FIFA 2014: THE SUPER EAGLES: AN UNNATURAL PROGRESSION

By Kobi Okoye

Let me start by saying, no list of 23 players will please everyone even if it comprises all tribes in the country.

Stephen Keshi will live or die by his decisions and this is a certainty of coaching. He needs support and optimism. I know he cannot rely on the NFF for that, so he needs you and me.

As an aspiring football coach myself, I have always thought it better to name the 23 players for a tournament immediately, rather than go through tedium with all these provisional lists. There are so many advantages with this method.
Firstly, everyone begins to focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the players you have chosen rather than those you haven’t.

This is somewhat educational for a coach as he/she may begin to see more angles to these players seeing as our technical team generally don’t scout to monitor performances. It’s a model which England and Brazil have adopted and almost everyone has come to terms with the chosen 23 immediately.

Secondly, you avoid unnecessary administrative influences and pressures to include or exclude certain players and the coach immediately lends importance to those chosen. Let’s be frank, most of the players who were part of the AFCON 2013 triumph were going to make the team anyway with just a few exclusions.

Thirdly, you spare the nation some expense. Instead of catering for these thirty ‘established’ players and eventually disappointing seven, why not take a team of 26 with the chosen 23 and 3 youth players from the U17 to U20 so that they have a feel for major tournaments and also can be utilised as training material. This on its own already aids their development and the gospel will be spread by these youth players to their other colleagues. It immediately gives everyone in our youth setup something to look forward to.

Then again, I have come to the conclusion that no one ever plans for the future in Nigeria.
Having said all this, I think it would be a lot more constructive to look at the strength and weaknesses of the chosen 23. I will attempt to do this in departments and I’ll run through a tactical plan which I think will be suitable for the ‘SUPER EAGLES’.

GOALKEEPERS:
Vincent Enyeama
(4/5): Finally, Enyeama found his way in Europe and proved doubters like Sam Allardyce and Rudi Garcia wrong. His season with Lille OSC was very good. Reflexes, shot stopping and communication remain Enyeama’s strengths. He is deficient aerially and this will play to the strengths of Dzeko and Ibisevic of Bosnia. He must also improve his concentration. Aside from this, he is one of the few world class players we have and forms part of the spine which runs through the eagles.
Austin Ejide (2/5): He has never been convincing, and might never get the consistency in goal needed. How many can brag about watching Ejide in club action? So I will judge him on outings for Nigeria. He makes the back four jittery as they never know what to expect from him. He looks very heavy as well (I know I’m not the only one to think this). I understand Berti Vogts reasoning when he made Ejide number one during his tenure (he had prioritised height), but Enyeama has disproved that theory. Enyeama had better not get injured during this world cup.

Chigozie Agbim (1/5): He is not even ready for this level. I cannot pinpoint exactly what Agbim is good at. I wonder why a goalie like Vanzekin of the 2005 vintage was never fully developed.

DEFENCE:
Joseph Yobo
(3/5): His club season was not very good but his experience at international level cannot be underestimated. Many do not realise that Yobo is actually quite a good footballer and passes out from the back in a calm manner. He will need to ensure a united camp and pass on all his knowledge to our young and upcoming defenders.

Kenneth Omeruo (4/5): Nigeria’s best defender. Has no fear and had a good season in Middlesbrough where his development was aided. Under Aitor Karanka, the team played in a variety of ways including a 3-5-2 and all players were encouraged to pass. Kenneth’s ball playing skills have improved tremendously. Hence his new contract at Chelsea.

Godfrey Oboabona (3/5): I think he is a good defender but has looked inhibited recently. The confederations cup was a major test and I hope he has assimilated those lessons.
Azubuike Egwueke (2.5/5): Keshi seems to fancy him. I think his qualities have not been fully utilised. For example, he rarely attacks set pieces. For a beastly man like him, he should be our weapon from corner kicks and free kicks.

Efe Ambrose (4/5): Solid and dependable. He merits a good mark for having a very good season with Celtic and also, for his versatility. He can play across the backline and in defensive midfield. He is certainly a tournament player.

Elderson Echiejile (2.5/5): I have issues with his stamina, concentration, crossing, positioning, work rate and current form. He should be fresh though, seeing as he did not play much club football.

