Chocolates, Keshi and Danish Cookies


By
Orjinmo Nduka

A coach’s selection headache is best likened to walking into a supermarket and visiting the chocolates and cookies section.

The excitement of the colours thrills your desire and the temptation to stuff your basket beyond your wallet is overwhelming.

Only the highly disciplined few (excluding married women) come out unscathed.

When Stephen Keshi was appointed the Super Eagles manager, he chanted the usual rhapsody of building a new team for the country and also including as many home based players in the scheme of things.

Unlike most of his predecessors, he was able to match words with action as he has built a team of players in the local league with some featuring prominently in his matches so far. Like most of his predecessors also, he was drawn into the foreign based-local based player dichotomy.

Building a new team doesn’t come easy, but thankfully we have ditched the disbandment and open camp policy of old. When we failed to qualify for the Nations Cup held earlier in the year and brought in Keshi to rescue our football, he was charged with qualifying the country for the Nations Cup in South Africa next year and also building a team of committed players.

That was when he entered the shop.

As it is now, Keshi is contending with three sets of players as he tries to create that winning formula that will excel at the tournament and outlive it, still fresh enough to carry them into the crunch qualifiers for the World Cup in 2014 and also do well at the competition.

The first set of the players is the home based lads, who have been denied Christmas holidays with their families at some point and also denied the unprofessional comfort of their club sides as Keshi kept them in several stages of camping. The team has played several friendly matches both locally and internationally and has gallantly held its own.

Though Keshi has refused-and rightly so-to label these players as a B option as several thought he would, he has even gone further to show his faith in them by starting several of them ahead of the foreign based players.

Gabriel Reuben, Godferey Oboabona, Juwon Oshinawan, Ejike Uzoenyi and Kalu Uche formerly of Enyimba, have constituted the spine of his campaign so far. These players have always been at his beck, abandoning their unassuming clubs in crucial matches to camp with Keshi and the rest of his coaching crew.

But while Keshi is stuffing his basket with this class of players, the concern has to be whether he is shopping the best quality. This could be a can of chocolate, where you never know the amount of cocoa contained in it. Their technical quality, their composure in the big games and experience are factors that should be weighed in before dumping them into the basket.

The second set of players he has are the fringe players in the team and, boy, he has been fiddling with a whole bunch of them. Closely inspecting plenty, not making his mind about few, dropping and collecting some, while leaving some momentarily in his trolley.

These are the players who were either part of the fringe set up of the last dispensation, or players who play everywhere in the world but the top teams and the Nigerian premiership.

The likes of Nnamdi Oduamadi, Nosa Igiebor, Brown Ideye, Emmanuel Emenike and Sone Aluko fall into this bracket. They are talented but play in the back-water clubs in Europe.

Had Keshi not built a home based team, these players would have been reliable for those difficult away matches. They see the national team as a platform to launch their careers and move on to bigger clubs and a more flourishing league and so, would give their all at the moment with the Nations Cup in the view of their cross-hairs.

However, they are not reliable for the long term commitment as they are quick to ride on the crest of a good showing on the big stage to wear the toga of the snobbish big boys, when fortune through the Super Eagles favours them eventually. They are like the Danish cookies and buttered peanuts that come in flashy wrappers. They are transient in taste and wouldn’t fill you up.
This group is likely going to give him the real headache with calls from their agents and affluent benefactors that will offer material objects of ingratiation. Were they products on the shelf, they would be stamped with discounts and promotional inducements.

The last set of players Keshi has to deal with is one group most Nigerian coaches have not been able to deal with in recent times. These are the players who play in the established clubs in Europe and who have been part of the set-up.

Call them the hegemonic class and you won’t be far from it, and several coaches who crossed paths with them now tell the story from the difficult waters of the labour market.

Amodu Shaibu was the last diplomatic coach to successfully manage these players, and they did play for him. This group in my estimation is unarguably the best set of players the country has, they have been brushed by playing under different European managers in the top clubs and are armed with that technical quality.

They have the experience that comes from playing in the World Cup(s) and several Nations Cup. Like products in the Chocolate & Cookies section however, they have an exceedingly high calorie level that will drive a coach to his exit if he over-indulges.

This group lack commitment and will miss a match because of a wedding, a burial, a birthday party or the state of a pitch in Freetown. They favour the home matches when they are played in Abuja and they are constantly a thorn in the flesh of the football administrators with their demands for higher bonuses.

Mikel Obi, Osaze Odemwengie, Joseph Yobo, Vincent Enyeama, Taye Taiwo and Ike Uche are perhaps the country’s best and have repeatedly rubbed shoulders with the best players in the world as they play for top clubs in top flight leagues.

So how will Keshi shop?

Go for a mix of everything to have a really all-inclusive team in both technical ability and ego or rid his basket of the high calorie products to save his job in the long term and ensure durability in his selection? Or will he continue with his current experiment of mixing sets A & B largely, with a pinch of set C?

Well, only time will tell, but this is not the fragrance section of the Supermarket where you can afford to spray a little to determine the aroma of the product, when the sales girls are not watching.

With Chocolates and Cookies, they are sealed air-tight. Your fate is sealed when you unseal the product.

you can follow Nduka Orjinmo on twitter- @orjinmonduka
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