AFCON 2019 and the reverberating backlash over Super Eagles' performance

Image source; africanews
African Cup of Nations came to a close on Friday 19, 2019 in Cairo, Egypt with the desert foxes of Algeria emerging the champions. It is their second in twenty-nine years.

The striking thing about their victory is that like when they won the competition the first time as host in 1990, they played teams which were in their groups Nigeria and Senegal respectively.

And they didn't just beat them in the group stages; they also went on beat them in the final to confirm their superiority.

So, I say congratulation to the desert foxes of Algeria for a hard-fought win.

It might sound like I'm over-romanticizing the past, but I think the buzz generated by the just concluded soccer fiesta is nowhere near what it used to be back in the day especially when it was more about players who were based in Africa. You are free to prove me wrong by joining the discussion with me in the comment section.

This noticeable in the fact that only a handful of the so called high profile players matched the pre-tournament hypes and fans' great expectations of them.

Some have argued it may be down to the fact that many of them were coming from a grueling season of football with their various clubs. But I beg to differ.

The South-American championship also took place about the same time and we all saw how many of the stars on parade who also competed with many of our players in Europe shown like a million star.

Except that once more Lionel Messi and his cohort underperformed which you one can really excuse. Like one analyst said, there was no way Lionel Messi’s Argentina could defeat Brazil with the caliber of players they paraded. Man for man, Brazil dwarfs Argentina and it showed on the field of play.

At AFCON, Senegalese pair of Saido Mane and Kalidou Koulibaly, Algeria’s Riyad Mahrez, goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi for his five clean sheets and Ismael Bennacer respectively stood out for me.

Then there's Nigeria's Wilfred Ndidi, Oghenekaro Etebo, Samuel Chukwueze, and Odion Ighalo, more for his goals than for his play.

It might surprise you that I didn't get to see many of the games live. I had to fall back on highlights from YouTube for my assessments of the teams.

To borrow one of Wole Soyinka's figurative expressions, the fowl of my withdrawal syndrome from watching the Super Eagles live games was hatched from the egg of a shocking and disappointing discovery from the past.

I love Nigeria's senior national team, the Green Eagles which is what they were called then to bits. And I will not eat and get pretty agitated when they suffered a defeat.

That was certainly down to my conviction back then that it was all about national pride and that it is my duty to support them. Eagles were like an army of fatherland marching to the battlefield and they deserve nothing but my unflinching support.

But as I matured into life and the understanding of the game's dynamics I realized I've been inflicting on myself an unwarranted suffering out of ignorance by not taking my meals, shuttling between being moody and grieving like a child with a dead father, and all of that.

Football like other sports is pure entertainment and nothing more.  I came to realize that the players don't care much about the fans' excesses emotional expressions in terms of their hunger strike, the violent outburst at match venues and viewing centers, and suicides.

More so, it’s all about their material needs and ego. Some of the things the fans appear to benefit are the short-lived sense of vicarious excitement and national pride which doesn't put food on their table. And at club levels, the sense of their fickle ownership and maybe wagering on matches outcome.

And even if players do care about the fans which may not be entirely out of place, their battle cries still has in it a very high degree of fairness which underscores a Yoruba adage that says: "even if we're quarreling, it shouldn't get to the point of wishing ourselves death".

Beyond injuries (career-threatening sometimes) which may happen during the heat of the game, players I mean to say don't wish each other death after the match unlike fans with their streak of fanaticism. They hug and exchange souvenirs after every game.

Back to my story, I knew many of the players in the Green Eagles then at close quarters. I worked briefly at a gas station in Ikoyi, Lagos then and I see them come around to the Belgium embassy right at the back of my workplace. You know Belgium was the Mecca of Nigerian players then.

There was a particular match Super Eagles played then and lost. It so got to me that I went on a hunger strike. Then a video clip of the same crop of players showed up somewhere having a time of their life by the poolside.

I know today the fans get feasted with more of such on the YouTube and several other channels.

It was indeed an eye-opener for me. And it was sufficient enough for me to repent of all my previous hyperactive inclinations towards the game and its actors. And it has remained so ever since then.

