Amaju Pinnick should be on his knees thanking God for unexpected gifts. If he doesn’t, then it may be the gift that keeps giving until he’s tossed on that slippery carpets reserved for the heads of the Nigerian football federation. On Saturday, he and his new board got their manna from heaven.
Here is a man who just got a job people will kill for or have killed for. He probably thinks the shoe is too big for his coach and rightly believes there is need for an experienced, tactically aware foreign coach. He most likely holds his nose when he sees what passes for the Super Eagles these days.
And, boom – these Eagles who have nothing super about them imploded beyond rescue. A bunch of strangers you could have sworn met at a bus stop near the stadium in Sudan, got handed Nigerian shirts by Steve Keshi, went into the field and laid the biggest egg since dinosaurs were last seen.
It was Sudan, people! A half-country! A team of traders, farmers and soldiers! Now, the NFF secretariat must be inundated with requests for friendly games from countries from San Marino to Comoros Island. They know they need help climbing up the FIFA ranking table!
In most cultures, the coach would not even return home with the team. He will offer his apologies and do his worst Michael Jackson moon slide imitation and disappear into shadows. But, this is Nigerian football where emotions always cloud reason. The question is not qualifying for the Nations Cup in Morocco, a task this team can and probably will achieve by default. The question is: how much longer would the football administrators throw blankets over the obvious view of Nigeria’s declining football fortunes? When are they going to finally admit that the Nigerian Eagles are more superfluous than super?
In an ironic twist, Bein Sports surprisingly decided it was going to show some African qualifiers on American television last weekend. Before the selected fixtures were announced, we called pastors to speak in the tongues of the programmers, Imams to scream special prayers at the network and, in very Hollywood tradition, we politely asked around who we would have to perform sexual favors for just to get the Nigerian game on television.
Thankfully, our efforts worked even if we can’t reveal which. I got a few friends over, fired up the grill and bribed the kids to come watch Nigeria play. You gotta bribe the kids when American football is on television in other rooms, free food on display and video games within reach. It doesn’t help when the last time they saw the Eagles was when they were stargazing and fighting over allowances in Brazil while other nations were trying to actually win the world cup.
Then, the eyesore began. By half time, we’d lost the kids to their own game of soccer in the backyard. They felt they could play better than the Eagles on the day. Heck, I think my mother and her church group can give the Eagles a fight for five minutes! Midway through the second half, I had to lie to my guests that this was Nigeria’s third team.
I’ve never seen eleven more disinterested people fight for their country. The defenders played as if they just walked out of pounded yam joint. The midfielders ran around as if in a drunken daze. In America they call attackers offensive players and boy, were Nigerian strikers offensive! Funny, all week I’d read that Arsenal and Tottenham was battling for the services of Emmanuel Emenike in the January transfer window. I don’t know about the disgusting red team up the street but I know plenty about my Spurs. And, I know we don’t have room for another training squad player.
Make no mistake about it; this is not Keshi’s fault alone. Nigeria’s football stinks right now. If you want to know how good your players are, check out where they play. Nigeria’s players ply their trade in Turkey, Russia, Israel, Scotland and Scandinavia. And, when they play in the reputable leagues of England, Spain and Italy, you can find them at the end of the bench. If they’re really good, like Ike Uche, they don’t get a sniff of the team.
And yet, people want to blame Keshi. I like Steven Keshi. You have to be inhuman not to. The man has done more for Nigerian football than anyone care to give him credit for. He opened the doors to professionalism in Europe for Nigerian footballers in the 1980s, he helped build that great 1994 team and he’s just one of two Africans to have captained and coached African champions.
But, you can tell that he’s now drowning in a pool of patriotism. He wants to do well, he thinks he can do well but somehow he’s standing in his own way and he seems to have clearly lost the plot. He’s not even logical anymore. According to him, he has numerous offers for better jobs but he sticks with the eyesore that is the Eagles.
Pinnick and the new NFF board has just one option now – free Keshi.
Ose Oyamendan, film maker, writer, and soccer buff, writes a Tuesday column for Premium Times from Los Angeles where he lives with his family. Twitter: @iam_ose