Kunle Odunlami, Juwon Oshaniwa(1/5): Both have not performed at this level prior to this tournament. I expect their contribution to be minimal.
MIDFIELD:
John Obi Mikel
(5/5): A lot of the play depends on his ability to execute with the ball. Liberated when playing for the eagles, he must add more goals to his game.

Ogenyi Onazi (4/5): He is the engine of the midfield. He has the lungs, determination and athleticism to run for days. Should steer clear of match fixers in order not to dent a burgeoning reputation.

Ramon Azeez (3.5/5): A box to box midfielder with good lungs. He is a representation of the kind of midfielder that Nigeria seems to breed these days. As part of the 2009 golden eaglets which dispatched Spain with a young Isco and Munain in tow, he has a good understanding with Onazi as both were present in that team. Also he has a strong personality and captained the 2011 team in Colombia.

Micheal Uchebo (3/5): Following a failed trial with Stoke in 2012, Uchebo has become a player to reckon with in Belgium. A giant of a man, he gives the super eagles an aerial option if keshi wants the forwards to work with the second ball when he wins headers.

Gabriel Reuben
(2/5): After an injury plagued stint in Scotland, he looks half the player he once promised to be. Not necessarily a standout player but such characters are required in tournament football.

FORWARDS:
Emmanuel Emenike
(4/5): He is a very powerful and deadly finisher. His long range shooting is a weapon from restart plays and he can function anywhere across the frontline. His season with Fenerbahce was spasmodic, but he lights up when he plays for country. He can be a star forward at the world cup.

Victor Moses (4/5): A player in limbo at the moment. Did not impress with his attitude at Liverpool and will likely find little love at Chelsea. He is in the shop window and this sometimes makes players perform. I will go out on a limb and say he will be our most influential player at the tournament.

Peter Odemwingie
(3.5/5): A prodigal son. He needs a good tournament to justify his inclusion. Remains the most naturally talented dribbler Nigeria has. He is also ambidextrous. Peter had a good end of the season playing with Stoke. Will be a danger on the counter attack as his off the ball running is impressive. Must blend into the team and avoid all distractions.

Shola Ameobi (3/5): A player of vast experience and an intimidating stature. Keshi has spoken of ameobi’s uniting influence in the dressing room and it seems he has the respect of the players. Articulate and trained to speak with the media, I nominate him to actually sit by keshi during pre and post-match press conferences as Yobo comes off a bit coarse sometimes, especially when he does not play.

Uche Nwofor (3/5): He will have an impact coming off the bench to destabilise tired defenders. No particular aspect of his game is poignant but he seems very calm in front of goal. All he needs then is for the chances to be created.

Ahmed Musa (2/5): A speedstar who can perform as the transitory element on the counter but continues to flounder with his decision making. He gets a low rating as his growth has stunted abruptly. He is doing the same things and making the same mistakes as he was back in 2011. Russia does not foster young players as even the development of fellow CSKA players Alan dzagoev and Igor akinfeev has ceased.

Micheal Babatunde (1/5): An unknown quantity. His humble attitude has yet won him a place on the squad but he certainly has a lot to prove as to why he has been given the opportunity on such a big stage. He looked overawed during his cameo appearance in the confederations cup. I am hopeful for a different showing this time.

TACTICS: What has become most apparent to me while writing about the selected 23 is the height we have in many departments of the national selection.

Omeruo, Ambrose, Egwueke, Uchebo, Mikel, Reuben, Ameobi and Nwofor are all 181 metres or taller. It is about time Nigerian coaches start paying attention to set piece situations. The Greeks won a whole tournament based on that facet alone.
We have no playmakers bar John obi Mikel. It would be advisable not to base the play around a Number 10 as any injuries to the incumbent can destabilise the team’s game plan. Instead Mikel’s range of passing should be utilised for counter raids and exploitation of opposition spaces in changeover. The abilities of Musa, Odemwingie, Moses and Emenike will be suited to such a tactic.

The eagles are slow and unimpressive when retaining the ball so other strengths must be brought to bear.
This is a different way to play than most Nigerians expect but while unnatural, it will likely guarantee the team’s progression.
See you in Brazil.


This piece was written before injury ruled our Elderson Echiejile
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