2010 FIFA WORLD CUP: NIGERIA'S EMBARRASSING EXIT â€“ LACK OF LEADERSHIP, TEAM WORK, DISCIPLINE AND RESPONSIBILITY
As the 2010 FIFA World Cup soccer fiesta in South Africa draws to an end on Sunday July 11 with Netherlands and Spain playing for the global crown, which by the way failed short of my prediction by one team. I had predicted and even betted with one of my cousins who used to be a sport’s journalist that Spain and Brazil will be playing the finals for the trophy. I have always enjoyed the Spanish national team even when I lived in Europe in the mid 80’s.
I knew that if they perfect their style of soccer play with a strong midfield, defense and dependable goalie, there is no team in the world they could not beat. The Spanish team has chemistry and synergy. Most of the players play for their home clubs. Only very few of them play outside their country. As it stands, I am happy for any of the finalist winning the World Cup trophy. Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina, Uruguay and others etc have won it many times. Even though my preference is Spain - they have already made history for reaching to the finals of the World Cup soccer competition. They won the European championship beating Germany one to nothing in 2008 and winning the World cup trophy two years later will just add to the euphoria and be another "Grande Festa." If Netherlands win, I will be satisfied as well because the Dutch have been in the finals of World Cup twice before in the ‘70’s, and I think it will be rewarding for them to win it also.
Having made those comments, let us talk about the Super Eagles and their embarrassing exit from the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Nigeria is in the international news again. Thankfully, this time is about soccer event not terrorism. It is embarrassing that the first time in the history of humanity that this glorious game is staged on African soil, African teams could not move beyond expectations –especially the Super Eagles, the indomitable lions, the Elephants and the Black Stars of Ghana, whom most soccer lovers around the world admire so much for their past performances. What a sad tell on Africa?
The first time the global soccer event was played in Uruguay in 1930, even though only 13 nations participated, Uruguay made effort to win it on her soil. Few other nations have won this prestigious trophy whenever it is played on their soil. Personally, I was not asking for any African side to win it, even though it could have been a worthy try, however, the African nations failed woefully to pursue that dream. It would be arduous if not impossible for any African national football team to win the World Cup trophy outside the continent. And who knows when this worldwide football spectacle would be hosted in Africa again?
Before I state the reasons why African teams especially the Super Eagles failed, let me congratulate South Africa for pulling off successfully this global sporting event. When South Africa won the contest in 2004 to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup largely due to Africa’s illustrious son and moral leader of international repute, former freedom fighter and former President Nelson Mandela, many thought that South Africa would not be able to host it due to poor infrastructure, crime and other social ills. In fact, many Western media, foreign sport newspapers and even African sport writers doubted the organizational ability and resources to stage such global event. But from what we have seen so far, even though billions of rands have been spent to build new stadiums, upgrade existing stadiums, and improve infrastructure such as roads and transportation - have been impressive. South Africa football federation and the government have proved the cynics and doubters wrong.
Off-course, the doubters had reason to think so. The state of infrastructure in most African countries - insecurity, crime, violence and poor roads have hindered the African nations from hosting some of these global events.
When Nigeria had such a rare opportunity to host Miss World contest, a satire written by a young journalist concerning the event and a sarcastic comment on Prophet Mohammed sparked the most insidious violence that compelled the organizers to swiftly move the global contest to London. The most beautiful queens, their associates, make-up artists and business tycoons who came from various nations of the world to grace and flaunt their beauty in Nigeria were quickly flown out of the country for fear of being hurt or killed.
Opportunities for show business and other business investments that could come easily because of such contest eluded the nation due to irrationality and indiscipline. Properties were burnt and until today, hundreds of Nigerians continue to loose their lives for such religious intolerance and ignorance.
Off-course the organizers of world events have always had a ‘Plan B’ whenever they stage such global events in Africa. Even in the case of South Africa, I am sure if there had been any serious violence or threat; FIFA would have certainly moved the event to anywhere in Europe where facilities and infrastructure are ready for such global activities.
