the object of worship. I can actually remember my mum having the then coach of Shooting Stars over for lunch at our house in Calabar when they came to play the Calabar Rovers. Of course they were beaten (smiles). So I have been engrossed with analyzing and assessing patterns of football playing for a long time now; as long as I have had the ability to swallow lumps of eba. I wasnt keen on taking soccer as a major sport since I found that I was easily exasperated after running around the pitch. For this reason I played defense and didnt last too long in the team. I played one full year in secondary school and was coached by an extremely passionate Irish Reverend Father, who took soccer like a national call to warfare. He approached it with a kind of diligence that was akin to qualifying examinations. Once you made a mistake and didnt follow his laid down pattern of play, he will stop the match, pull you out of the field and give you a few strokes of the cane. Then you return and do as he says. The fear of Father was the beginning of conventional football wisdom in St. Patricks College. As far as I can remember, my school team remained invincible until the Father was transferred elsewhere and his new team of course became the new invincible eleven. But as hard as his regime was, I learnt so much about him. Let me share some key issues I have come to note about success in football, and these are matters that you who are interested in football and will someday want to be involved in helping Nigeria build a better culture of football should take interest in. much more can be said or added to these few thoughts, but these are primary issue of concern for me. DISCIPLINE: Individual discipline is a prerequisite for success in sportsmanship. Show me an undisciplined footballer, and I will show you someone whose career is sure to collapse soon. Some players are talented, but totally lacking in personal discipline and sooner or later this begins to manifest on the pitch of play. The life a footballer lives outside the field of play has a direct effect on the quality of his display on the field. Even what he eats and drinks are central to his physical and mental state. There are countless examples to point to in Nigerian and foreign teams. Etim Esin, one of the most brilliant feet to have come out of Nigeria soccerdom totally crumbled at the peak of his career. When I saw him somewhere in Nigeria a few years ago, tears came to my eyes. Garrincha, the Brazilian reputed to be the all-time best dribbler of the ball, was also much undisciplined and this cost him his career. Today you can see excesses of this in our footballers who somehow have hit the luck-pot and have gone haywire.

Discipline is the soul of a team. This is the first requirement if a bunch of talented people will sync and produce a common purpose. Players will come under heavy self-management, which means you cant behave the way you want or do what you feel like doing, even on the field of play. One of the main troubles with talented people is that they are usually very expressive and hard to contain. But in a team that produces results, talent is usually place on the altar of a higher call to duty. We all know how Mikel Obi and Michael Essien were originally crafted. These were some amazing and explosive individual talents. But when they got into Jose Mourinhos Chelsea, they had to conform to the discipline laid out for the general team, which meant they couldnt just go out and play what their heads told them. INTELLIGENCE: It has become very clear even with the present world cup that physical ability and talent is not enough to win you a match. You need something else which is not just easily acquired by training. Every great team has one major quality: they exert 20% physical ability and display 80% intelligence on the field of play. You cant just run around the pitch working-out like Arabian horses and thinking that something good will come out of it. This is very typical of our senior team after the era of Amokachi, Amuneke, George, Okocha and the likes. You win your game first with your brains before you move your feet. We must ensure that intelligence as a player is a major criterion for selecting players. You can easily tell when a player is not intelligent and only just has the ability to kick, trap, and move the ball. Those qualities can only do so much. An intelligent player already has a mental map of his pitch and knows own the landed property, so he understands the angles and distances from where he stands. Odegbami, Oliseh, Okocha and presently Odemwingie are masters of this. They rarely make mistakes on the pass because their minds are also working as their feet moves. We can all see how horribly the Super Eagles pass the ball, with amazing errors that evokes nothing but rage. The Germans showed total intelligent football in the match against Australia and played on the most free flowing soccer I have seen in a while; absolute brilliance. Meanwhile our team is easily broken because we are still playing positional football in this century. Intelligence will tell you to find area of least resistance on the pitch where the ball can get to you with enough space to maneuver as you deem fit. But our guys stand and wait till the ball gets to them, by the time which the opponent of course has predicted any possible move. I had taken it upon myself to analyze how Lionel Messi and Diego Milito perform their wonders and I came to one simple conclusion: sheer intelligence. Once the ball touches their feet, they know exactly where they are going and what their ultimate goal is. So every move of theirs is interesting to watch because you see purpose. Check out Messi against Arsenal and Milito against Bayern Munich. You will see why you need to predetermine players who have intelligence as a quality when choosing a team. Gratefully we have lots of them, but sadly not many in the Super Eagles team. Stanley Okoro, Chrisantus, and other young players are part of that collection. So such players need to be groomed carefully and exposed to more international opponents to gain more of what I write on next, Confidence. In fact we lost the match against

