World Cup 2018 has come and would end later this evening. It has lived up to expectation. For over three weeks the world has been entertained. It has been a world cup of surprises; the traditional football masters like Brazil, Argentina, and Spain, were sent packing early in the competition and for most fans that was exciting. Many welcomed the emergence of new champions other than the traditional champions. The organization was good even though I have some issues with the officiating; I saw a tinge of racism and favouritism in the manner some of the referees handled the assignment. It is unfortunate that African teams exited in the first round; it was not for reasons of low football development but failure to put one or two tactical nuts in place. We should be more concerned about the Super Eagles, they did well but it could have been better.
They lost out in the first round and as in our character everybody became a football analyst, everybody seemed to know why we failed. Some blamed the coach, others blamed Ighalo or Iheanacho. I have heard some others say strength left our boys when it mattered most, a few talked about the referee and partiality. All the positions contain some truth yet the biggest reason could be found in our lackadaisical approach to critical matters. Black people see sports as residual, activity something you do to satisfy innate abilities and by extension entertain the crowd. To us it is not something to sweat about, it is something you can wake up and execute when you want. This understanding influences what we do and our policies on sports development.
On the other hand, people in the critical worlds, who know that development is a complete concept see sports for what it is: a tool to empower citizens and create space for self-actualization; dignified job creations not the wheel-barrow or Keke Napep type our leaders do which further dehumanizes citizens and produces more societal deviants. These nations recognize sports as a marketing tool for a people to “sell” themselves and tell the world their stories as written and told by them. Iran went home better appreciated by the world than what western media had been willing to concede to them. The same with Koreans, every time they appear on world stage people want to see how healthy they look, what their individual disposition is. Sports gave North Korea their widest exposure. It is same reason China is spending billions of dollars just like Japan, to promote sports especially football in recent times.
Space will not allow me chronicle what Japan and China have done and are still doing. The same goes for Switzerland or America. I want to bet something using football for my analogy: bring a few sound football experts together, let them produce a blueprint on how we can win the World Cup. Then release a little targeted funding in that direction, I can bet with my life that in less than six months you will have a team far better than what we assembled in a hurry for the 2018 World Cup. In this team you will find natural strikers who can squeeze out water from the rock. You have strikers who can run and dribble very well; you have them very tall and average height. We also saw what headings did for many of the teams.
You have midfielders who have the mercurial skills of Muda Lawal and J.J. Okocha, men who can rove and turn around games in accordance with team desire and game plan. Super Eagles, in Russia, at 1-1 in that encounter against Argentina with eight minutes to go in a match they needed a draw were playing to die instead of playing to escape. They couldn’t hold on because there were no playmakers to help keep possession. It is not that we lack boys with great skill; it is more about the stereotype “if he is not playing in Europe then he is not good.” Our boys who play in Europe struggled to beat Poland but Senegal with over 70 per cent local content had emphatic victory over them. I don’t know how many Iranian players ply their trade outside Iran, yet that team from my reckoning is good. We have solid defenders in this country. Long term planning is the issue.
Champion teams are not selected, they are “carved” out. They are usually outcomes of deliberate thinking and effort. The political leaders in power visualize and then work through experts to carve it out. Somebody made a very instructive remark recently on the social media. I read it and couldn’t help but laugh. He said only a country without vision would make a lawyer the Sports Minister. Does anyone see the genesis? When you have created your vision and gathered materials, the next would be to ask what it takes. Nations Cup is different from World Cup, even then you plan for every tournament and the intention would be to win than mere participation.
World Cup is won by a complete team with solid players in all positions. The other thing would be technique and tactics. A team that can change patterns; Argentina did just that, they turned on the heat in the second half, running, taking positions and resolved to make best use of set pieces. Compare that with our team or African representatives; Morocco woke up after the train had gone.
You need determination, grit and staying power. Eagles did not have it and it does not come with ad-hoc arrangements that have become our hallmark. It comes from constant engagement with quality opposition; a team that would do very well is known long before the tournament. In our case nobody except the coaches could say with certainty who and who would make up the first eleven. I don’t know how many Nigerians saw Idowu or Ebueghi play before we threw them into the World Cup team. Nobody was sure of the goal keeping department. These lapses were present and optimists expected by a sudden flash we would be in the semi-finals. Not so and this is a lesson we ought to have learnt long ago if were a country driven by intense rationalization.
Football is big business and those who benefit would always make us spend our money foolishly. If I were the President you don’t need to go camp in Austria to play well, waste huge funds on hotel, food and logistics when millions at home are looking for what to eat. We train here. Outsiders made our jerseys and made all the money, something tailors in Aba could do and we pay them and by so doing refloat the economy. One of the things we should know is the African team that would win the World Cup would be strong, have pace and free scoring. It will be such that would know it is up against business interest of different kinds and of course racism, which is still a potent factor, though it is veiled. I like to win and lose with a local coach but if a foreigner must be hired he had better be one that has garnered World Cup experience. The truth is we must work if we earnestly desire to excel at the World Cup.