But thank God, South Africa has proved those doubting Thomases wrong and in-fact elevated the pride of the continent and showed that Africans are capable of hosting such global events. Moreover, Africa has come of age. In a few months Nigeria will be celebrating her 50th independence anniversary. Even though, South Africa overcame the worst racist and apartheid regime sixteen years ago, the nation has made tremendous progress politically, economically and socially. It is the biggest economy in Africa and has the most stable democratic government in Africa. Additionally, South Africa has facilities for these kinds of events especially after becoming the world champions of rugby in 1995, again largely due to the inspirational leadership of Nelson Mandela. In fact the entire movie – INVICTUS was all about the 1995 rugby finals. It was amazing to watch President Nelson Mandel visiting the captain of the South African rugby team at his home in order to inspire the young captain and brainstorm with him on South Africa could win the championship. And they did, thanks to the captain motivating his teammates before and during the game and President Mandela’s inspirational leadership.
I must congratulate our global citizen, the African Son, Nelson Mandela for his impregnable spirit and singular achievement not only for South Africa but also for the entire continent of Africa. We are very proud of you. Despite the tragedy that hit your family- the death of one of your grand daughters while returning from World Cup training event, which deterred you from addressing the opening ceremony of the World Cup, the world would love to see you briefly address the closing ceremony and thank FIFA and citizens of the world for giving Africa this rare opportunity to host this global festivity.
There is no doubt that the World Cup soccer event is the most celebrated sport event in the world. It is the greatest and most prestigious soccer event on the planet. It is the king of all sport events. Nations derive honor and glory just by participating in the FIFA World Cup competition.
Sometimes, it is the biggest publicity any host nation and the countries playing the World Cup soccer competition could get. The host country will be highlighted in the media and news around the world in a manner never like before. It is an enormous opportunity for the host country to be spotlighted, noticed and it has the potential to attract big businesses and investment opportunities. The same is true of the Olympics. The cities like Rome, Los Angeles, Atlanta and others that have hosted the Olympics or World Cup are never after the competition. South Africa hosting the World Cup tournament is already a changed city - big businesses and economic boom are already on the way to the Bafana Republic.
The 2010 FIFA World Cup is one of the few grandiose opportunities for African to make statement to the world not just to prove that they can host this global event successfully but also to move beyond expectations. No one in the international community expected that any African nation is capable of winning the tournament especially when there are super soccer nations like Brazil, Portugal, Spain, Germany, England, Italy, France, Argentina, etc. But in the game of soccer and much of life, anything is possible. Sometimes predictions don’t happen that way.
Otherwise, how can anyone explain the exist of countries like France, Italy, Brazil or even Argentina that were beaten four goals to nothing by the Germans and then Spain turn around to beat Germany hands-down. The Spaniards basically shut Germany down and controlled 68% of the ball game and did not let their opponent play the game. That’s the secret of the Spanish team. But it takes teamwork, discipline, character, courage and leadership to play that way.
Those attributes are what African soccer teams lack at the moment. There is no chemistry. Most African players are talented and skilful players. Most of them already play for famous European clubs and are at par with the world’s best players. But when they come home to play for their national teams, they miss the mark because there is no chemistry. No coach no matter who he is can assemble bunch of talented players who play for international clubs and develop teamwork and chemistry within twenty days. That’s not going to happen. There is ego and pride that needs to be purged and personal leadership and patriotism that needs to be developed.
For African international stars to play for their home teams there must be an arrangement to pull them together to play often in order to develop synergy, game styles and tactics for international matches. Secondly, African national teams especially the Nigerian Super Eagles lacked team leadership. As I watched their games, I noticed that there was not a clear team leader in the field. The coach is the team manager but the team leader. There must be a team leader which is usually the captain or the midfielder that really understands the game and has to be strong himself to inspire and motivate his fellow teammates whether winning or losing.
The game of soccer is much more than bodies in the field. It entails intelligence. It is most of the time a psychological game. Emotions must be controlled. It demands character, courage and leadership. In fact, every player in the field ought to exhibit some personal leadership. It takes discipline, accountability and responsibility. The stupid act of Kai Saita in the match against Greece should not have happened. In fact, his indiscipline, emotional outburst and eventually red card caused the Super Eagle that game. What about Yakubu Aiyegbeni missing to score a goal few yards away from an empty goal post. It is the most ludicrous and example of unpreparedness, indiscipline and lack of focus on the part of the Super Eagles in this 2010 FIFA World Cup competition in South Africa. Even a three year-old child will score that goal.