Greece because our players were not intelligent at all. Consider Inter Milan against Ac Milan in a local derby. Inter Milan were given two red cards in that match, but still beat AC Milan 2-0. How did they manage that? Intelligent playing simple! CONFIDENCE: Whenever I watch the tiny Messi, Iniesta, Xabi, and some other physically petit player venture before intimidating defense lines and injure them with deft touches I am utterly delighted. There is a daring effrontery about their play that says that they know exactly what they can do and nobody can stop them. Confidence is exuding from every move. This is why Barcelona has the most formidable midfield, made up of very confident smallies who have can dance before your defenders and nothing will happen. They go in and go out and defy even the biggest of defenders. Confident players who are not afraid to make a surging attack are the sword of any teams weaponry. Nigerian players rarely make such surging attacks. Our players are usually clueless when they are outside the 18 yard box of the opponent, thus relying heavily on wingers to send in crosses. One Nigerian footballer who I enjoyed watching make such confident surging attacks is Stanley Okoro during the last Under 17 world cup. That small man is daring and only needs to be coached properly and honed, and he can be a killing machine. Maradona in his days would run against any defense line believing he can get his way through. Worse case you foul him to your disadvantage and he will score by a free kick. As small as Lionel Messi is, he is a Lion within. The confidence with which he holds the ball and defies any player is a beauty to watch. This keeps him always in control of his 5 yard circumference from where he can determine the amount of damage he should do on the opposing player. Not only we need confidence player in all departments, the kind of confidence and calm that Vincent Enyeama has endeared us with. Confidence makes you remain calm in the midst of raging animals around you, and makes you mentally balanced to think through the strategy of your opponents. However, lets give it to Kalu Uche; he is a very confident player .Odemwingie as well. SPEED AND CONTROL: Finally this one explains itself. You will kill your team if you are flat-footed and meet a fast paced team. I felt so sorry for Canada when they met the Argentinian B team. They were flogged 6-0 y some eleven flying boys. While the Canadians were still thinking of the next move, Argentina had grabbed possession and scored. An example of flat-footedness in the Super Eagles team is Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Dickson Etuhu, Chidi Odiah, and Danny Shittu. These guys cant run. Even when they do, they have very little control of the ball. How many times did Odiah and Etuhu terminate a good pass because they couldnt run or lost control of the ball? For that reason they keep playing a positional game and never make the Nigerian build up from the back like free flowing. Diaby killed the midfield of France against Mexico. He messed them up against Uruguay

as well, but the coach still fielded him. I cant understand. He has a bit of control, but very flatfooted hence easily lose possession. Speed and Control should be a basic requirement to build a World Cup ready team. We cant keep on playing our lackluster style which has characterized us for so long. When I watch the younger team I feel hopeful. But this is usually thwarted as soon as they get into the senior teams; it is as though they are then served a dangerous dosage of gradualism, killing every form of urgency and fervor which a team should have. I watched the Greek team play display speed and control, even though most of them are far older than our players. So age has little to do here. We were more physical and had stronger bodies, but what we lacked in Speed and Control totally made us crumble before a less fancied Greek team. Discipline, Intelligence, Confidence, Speed and Control are what I have noticed Nigerian players lack. If we are going to build a team, we need to emphasize on this core requirements. The good thing is that you can easily see these qualities in a player at the point of engaging him. Our Reverend Father Coach in secondary school assembled a team of players that had these qualities. I often wondered why he didnt pick some other guys who were pretty good at the game. It was not until I began noticing his style of play that it dawned on me that he had created a killer squad that no one could easily beat. Interestingly I have an interest in this matter and learnt quite a lot off field because my dad would usually keep me awake and entertain me with stories upon stories of soccer stars and their deft moves. From footballers like Eusebio, George Best, Stanley Matthews, Johan Cruyff, Ferenc Puskas, Gordon Banks, Pele, to the more contemporary stars, he even compelled me to read some of their biographies like that of Stanley Matthews which I read a whole book on (ha ha hacrazy but I did). It was these men and my Irish Reverend Father Coach that I figured out these four key attributes in a player. So as we rebuild from scratch (yes from scratch). We need to start viewing our footballers within the prism of these qualities. If they lack in any of these, we most like are going to suffer the consequences when we meet a team that is less deficient that we are.