14 October 2012

Nigeria/Liberia: The Lone Stars Are No Match

Photo: Vanguard
Nigeria's Super Eagles celebrating a goal against Liberia.


I am about to book my flight ticket to next January's African Cup of Nations.

I am looking forward to visiting South Africa again, to see how far the legacies of the 2010 World Cup have been established and entrenched in the country.

On paper I have read about how the World Cup impacted South Africa - the massive infrastructural developments; the unprecedented boost in the tourism industry; the new mono-rail system in Johannesburg; the growth of the football industry in the country with its television contract now considered fourth highest in the world; and so on.

I have also heard about how the beautiful stadiums constructed for the World Cup have been lying idle and wasting since then. Whats going on? Why are they not in regular use?

South Africans did not want the World Cup to end because of the sense of unity it brought to the entire citizenry. What has happened since then?

I can't wait to go and see again.

Then there is this irritating 'threat' coming from Calabar, venue of the Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match between Nigeria and Liberia.

How can Liberia ever be a threat to Nigeria in football? I can't understand all the hoopla!

I am writing this on Thursday night, two days before the match that has dominated the Nigerian media for weeks.

By the time you are reading this it is likely the match that threatens to truncate my visit next January to South Africa would have been settled and the world would have returned to sanity with the Super Eagles giving Liberia lessons on how to be respectful.

How could any one have considered even the faintest possibility that Liberia could defeat Nigeria in a football match played in Nigeria? I can't understand it. People were actually worried that the Eagles could lose here at home?

Nigeria and Liberia do not belong to the same planet in football. There is something about tradition in football. In the 13 outings Nigeria has had against Liberia at senior football level I read somewhere that the Lone Stars have won only once. Thats the tradition I am referring to. I could not even immediately recall the first and only defeat the Eagles suffered until I was reminded it happened when Liberia had the best player in the world in its team, and the circumstances surrounding that defeat in Monrovia were shrouded in some 'mysterious' conspiracy. Need I say more?

It is like saying that Republic of Benin will defeat Brazil and win the World Cup in 2014. Forget it, it will not happen in the next 100 years! At least! Such things do not exist, just as the thoughts of Liberia beating Nigeria in Nigeria should never have existed in the first place given our history, and our football tradition with Liberia. Look at the history of our engagements, our pedigree in the game, where came the thought that such could ever happen? Bury it.

Just in passing, I am putting the match aside and looking at the new Super Eagles team.

In the absence of a few players that had become almost a fixture in the team in the past decade, the present Eagles are really a new team.

Joseph Yobo, perhaps Vincent Enyeama, Osaze Odemwingie, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Obafemi Martins, will all be missing from the team.

This must mark the final emergence of a new national team for Nigeria with players that even many Nigerians are still not so familiar with.

For those reading this on Sunday the result of the match from last night would have shown that my view on this match is not the product of arrogance, but fact!

South Africa 2013 here I come.

The academy of academies

There is already an ocean of football academies scattered all over Nigeria. Conservatively, in the absence of actual figures, there must be hundreds of them sprouting in villages and towns. They can be found everywhere, in every street corner, and in every open space that can accommodate a football game between two teams. So pervasive is the belief that there is easy money to be made from discovering, 'growing' and selling players that, right now, there are almost as many football academies, scouts and agents as there are the players themselves.

Trading in young football players is a legitimate business. With some luck, discovering and selling a young and gifted player can be very lucrative, turning around the fortune of the player and his agent.

But it is the academy that provides the platform. The coach must first go out to the academy to seek out and to discover that exceptional talent, that special player, the Mikel Obi, or Joseph Yobo in a sea of other talented young players. He must present the player to an agent who will decide if the player can cope with the rigours and standards of professional football, particularly in Europe.

The player is then sent to a club in need of his talent. If he is found suitable he is recruited. It is only then that the agent can count his chickens. But then, it all starts in the academy with its high turnover of young talented players struggling, fighting and living in the hope that one day they will be discovered and sold. They end up either in slavery in some remote league in Bangladesh, or in superstardom on the lush fields of Anfield.

Nigeria is now full of these football academies many of them masquerading as centres for talent hunt and grassroots football development when they are actually outposts for the wheeling and dealing of young players. As a result it is increasingly challenging separating the wheat from the chaff, the serious ones from the mushrooms.

But then there are various kinds of football academies in the country.

There is the weekend-assembly of young football players training under a neighbourhood coach. It is not registered as a club or as a business.

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