I have learnt over time that the expectations of most Nigerian football fans, even analysts, are largely based on wild emotions, even illogic, and the post-event reviews the Super Eagles have received since the recent African Nations Championship (CHAN) in Morocco is no different. Despite reaching the final for the first time ever, the Super Eagles and head coach Salisu Yusuf have been subjected to abuse and ridicule because they lost the final 4-0 to the inspired hosts. For some perspective, it was Nigeria's third appearance in the competition. Past teams have been coached by the legendary Stephen Keshi and Sunday Oliseh. The best result before now was the third-place finish in South Africa in 2014. I can understand fans being disappointed, but our teams can not only be deserving of praise when the win a trophy
Even the best teams and the best coaches in the world lose by wide margins on a bad day. As recently as the last World Cup, Brazil were crushed 7-1 at home by Germany. In 2014, famed Spanish coach Pep Guardiola had his Bayern Munich team decimated 4-0 at home by Real Madrid in a UEFA Champions League semi-final clash, while respected French coach Arsene Wenger and other have lost by more scandalous margins. So yes, teams lose, the best coaches also lose. Losing a match does not always mean the players are useless or the coach is clueless.
We must learn to manage expectations so we can appreciate our teams even more. When France, who are heavyweights in the global game, reached the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, their coach Didier Deschamps declared their campaign a success. He argued that given the stage of development of the team, they had achieved their limit. It is simple logic, you cannot be the best every day and every time. Salisu has earned a place for himself in our history in the competition as the first coach to lead Nigeria to the final. That's something. Hopefully, tomorrow, someone comes along and betters the record, but for now the man and his boys deserve nothing but praise.
When we also consider that the competition is limited to players in their country's domestic leagues, there is ground to argue that the Super Eagles overachieved. The poorly-supported and poorly-funded Nigerian Professional Football League is rungs below a number of leagues on the continent, especially the North African leagues. If we want the CHAN Eagles to perform better, then we should contribute our beat to improving the domestic game.
CHAN was a fan engagement opportunity missed by the LMC
Why was the local league in full session while the CHAN was being played? The Eagles going all the way to the finals would have been a great way to engage local fans and connect them on a deeper emotional level with the NPFL. Continuing the league during the continental tournament communicated negative messages to discerning fans. The most glaring for me being that whatever is at stake in the NPFL is nothing the clubs really care about.
How else could the league's best players be away from their clubs for a national assignment and none of the clubs cared? In South Africa it is tough enough to get players for full internationals, let alone a second tier international tourney. Were the stakes high in the NPFL, the league would have been suspended or clubs would only have released their fringe players. This once again show why our clubs should not be run by government. Many of these civil servants hardly worry about the stakes.
Fans follow sports stars more than they follow sports events, and this accounts for either the success or failure of many sports events. Our league has almost zero celebrity influence on fans. The CHAN should have been a way to highlight the best NPFL players, connect them with fans, and raise interest in their club activities post-CHAN.
Stardom just does not happen. In today's world brand builders carefully and methodically build the more popular stars we know. Stars are the business. The Spanish La Liga, for instance, has just four million plus fans on Twitter, while just one La Liga player, Andre Iniestas has over 20m followers. Another, Cristiano Ronaldo, has about 68m. It is the same trend across all sports events and across all social media platforms. Englishman Wayne
Rooney, for instance, has more followers on Twitter than the English Premier League.
There should have been a daily focus on these top NPFL players, allowing fans to make the connections with the players and their clubs, and to build on them. There should also have been clear strategies to connect these stars with fans on a daily basis. Technology has not only exploded the popularity of sports, it has brought more fans and celebrity athletes closer together than at any other time in human history. Fans may have been engaged in predict and win games even for modest prizes like recharge cards, or an opportunity to fly to Morocco to watch a few of the games live. Sponsors love such initiatives.
As it is, I'm not aware any such was deployed. The players are back in Nigeria and fans remain far from engaged, at least in the numbers sponsors love.