18 February 2013

East Africa: EA Should Copy Nigeria Plan to Win Afcon

Kampala — Watching the African Cup of Nations tournament that ended two weeks ago only brings one thing to the fore... Why doesn't East Africa go far in soccer?

It may seem farfetched by Nigeria the eventual tournament winners assembled a team with 17 new faces to the team. Moreover it was coached by a local no-nonsense coach and many local based players and in the process ended the country's 19 years of woe.

The appointment of Stephen Keshi, himself a winner of the cup as a player, as coach was crucial to Nigeria's victory. Keshi adopted a hard-line stance with his players, especially those based in Europe, whose egos had been seen to be undermining team morale and unity.

He took the bold step of selecting players from the Nigerian local leagues, using them as the bedrock of his new team. It was only at the latter stages of the qualification process that he began to reintroduce the bigger name European-based players to the side - once they had regained their hunger for success.

National team 'untouchables' such as West Bromich Albion's Peter Odemwingie and Levante's evergreen Obafemi Martins were excluded from the team and replaced with more untested players such as Spartak Moscow's Emmanuel Emenike, Chelsea's Victor Moses and Dynamo Kiev's Brown Ideye.

Nigeria shamefully failed to qualify for the last tournament in 2012, with many pointing the finger at uncommitted European-based players and an ineffective Nigerian Football Federation (NFF).

This strategy of selecting relative unknowns was risky but paid dividends.

So can the region emulate Nigeria and take the bold step of rebuilding their teams using local based players as the bed rock of their teams? That is a matter that depends on the respective countries.

In the case of Uganda where there are two domestic leagues, both laced with personal egos with individuals trying to show each other who wields more power is not a good area to start with.

The Uganda Super League (USL) and the Federation of Uganda Super League (FSL) are not helping players because there is divided loyalty in that the National team can only be selected from one league.

It means we are missing some exceptionally talented players in the Cranes squad because individuals at the top are busy massaging personal egos.

The Nigerian team had just the right mix of players. Even the Nigerian pundits did not believe Keshi would get this far with this team. After all, the last set, the much-praised golden generation, which won the Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia 1994, took five years to build. In contrast, Keshi's Eagles had roughly five to six weeks.

Sunday Mba scorer of the winning goal in the finals was unknown to many even in Nigeria where he plays for Enugu Rangers. But three weeks after, he is the toast of at least 170 million people. A locally based player will not necessarily enter the Super Eagles team but he made it into the squad and scored two great goals, which won tough matches - that is the stuff of greatness. The additional thing is that he replaced a Europe-based player in the starting line-up after the first game and never looked back.

A pointer to the fact that national team coaches must comb their various leagues to unearth gems like this who can make a difference for their national teams.

Currently 16 clubs are chasing the Nigerian's signature with Bundelsiga outfit Bayer Leverkusen and Dinamo Zagreb topping the list.

Copyright © 2013 East African Business Week. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.