By and large, Nigerians are beginning to come to terms with the national side’s failure to qualify for the 2015 Cup of Nations.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s an embarrassment and a disaster, but most Super Eagles fans seem keen to begin to look to the future rather than dwell on the troubles of the last year.
Naturally, there is an inquisition to be had and issues to resolve, but it’s hard to see how more mud-slinging will help to get the team back in track.
Sunday Oliseh is just one ex-professional and national-team hero to have weighed-in, maturely and meticulously, on the Super Eagles’ problems.
Taribo West, however, has been less measured in his criticism of Keshi and, particularly, the manager’s decision-making.
In an interview with Festus Abu of Punch Nigeria, the former-Internazionale defender has identified various key errors he believed the coach has made since the 2013 Cup of Nations triumph.
I would identify West’s criticisms as follows:
1) Keshi’s Mentality
2) Keshi’s Over-use of foreign-based players
3) The performance of certain individuals
His first, Keshi’s mentality, is hard to evaluate effectively.
West said: “Keshi let success go to his head and the result is that we won’t be defending our title in Equatorial Guinea next year.”
Without seeing the inner-workings of the Big Boss’s mind, it’s hard to judge his own personal focus. Certainly, though, I have noticed that Keshi hasn’t appeared as animated recently as he was during the beginning of his tenure. I commented, during the defeat to Sudan: “Keshi looking like a man trying to think where he left his car keys.”
This is not the touchline demeanour Nigeria wants from a man with the fate of the nation in his hands.
During the beginning of his reign, Keshi insisted that the Super Eagles players needed no motivation to qualify for the Afcon beyond their failure of reaching the 2010 event.
Maybe, therefore, West is right to suggest that as soon as the national side sated their hunger for success, the motivation was gone.
It certainly appears that Keshi has failed to re-energise the troops following the glory of 2013 was in the books.
While West likely has a point here, however, his subsequent criticisms do not stand up to scrutiny.
The former national team defender began: “When he started, he was hungry for success, hence he went for the home-based players who were equally hungry for success, and he was not bothered by the criticism over his decisions.
“The home-based players played a major role in our winning the Africa Cup of Nations last year.
“But Keshi felt very relaxed after winning the tournament. He changed and began to rely on (some) foreign-based players who are not good enough for the national team.
“Keshi should have continued with his policy. He should have invited more home-based players for the qualifiers.”
Is the defender over-playing the role of the home-based players in the 2013 triumph?
Only six of the 2013 squad were ‘home-based’ and of these, only one, Godfrey Oboabona, was a first-team regular. Half of them (Azubuike Egwuekwe, Reuben Gabriel and Chigozie Agbim) didn’t feature at all, while Ejike Uzoenyi made only the briefest of cameos.
Sunday Mba’s emergence from nowhere embellished the perceived impact of the home-based players, but to what extent was the midfielder’s contribution anticipated and expected by the Big Boss?
Was Mba not just some serendipitous stroke of good fortune?
It’s hard to agree with West’s suggestion that Keshi lost faith with the home-based players and turned to foreign-based stars.
Of the players subsequently dropped from the Cup of Nations squad, all apart from Uzoenyi (who later returned to the side) were based abroad. The ‘home-based’ six were all present at the World Cup, with the exception of Mba, who by this point had been abroad for six months.
The real losers were players like Ideye Brown, Ikechukwu Uche and Fegor Ogude, all of whom have been established overseas for several years.
It is also unfair of West to intimate that Keshi stopped giving opportunities to home-based players.
At the Confederations Cup, for example, Keshi named eight home-based players in Nigeria’s squad—two more than at the Cup of Nations.
Mohammed Gambo, Emeka Eze, Francis Benjamin, Solomon Kwambe, Gbolahan Salami, Kunle Odunlami, Obinna Nwachukwu and Christian Osaguona (among others) have all been given game-time with Nigeria over the last 18 months.
Have any of these players truly done enough to suggest that Keshi should have given them more opportunity?
More importantly, have the foreign-based players really been inferior to the home-based characters?
Sone Aluko, Hope Akpan and Aaron Samuel are just three names to have made a positive impact to the side since being introduced. One could also praise Keshi for his risky decision to recall Peter Odemwingie for the World Cup following the veteran’s goal against Bosnia-Herzegovina.
I find it very hard to justify West’s comments here and to find historic truth in his observations.
Finally, ‘Pastor’ criticised some individual performers.
Ironically, he singled-out Egwuekwe for his poor showing against South Africa.
No home-based player has been a more consistent feature of Nigeria squads since the beginning of 2013, and while the defender perhaps did “let [the Super Eagles] down”, his out-of-sorts outing contradicts West’s championing of NPFL stars.
Similarly, Kenneth Omeruo was culpable against Bafana Bafana, but while West acknowledges that he wasn’t fit, it was ridiculous for him to suggest that the defender’s blunder was the type that “could cost a player his career.”
Nigerian fans are not stupid. Omeruo owes them nothing and, at 21, no one expects him to be the finished article. One slip from an unfit fire-fighter against South Africa would never threaten the talented centre-back’s future with the national side.
“We need better defenders in the national team,” continued West, “I believe we can find good defenders in the domestic league if we search for them.”
Only one current NPFL defender, Enyimba’s Chinedu Udoji strikes me as a potentially worthwhile addition to the national side, and even that ignores Europe-based alternatives such as Kenneth Otigba, Derik Osede and Leon Balogun.
Certainly, after the struggles of the last 12 months, noNigeriafan will be blinkered to Keshi’s faults.
I believe that it’s important that former internationals comment on national-team affairs, but in this case, West’s criticisms do not feel to be based on historical fact or the evidence of the recent past. (goal.com)