So it gives me concern these days that people get overly emotional about the sport that they do unimaginably stupid things to themselves and others all in the name of supportership.

And that a greater percentage of Nigerians derive their joy and bonded more on the account of something as fickle as the game of football gives me greater concerns. That's by the way.

As expected, many nations who participated in the just concluded AFCON has been taking stock of their involvement.

By mutual agreement or any other such fancied nomenclature so far, about seven coaches or thereabout have been shown the exit door for failing to meet the set targets of various federations which hired them.

A quick glance of some of the casualties so far include the two-time winner of the competition Harvey Rennard  (Morocco), Clarence Seedorf (Cameroon), Nigeria's Emmanuel Amuneke (Tanzania), Javier Aguirre (Egypt), Thomas Desabre (Uganda), Ricardo Mannetti  (Namibia) and Paul Put (Guinea).

Nigeria is definitely not left out of this question of backlash as a result of her participation in the tournament. The conversation now is quite intense and it centered on the scorecard of both the team and the coach Gernot Rohr.

While some say the team has done well, after all, twenty four nations took part and in the end, we came home with a bronze medal; others disagree insisting that the team got the so-called bronze through sheer luck.

The team, they concluded, didn't only play poorly but that they are not a team yet.

All Nigeria has at the moment are a bunch of average players begging to be blended into a team whose play can possibly re-enact the usual verve that they are used whenever eagles are playing from way back.

This is lacking. At AFCON, the team played without cohesion and play’s transition is seriously flawed.

As for the coach Gernot Rohr, he is being bashed on all sides over doubts on his technical abilities. Over and again, his ability to read a game and make impactful substitutions is suspect.

And to think he has been on the job for three years now and still, he’s very far from being convincing calls for concern.

More than ever, there is a deafening call by Nigerians for him to be relieved of his job.

In my opinion, I think coach Rohr has neither succeeded nor failed for a number of reasons. He's just hanging in there.

Having spent close to three years on the job, I think it is a sufficient time for him to have given the team a character of its own as well as the direction in terms of play.

So far, he has participated in two major competitions. At the world cup in 2018, his team couldn't hold on in the dying minute of the game against Argentina.

Why it was the hope of every Nigerians that as a responsive and responsible tactician he must have learned his lessons.

But at the just concluded AFCON, the same tactical sloppiness reared its ugly head in many of the games and especially in that crucial game against the eventual champion Algeria.

The team couldn’t hold out in the dying minute and it conceded a painful goal which knocked the team out of reckoning from a free kick by Riyadh Marhez.

The responsibility of the coach is not only to qualify the team for tournaments with a game to spare. It is more about making the players play like a team even if they don't get to win the tourney. Presently, that is lacking.

While he is still getting the backing of NFF President Amaju Pinnick, local coaches who have had the similar misfortune of managing the Super Eagles to win bronze medals in the past have all get fired.

Recall that this is despite their working conditions were nothing to write home about compared to their foreign counterparts.

So I’ll suggest that in the spirit of fairness to the all the local coaches like late Amadu Shuaibu who I stand to be corrected is still being owed salaries and other statutory emoluments, Augustine Eguavon, and Samson Siasia who have been so maltreated by the FA, coach Rohr has to go because of all he has given us anything different from what those guys gave Nigeria. Besides, his results came at a higher price of both better pay packet and working conditions.

Even late Stephen Keshi was also not spared though he won the nations' cup with virtually home-based players and qualified Nigeria for the world cup in Brazil in 2014.

I'm however not unaware of the fact that to sack the tactically ineptitude coach means paying him a million dollars in severance packages. If in the light of this NFF constrained to retain him to run his contract out, so be it.

Of course in the area of contractual negotiation, European tacticians have proven time without number they are smarter than Africans.

African nay Nigerian coaches have often allowed sentiments to get in the way of properly negotiating for contracts that are justiciable in case of breaches. And they are worse off for it.

Whereas, they owe it to themselves professionally that necessary clauses are inserted into their contracts to guide against being short-changed in the future. 

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