The Eagles are no longer Super

By Post Nigeria April 25, 2015 13:06

The Eagles are no longer Super

The current state and performance level of the Nigeria football National team at both continental and global level deplorable. Now we are beginning to question if the Eagles are actually “Super”.

Football teams all over the world are identified by a peculiar nickname, which always go in line with their level of performance, pattern of play or history of the country.

Typical examples are the Pharaohs of Egypt, named after their popular ruler and the Samba Boys of Brazil, nicknamed after a rhythmical dance called Samba in Brazil. This is evident in the playing style of the South-American giants, who play a free passing, skilful and eye-catching football which got its origin from the Samba dance.

Nigeria during the early football years were known as the Green Eagles, with the green of course representing our national colour and the Eagle, a prominent feature on the coat of arm which denotes strength. This was later modified to its current name, The Super Eagles as their performance gained recognition globally.

The Super Eagles was rated best in Africa and 5th in the world, the highest ranking ever achieved by an African football team, after winning the African Nations Cup and a wonderful display at the 1994 US World Cup. Nigeria was rated the most entertaining team of the tournament despite being eliminated in the second round by the Roberto Baggio led Azzuris of Italy.

The name Super Eagles and the performance of the team befitted the Eagles after winning world football powers Brazil and Argentina to clinch the Olympic trophy at Atlanta 1996.

Just like the Brazilians, the Nigeria national side carved a niche for themselves by employing a system involving the use of the flanks. This effective use of the flanks gave Nigeria the successes and the reputation the national team achieved which is basically a 4-4-2 formation.

It wasn’t a totally free passing technique like the Brazilians, but rather involved the use of two-wide attacking midfielders from both flanks. Right from the days of Segun Odegbami, when Nigeria won her first nations cup trophy in 1980, this system was a signature tactic.

Players like Tijani Babanjida, Finidi George(who was rated the best right flank player in the world), Emmanuel Amunike, Garba Lawal, Ben Iroha, Celestine Babayaro (who was a Chelsea regular and the best left back in England) and so on where the best in their clubs and were on top of their game, contributed to the success of the Super Eagles and made the world got jittery everytime they had to face the Eagles.

Football has of course seen changes over the years as some common elements of the game have gone into extinction. The advent of the “tika-taka” style of play by the Spaniards via Pep Guardiola and his all conquering Barcelona team, the adoption of wing-backs by the Antonio Conte and the Italians, the “long-ball” tactic that the British are often ashamed of despite its effectiveness and the high tempo “Gegenpress” instituted by the German amongst others has lured many countries to want to adjust their playing style to suit current trends.

While trying to follow the trend, these countries have lost their identity and often struggled to adopt these methods, with Nigeria not an exception. The current crop of Nigerian players can barely produce 5 natural wingers and the “European style” of football has eaten deep into the Nigerian players.

We have now most first teamers at National team level that can barely get into squads in the best leagues globally. Their bit – part roles has a knock on effect on the Eagles’ squads and the slide has continued. This has in turn done more harm to them than good, with Nigeria now ranked 45th in the world.

Inconsistency in management has also seen the Eagles struggle to find a balance between methods employed by the coaches. While trying to recover from not qualifying for the 2015 Nations Cup, the Nigerian Football Federation, NFF recently settled on the fate of the Eagles handler after several months of controversies, which may tell on the performance of the team.

The introduction of the 4-3-3 system has eliminated the significance of the flanks, Nigeria performing badly at the latest World Cup in Brazil and missing out of the 2015 Nations Cup coupled with tussle of who handles the Eagles, the use of wide play which is now stale amongst other factors could be traced to why the Eagles may no longer be regarded as ‘super’.

We have not even begun to lament about the terrible level of football development at the grassroots level. All the cadet sides have a few shining gems every other year but these “starlets” never seem to make the step up to the senior side. The turnover of talent is alarmingly tragic.

A way forward can only be realistic if the ‘prodigal’ NFF and the team of coaches result to change by going back to the old flank style of football style like as a repentant sinner who wants to go back to the good and winning ways.

Of course there will be a few adaptations here and there. The use of inverted wingers in the vein of David Silva, Eden Hazard et al can be encouraged but we must balance our flair with our strong core of physical players. Playing to our strengths should be key, not pining away for utopian systems we obviously are not ready for yet.

Brazil still remains the most decorated football team in the world, but has the samba changed? The answer is not so much. It has only been modified but the free flowing; passing and skilful play is still in use. Every country has its origin, a peculiar style synonymous to them alone.

Nigeria has to return to its starting point, which is the wing play that brought the country success in years past and will definitely do now and in the future. Just a little alteration fused with the latest trend, and I bet you we are heading back to the Super status.

If Nigeria must return to the glory days, the tradition of football must be maintained and alienated. The crop of players like Victor Moses, Odemwingie Osaze, Ahmed Musa, Sone Aluko, Brown Ideye, Micheal Babatunde and the new-boy Simon Moses must be utilised to the fullest on the flanks.