AFCON 2021 and the catharsis Nigerians need

Kenechukwu Obiezu

Kenechukwu Obiezu

Each time any of Nigeria`s national soccer teams kick a ball at the blast of a whistle in service of the country, what do Nigerians look forward to? Days before the Super Eagles take on Africa at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, the athletes must remember that they carry the hopes of millions of Nigerians. Alongside seven-time African champions Egypt, Guinea Bissau and Sudan in group D, the Super Eagles will take on twenty-four other teams from Africa and the die is cast.

Gernot Rohr, the coach who qualified Nigeria for the tournament lost his job less than two months to the commencement of hostilities in what looked like more infamous muddled thinking from the NFF. Although he has been replaced by the Portuguese Jose Paseiro, Nigeria will be led into battle by Augustine Eguavoen, the former Nigerian international under whose careful watch Nigeria clinched bronze at the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt. That team had the immortal Jay-Jay Okocha and the extravagantly gifted Kanu Nwankwo who had entered the twilight of their careers. The team also had some of the precocious talents who had broken through at the World Youth Championship in Netherlands in 2005.

But is Nigerian football moving forward or backward? Cameroon lost the right to host the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations to Egypt because it was embarrassingly not adequately prepared. To say that perhaps more than other areas of life sports reward proactivism is to state the obvious. When preparation for a sporting event is proactive and painstaking, more often than not, bountiful fruits are reaped.

The administration of sports in Nigeria leaves much to be desired. Corruption and highhandedness ripen into incompetence which severely affect the administration of sports in the country and by extension, the chances of our athletes and teams at competitions. Some really dirty Nigerians laundry was shamelessly aired at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Politics and nepotism have also emerged as more important yardsticks in selection of teams in Nigeria than merit and qualifications. So, the country`s national football teams are mostly left to their own devices. Yet, more often than not, they contrive to produce some of the country`s most glorious sporting moments.

There was the 1980 AFCON trophy. The 1996 Olympics gold medal in Atalanta. Before that, there was the 1994 AFCON trophy in Tunisia. There was the silver medal at Beijing in 2008 and in 2013 there was another AFCON trophy this time in South Africa. This is for the Super Eagles and their U-23 counterparts.

Nigeria has also found stupendous success across lower age cadres. In this wise, the sweeping successes of the Nigerian U-17 teams are noteworthy. Nigerian women have also taken a hammer to the glass ceiling in roaring to repeated successes especially on the African scene. This is all in spite of the s maladministration in the country.

However, here is a question that continues to tug at the thinking cap of every sports enthusiast in the country: if with the dearth of facilities, sound administrators and adequate preparation available to Nigeria`s football teams, the country`s football teams are still able to produce indelible moments of pure footballing transcendence, what will happen if the administration of is taken out of the grip of some of Nigeria`s most grasping claws?

The country must journey again to its grassroots where most of the its football is played, there where most of its football stars are born. The goal must be clearly defined and the chunk of it must be to catch them early and ensure they properly develop. This means that facilities, competence and incentives must all come together for the athletes and those who administer them.

It is no secret that corruption has wreaked untold havoc in the administration of sports in Nigeria. The country`s football has not been left untouched. Some former Nigerian players have openly lamented this deleterious culture, openly citing instances when they were asked to pay their way to places on teams.

It is obvious that Nigeria has great footballing talents. But as those countries which enjoy top places in the football success pile will testify, talent is hardly enough. Great soccer countries are fashioned when talent and sound administration meld together. As the Super Eagles pull on the famous green jersey of the giant of Africa, they must remember that they have a unique opportunity to give an entire country the perfect new year gift.

Kene Obiezu,

keneobiezu@gmail.com

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