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Kings of African Football – the secret formula

The Super Eagles of Nigeria are the undisputed current kings of African football. Forget the fact that they were shocked to a one-goal draw by the Harambee Stars of Kenya in the qualification match for Rio 2014.

Their victory at Afcon 2013, particularly the manner in which the team played, has earned them the right to that claim and has made many analysts to start to assume that Nigeria will be at the next World Cup and that they will be a major force to contend with.

It follows, therefore, that there must be major international interest to decode the Nigerian team, to find out the secret of its performances and success.

The combing of the Nigerian football space has started already. National scouts and agents are asking questions, making enquiries and documenting evidence.

Many foreign clubs have resumed their shopping spree for cheap, big, strong, athletic Nigerian youngsters.

There are many questions, but very few answers.

Let’s start from Afcon 2013.

Of the 23-man squad, six were from the domestic leagues, something that had not been done since the era of Clemens Westerhof who took the national team to the country’s first World Cup in 1994. So what is going on in the Nigerian domestic leagues now that could have made the difference?

Apart from the fact that there has not been a major sponsor of the league in two football seasons, the other ‘new‘ development of note is the proliferation of stadiums with artificial turfs around the country.

As a result of this ‘development’ the Super Eagles have been finding it difficult to find a suitable venue to play their matches in the country. It is pertinent to wonder why national team players have rejected the ‘beautiful’ stadia with artificial surfaces as venues for their matches. Ask why Arsenal, last year, and Barcelona, this year,have called off friendly matches in the country because the artificial turf grounds indicated for the matches are considered completely unsuitable for their players.

What else could be Nigeria’s secret formula? The grassroots football development programmes?

The only evidence of any grassroots football programme in Nigeria is the ‘noise’ about the establishment of academies everywhere. Many a foreign scout has come to Nigeria in search of these academies that are supposedly breeding the players and found nothing on ground.

There are ‘virtual’ academies.

They are not institutionalised. There is no proper programme, coaching, or infrastructure. A few average players are sold into slavery to small clubs in all manner of countries around the world, almost all of them, never to be heard of again.

Football in schools that could have provided the excellent platform for development only receives token attention from the football associations and national federation; too little to account for anything.

Coaching structure?

This is laughable. Nigeria has no structure in place to develop and train its coaches. The only institution that trains coaches in the country, the National Institute for Sports (NIS) is a pitiable sight. The NIS is merely going through the motions of training coaches. Starved of funds and lacking quality personnel, facilities and the latest tools and equipment, its programmes have become a case of ‘garbage in, garbage out’.

Where then lies the secret of Nigeria’s recent success?

Perhaps the answer lies out there somewhere in Europe where the players, somehow, are driven by their hunger to succeed at all costs to transform into fighters and winners.

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