Then not to talk about Ghana – Muntari who missed a penalty kick at the end of the second extra time of the world cup match between Ghana and Uruguay. I nearly broke my TV when I kicked at it.
Where does one begin to assess the poor performances of the African nations in this 2010 FIFA World Cup? Now, we are reading about the abuse, misuse of funds and corruption at the helm of NFF. The first time this global spectacle is staged on the African soil, none of the African nations exceeded its past performances except Ghana. Actually Ghana had the potential of reaching the semi-finals and the whole Africa cheering and supporting the Black Stars would have motivated them to do more – probably reaching the finals and winning the world cup. What a missed opportunity Africa.
It is sad and painful, but we have to move on and begin now to prepare for Brazil 2014. Banning the Super Eagles from international competition is not the best answer or wise solution to resolve the problem that has been there for years. I am glad that President Goodluck Jonathan rescinded his two–year ban of Super Eagles, thanks to the NFF executive who took immediate action on Sunday July 4th, 2010 in Abuja to impeach NFF President, Sani Lulu, 1st Vice-President Amanze Uchegbulam and Taiwo Ogunjobi. To me, it is a justifiable and courageous action and step toward rehabilitating football games in Nigeria – a game that millions of Nigerians love more than anything else. The game of soccer is the most passionate and patriotic sporting event in the world. The pride, honor, glory and joy of any nation winning the global trophy are beyond description. In places like Italy, Spain, Germany, England, Brazil, etc, soccer game is worshipped.
The African government and business corporations must invest on soccer and especially the players to keep them more at home. The various African Football Federation associations must get to work to improve the game of soccer and other sporting events which have the potential to attract big business to Africa. The 2010 FIFA World Cup tournament in South Africa is just the beginning. I believe we will soon see the Olympics being staged somewhere in Africa.
Now South Africa has the facilities, resources and organizational skills to host such world sporting events. Off-course Nigeria too can, if the new NFF executive will get their acts together. It is so sad though, that the first time this spectacular game is hosted in the continent, none of the African teams made history by reaching the world cup finals or even winning this worldwide honor.
When the first World Cup soccer was held in Uruguay in 1930, Uruguay made effort to win the world cup. Even though only thirteen nations then participated in the tournament, Uruguay with home crowd cheering fought like lions to beat Brazil to win the World Cup trophy. The African soccer has come of age. Most African players play for first and second division clubs in Europe. They are skilful and talented football players but there is no chemistry when they play for their national teams. There is no team leadership, discipline, accountability, responsibility, patriotism, and courage. Character and emotional intelligence are some of the virtues that I see lacking in the African soccer.
We can improve and surprise the world in Brazil 2014. Banning the national team from international games is not the solution rather removing tribalism, curbing corruption and using the best players to get the job done is what we need.
It’s also interesting to notice that all the African national teams for the 2010 FIFA World Cup with the exception of Algeria hired foreign coaches. The African national football teams need to use more continental coaches rather than imported coaches. If we must use foreign coaches, we must hire those whose nations have won the World Cup or even qualified for the competition not from nations that have not won the world cup. If Africa has to invest money to develop soccer in Africa, invest on the players and hire the best foreign coaches. After all, the European clubs are paying handsomely to have our best football stars play in their clubs. Since we cannot afford some of the European and South American players, we can engage their coaches. I do not have any thing against foreign coaches but the kind of money I read that Lars Laggerback from Sweden was making to coach the Super Eagles is outrageous. If we have to pay foreign coaches such salaries, we might as well go for the best – I mean those coaches who have actually won the world trophy or retired world’s best players looking for coaching job. The Europeans are getting our talented and best players; we should also get their best and brightest coaches.
God bless the Nigerian Super Eagles, the Black Stars of Ghana, Bafana Bafana of South Africa, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire and the Algerian national team for representing Africa in the 2010 FIFA World Cup extravaganza in South Africa.