Even as I write this, a part of me is still in disbelief that the Super Eagles of Nigeria actually won the African Cup of Nations 2013. They went into the competition not being favorites and not enjoying support from fans at home. Many Nigerians watched their matches hoping that their predictions about their non-performance would come true. Two draws and it seemed like that was going to pass. Then came the win over Ethiopia in the last group game that secured our place in the quarter-finals.
However, when the team was paired against clear favourites, the Elephants of Ivory Coast, the scepticism came back in full force. Yours truly, for instance, did not give them any chance. Even the Nigerian Football Federation was said to have shown their lack of faith in the team by purchasing return tickets before the match, which surprisingly, Nigeria won. The rest is now common knowledge.
Definitely, big kudos goes to the coach, Stephen Keshi, who used the disbelief Nigerians and the NFF had in his squad to spur his players to prove them wrong. He is a man of courage, who started by dropping some big names such as Obafemi Martins and Peter Odemwingie and showing faith with home-based players like central defender, Godfrey Obaobona, and the hero of the quarter-final and final match, Sunday Mba. This is a coach who deserves to be celebrated.
Also, the team with the mix of youth and experience, the flashy and simple players, home and foreign based, showed excellent chemistry, team spirit and focus and these paid off in their bringing home the trophy.
But while we are still in celebratory spirit, we should not let ourselves be carried away by assuming that the work of revamping Nigerian football is complete. While I prefer to not comment on the technical side of rebuilding the team, leaving that to the more experienced hands of Keshi and his assistant, Daniel Amokachi, my major concern is the administration of the sport in Nigeria.
We will not in a hurry forget the shock we felt when Keshi turned in his resignation the morning after the victory, and his withdrawing it a day later after mediation and entreaties from the NFF, the Sports Ministry and ultimately, the Presidency. But as those who know better say, he did so in order to strengthen his hand in getting the necessary things he needs to make his job better. for example, 18 months after he was employed as the national team coach, he was yet to be given his official car and house as per his terms of engagement. Now that he is the goose that has laid the golden egg, NFF is bound to treat him better. But beyond that, the football house itself needs to be rid of its corrupt and self-serving nature.
Also, Keshi’s victory at the Nations Cup has shown us that even in the excuse of a national league, real gems can be gotten. It is about time we sat up and improved our league rather than wait for them to go abroad before they are discovered, or scouring European leagues searching for foreign-born Nigerian players who we have to cajole and beg to come play for us. We were lucky with Victor Moses; we might not be lucky again. The Nigerian Premier League, NPL and the NFF need to come together and work out ideas and strategies for returning the league to its glory days of up to the mid-90s. for one, they cannot claim to be short of models to study and tweak to suit the Nigerian context.
It is also my hope that Keshi goes straight back to work and commence preparing the Super Eagles for the Confederations Cup in June which will be played in Brazil. The performance of his squad has given me confidence that even when placed alongside the world number one team, Spain, in the same group, we might just pull an upset.
After all, as it is said, the impossible most times, is simply the untried.