EAGLES CAN FLY
I saw yet another good football made in Nigeria last Sunday. That was many years after I saw an Eagles squad that was not rag-tag. Before last Sunday, the last time I saw Super Eagles play with zeal and mission was in the quarter final match of the 2006 Nation's Cup in Tunisia when Nigeria beat Cameroon. John Chukwudi Utaka was too hot to handle that day.
He gave Rigobert Song, the Cameroonian veteran defender the headache of his life. That free kick by Jay Jay Okocha remains a memory that would never fade away. It was under the watchful eyes of Christian Chukwu.
After that great performance most of the players in the Eagles took in and any day they are invited to play for Nigeria, they will feel too heavy that they need first to see their doctor for ante-natal check-up or have to do that immediately after. The few who had some life in them bore the burden and task of a team alone. They got exhausted and achieved nothing. We have lived with this dilemma for too long that we have completely lost appetite for what good football from our top national team should look like. The Eagles squad that was never cowed became a whipping team with which all manner of up-starters learnt to cut their teeth in the game.
The last time I wrote on the Eagles my advocacy was that we don't need old and tired legs any more in the squad. That we cherish experience, but only those of dedicated players. And we know who they are - Kanu Nwankwo, Osaze Odemwingie and maybe very few others. Apart from these, the rest I feel have served out their terms. They need to enjoy their retirement as we try out sharp and hot younger ones who would learn from these older willing players and grow. We need their fresh quest and appetite for glory in the colours of their nation. While experience is indispensable, the vehicle of zest to experiment is sine qua non for results. Nothing makes a great football nation other than the ability to turn out fresh teams at any duty call. It is a sign to the entire world that such nation has a reservoir of talents to draw from.
Apart from few inspirational playmakers, football watchers know that Brazil comes to every tournament with virtually a new team. Check out what makes Argentina, Germany, Italy, France and the rest strong in football but for the tradition of always injecting fresh blood into their squads. Brazil can never rely solely on Dida to deliver at the goal post. Any time he feels too busy with AC Milan, they will let him know that substitutes abound. When a Kaka feels too important, they let him know that other strikers exist in Adriano or Ronaldinho.
Take a roll call of the speed at which Brazil turns out world class footballers. Count in your mind the number of great and dazzling footballers France has had since Michel Platini, through Zidane, Ribery, Wiltord, Thiery, Viera, Desailly, etc. Recall also the number of years it has taken from Zidane to Florent Malouda or Evra. It is a sign of vibrancy and not stagnation on few individuals who must play or they will be no play. Yes, football is a play, but far from being a joke. It is a play business. It is serious business. It is a business whose face changes at the speed of a good shot released from the boot of Victor Obinna Nsofor into the Kenyan net. It is split second action change like the weather. The growth does not wait for anyone, just like Nigerian football should not wait for a particular player before we go on.
Most of all, they are two qualities that turn rookies into great players - the raw talent and humility to nurture it into growth. That is why the like of Mikel Obi should ask football lovers the difference between Kanu Nwankwo, Jay Jay Okocha and Edmondo or Romario of Brazil or Etim Esin of Nigeria.
Now that the Eagles managers have looked inwards to know exactly who they need in the national team and who they don't, it is great to see we have a team once again. We may not have seen the silver lining, but the signs are there.
The crop of players we have seen in the past three matches - two friendlies with Ireland and France and the qualifier match of last Sunday is a world apart from the same Eagles that played Mozambique some months ago.
I say kudos to the group that sought out these new players, and for retaining just the right persons from the old brigade. I don't know who would not marvel at the ingenuity of that young man, Echiejile at the left back position. What that new man did will remain a signal to Taye Taiwo who still plays well and with dedication for Nigeria that the times have changed. With Ike Uche in a squad, who misses Mikel Obi? Nothing sets the tone better in a match than an early goal, and I am sure without that second minute goal that calmed down Kenya, irrespective of their misses, they would have been more coordinated and forceful in routing Nigeria. But because Uche knew what to do, he fired that dart gun that dazed Kenya all through.
We saw two good goals of world class in the match, and because I watched the Tunisia-Mozambique match, I would bet that this set of Eagles will not buckle under Tunisia in the next two weeks even in Tunis.
I believe in growth at the pace other worlds grow, I also believe only such growth will keep Nigeria in tune with today's football. This will come in playing and coaching. That is why I have always argued that hiring a foreign coach may not be bad, but not now, otherwise we will be dependent on foreigners to manage us without any effort to grow. But the time an Amodu or Siasia must have grown to go out and manage other countries, we can also pick others to manage us. I don't give a hoot about the argument that even England uses foreign technical advisers because the same England has Sir Alex Fergusson, Sam Alardyce, Raphael Benitez and many others of world class. So, their using foreigners is a matter of choice and not necessity.
They don't entirely depend on others to manage their affairs. So, let's leave Amodu, Amokachi and other Nigerians to do it. With the same support foreigners get here, these people can turn things around, and the present selection is a sign. The technical handling last Sunday was it, and if allowed, the Eagles will not miss the mark.
And if I were the persona non grata administration of Nigeria that is not wanted by either the G20, G8 or an Obama visit to Africa because they have refused to allow democracy grow, I would adopt the Abacha isolated man's formula of throwing in full support for football, an only way out, although it is not a substitute to good and sincere governance. My call goes to Okocha and other members of the presidential committee for Nigeria's qualification for the 2010 to ensure that we retain this squad because if favouritism would later take the place of dedication and service when we see we are sure of South Africa, even after qualification, we will still go to South Africa and fumble with the rag-tag tired legs who should by now be confined to the archives of Nigeria football. Let us all now say Amodu and his new found team will take us there and get us the laurel next year.
Federal College of Science, Sokoto: SOS to Sultan
'Please, use your widely read column to appeal to His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto and the Honourable Minister for Education to intervene on behalf of Christian teachers and students of Federal Science College, Sokoto who were attacked by Moslem students last Friday and Sunday. As you read this text message, a female Christian teacher is on admission in hospital because of injuries to her private part. Also the Christian teachers are on strike now, calling for transfer from the school because there was a similar attack last term, Concerned Christian parent'. This text message came to me at 17.40.30 on June 6 (Saturday) from an unknown sender.
The tone of the appeal made me to reach out to someone I know in Sokoto, the Special Adviser, Media to the governor, Alhaji Sani Umar, a personal friend. The SMS never mentioned the government, but he is the one I know I can start my inquiries from. He was on his way to Abuja when he called to give me a number of someone who would be of help. But after several calls to the man which he did not pick for any possible lead, I decided to extend the call to His Eminence, the Sultan, as the appeal directed and to the Education Minister, Dr. Sam Egwu. This is a matter of life and safety of people, and I think it needs immediate attention. Moreover, Sokoto has never been one of those volatile places in the north against strangers. I hope the personalities will intervene to save us any further embarrassment.