By Jacob Ajom
It’s another World Cup season. Again the Super Eagles, Nigeria’s flagship football team, have started poorly. After two matches in the qualifying series, Nigeria’s qualification has again been thrown into probability, permutation etc. Nigeria lost the chance of taking a commanding lead in the opening two matches against Lesotho and Zimbabwe.
Against Lesotho, ranked 113 places behind Nigeria, the Super Eagles struggled to hold the Crocodiles to a 1-1 draw in Uyo. In the same manner, the same scoreline was achieved in the second match against Zimbabwe that hosted the Eagles in Rwanda, a neutral ground, in the true sense of it. Zimbabwe adopted Rwanda for their home matches because they have no standard pitch.
Nigerians have been fuming, some with so much intensity. “Yes, we are in a desperate situation. We are in an emergency,” said Bishop Peterside Idah, in an interview with Sports Vanguard.
“We have not started well. The team is not doing well and something urgent has to be done. We are Nigeria. A super team with a robust history. Before mow, the last time we played Lesotho Nigeria beat them in their home 4-0. I remember as a player, when we lost to Sierra Leone, we went ahead to beat Uganda home and away under very tough playing conditions.
“Unfortunately, the fear factor is no longer there. The Super Eagles had an aura that made lesser teams quiver even before they met Nigeria. We have lost that fear factor. There is something wrong with the team. We don’t have a coach.”
How to bring back the winning aura
“First, fire the coach. He has to go because he will lead us to nowhere.” Idah, a former Nigeria international likened the Super Eagles to a Boeing 747 plane given to a carpenter to pilot. It can’t take off.
“Jacob, if you are at the airport and you are being checked in for a flight and suddenly, they announce that Bishop Peterside Idah is the pilot, would you want to enter the plane? No matter how much you like me, you will not want to commit suicide,” he analysed, adding,. “The Super Eagles need a coach. We cannot afford not to be at the next World Cup”
He recalled one embarrassing moment he found himself during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
“After Ghana defeated the Republic of Korea 3-2 in a group match, I was walking on the street and people hailed me, ‘Up Ghana’, congratulating me for the victory in the erroneous belief that I was a Ghanaian. Embarrassed, I responded, ‘yeah, ‘Up Ghana’, waving back at them, Inside me I knew I was not a Ghanaian. That was what the Super Eagles’ failure to qualify for Qatar turned me into.”
Critics have been hard on Francis Uzoho, the goalkeeper due to his poor performances. What is your view, as a former goalkeeper?
“I don’t want to single out any individual for blame. The team is like an engine. If one part goes bad, fix it.”
Calls on Sports Minister to intervene:
Extreme problems, they say, demand extreme solutions. Bishop Idah believes Nigeria must act fast and tackle the problem the Nigerian way.
“We must take back the Super Eagles,” Idah reasoned, raising his voice. “We are in an emergency situation. The Minister of Sports Development should, as a matter of urgency, step in. His intervention can save Nigeria further embarrassment.”
He continued, “Call Sunday Oliseh, Daniel Amokachi, Vincent Enyeama, Barrister Green, Paul Bassey and myself and hand over the team to us with a mission statement, “We must qualify for the World Cup,” and empower the team with everything that is required. You will see qualification for the World Cup accomplished.”
When told that the Minister’s interference could be misconstrued as interfering with the running of the NFF, Idah interjected, “The national team belongs to the whole Nigeria. it is not the property of the Nigeria Football Federation. It belongs to all Nigerians. The federal government should know that qualification for the World Cup will boost the image of the country more than any public relations”
Let’s do what has been done in the past:
Idah said his call for the Minister’s intervention was for patriotic reasons. He recalled, “before Nigeria qualified for the 2010 World Cup, the ministry took over the team, there was a committee set up by the Presidency and tasked with World Cup qualification.
“Late coaches Amodu Shaibu, Stephen Keshi and Joe Erico were brought in. They qualified Nigeria for the 2010 World Cup. So it won’t be anything new if the minister intervenes.”
Beyond the coach’s incompetence, Idah believes the team needs an overhaul. For instance, the team is in dire need of a leader. The dominance of players from the diaspora has contributed, in no small way, to the gradual erosion of the traditional Nigerian character in the team.
He recalled, “in the days of Keshi as captain of the Super Eagles, after every match, he would go to each player’s room and talk to you, point out what you needed to do or what you did right. He was like a coach/player. The Super Eagles lack such a leader now, on and off the pitch.”
Wants to see more NPFL players in the Super Eagles
He also made a strong case for players in the Nigeria Premier league making the Super Eagles Team A. The players from the diaspora don’t feel or suffer the same effects when Nigeria loses. Same as in the event of Nigeria not qualifying for the World Cup.
“Never. These are people who, after a match, catch the next flight back to their bases. They don’t suffer the same harassment we faced while playing for the country. That is why we must have a look in the domestic league.
“I started playing for the national team when I was with Rangers International of Enugu. On my debut, I couldn’t hold back my emotions as the National Anthem was being played. I said to myself, Mummy and Daddy I am now playing for Nigeria. Wearing the Nigerian jersey meant a whole lot to me. Indeed, it was a dream come true. But our players today can hardly sing the Anthem. After a match, they take the next available plane, and off they go. They don’t share in the agony or shame Nigerians pass through after every failure. The players need a new orientation and change their mindsets to align with the aspirations of their fans.”
South African threat
Yes, the South African threat is real. They have three points, I have no fear over South Africa because if we do the right things we can beat South Africa home and away. If we can beat Bafana Bafana home and away, we will qualify for the World Cup.
“Those two matches will be key to our qualification. All we need is a good coach, good preparations and a renewal of the boys’ mental state. The players are okay. Just make them believe in themselves.”
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