After AFCON Glory, What Next?

 Let me start by giving honour to the Conquistadors of the African continent, the Nigerian Super Eagles, who beat other national teams to emerge three-time African Cup of Nations (AFCON) winners. Weldone Stephen Keshi, Daniel “the Bull” Amokachi, Ike Shorunmu, and Sylvanus Okpala. Weldone the Super Eagles team, whose doggedness, resilience, determination, and obedience to instructions, marked them out for a deserved AFCON glory. Congratulations to the President and all citizens of Nigeria for the great victory! All glory however, goes to Almighty God, who had seen the end from the beginning and had predestined it that Nigeria would win the Cup this time, after 19 long years of gold-drought at the highest level of football in the continent (we have been winning the Women’s Nations Cup at all levels and other trophies, including Under-17 World Cup).

If there were few Nigerians that however saw the Eagles going all the way in the tournament in South Africa), I was one of them. From the Nigeria-Venezuela friendly encounter, I had got the signal that the boys possessed skills and the character to do well. I had immediately updated my Facebook profile to read “I have absolute faith in these boys to do very well at the African Nations Cup”. People scorned my comment and only three persons “liked” it on Facebook. After the 1-1 draw with the Spanish Best 11 (Catalonia), I had updated my profile thus, “The Super Eagles will go very far in the AFCON in South Africa”. Several more persons “liked” this, but many expressed reservations, saying the Barcelona and Real Madrid players were soft in the game with the Eagles, to avoid injuries.

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When the AFCON competition began, after our opening match, which ended 1-1 with “small” Burkina Faso, despite the “poor” result, I updated by blackberry display message thus, “These Super Eagles will go far in this competition and win the Nations Cup”, and on my Facebook page, I had modified it saying, “I refuse to lose confidence in these boys and I have no doubt that they will go very far in this competition”. This time round, my comments were simply ignored, as no one “liked” or made comments on it. But I left the comments the way they were till the moment Nigeria sailed into the quarterfinals.

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Ivory Coast was the next opponent, and I not only left my posts on Facebook and blackberry the way they were, convinced in my heart that I had seen a victory celebration at the end of the competition; I also did the impossible, dedicating my February 3 column in the Sunday Mirror get off prednisone Prednisone natural alternative to the competition, opening with the expression of confidence that the Eagles would dump out the big boys from Ivory Coast. It happened, and it was then that my Facebook and blackberry contacts began to pay serious attention to my unshaken optimism. I predicted victory against Mali and I told everyone that Nigeria would beat Burkina Faso within regulation time. Today, I simply smile when they call me the new “Octopus”, “prophet”, et cetera. But really, with all sense of modesty, I think I now have the bragging rights to agree with them.

But to be more scientific however, it was what I saw from the Venezuela match, which gave me so much optimism and confidence in the team. I saw technical finesse. I saw a well psychologically motivated team. I saw a great leadership in Keshi and the technical crew. I saw unity and selflessness in the game of the players. And I was impressed with their level of maturity, despite their youthful age. What I saw was another 1996 gold-winning Olympics team in the making. I saw a team better disciplined than even the 1994 team (because we all heard the story of the acrimony among the players at the time, which led to the isolation of Yekini). I was also impressed with the support from the Federal Government and that of the Organized Private Sector. Everyone seemed ready for the resurgence of the power of the Super Eagles (it waned a bit though after the 1-1 opener with the Burkinabes).

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Now that the Eagles have won, what are the lessons for the immediate and distant future? We must be reminded that the reason Nigeria had been in the doldrums from 1994 was as a result of total mismanagement of success, from the Glass House to the State House. First, the players are de-motivated by the kind of messy politics after such success. Their coaches may be fired or frustrated by sports contractors who are after personal gains through hunting for or hiring of new coaches. The players may not be regrouped or followed up for continuity and building of a more formidable team. Promises of monetary, land and material rewards may never be kept. Players or coaches whose health may fail might never be attended to and neglected. Soccer heroes who die may never be given heroic recognition. And so on…

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After the 1994 AFCON victory, some players have reportedly not yet gotten their promises from government fulfilled. Members of the victorious Golden Eaglets of 1985 have not yet been rewarded simply because the Buhari regime was removed and the new administration of Babangida considered that Under-17 World Cup success as the inheritance of the previous regime. Same goes for the 1993 Golden Eaglets World Cup success; there were three regimes that year (Babangida, Shonekan and Abacha’s), which also led to failed promises. Shortly after the victory of the Eaglets again in 2007, the coach went ill and eventually died. There have been several others who have laboured so hard and have been totally abandoned by an ungrateful nation: Muda Lawal (who has only the antiquated Asero Stadium in Abeokuta named after him); Sam Okwaraji (who is today only remembered by the mass media); Adefemi Olubayo (a member of the 2007 World Cup-winning Eaglets whose life ended abruptly as he hurried to catch a flight to Nigeria for his wedding); Best Ogedegbe, who, I believe is no longer in the memory of even soccer administrators in the perverted Glass House; Rashidi Yekini who, after his very sad demise, was buried in a shallow grave beside a dumpsite, with a tattered green and white flag produced by the youth of his Ira village as the only “national” symbol accompanying one of football’s greats in the world; and many more soccer heroes like that who have gone with lots of regrettable scorn and unconcern by a generation of bad rulers.

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After this soccer glory, once again, we must not go the way of the inglorious past anymore. The acts of the politicians and sports administrators have been our albatross for too many years. We have de-motivated our heroes enough. Despite the pitfalls of the past, despite our ingratitude, despite the shabby treatment of greats like Yekini, et al, the likes of Victor Moses, Shola Ameobi, and Bright Dike have yet renounced foreign citizenship to play for fatherland. It means God is giving us a second chance to right things. We cannot afford to fritter away this golden opportunity once again. We must support the players, coaches and we must believe in them. I salute President Jonathan for the deserved welcome and rewards he gave the Eagles, and for instructing the authorities to release the gifts immediately. This is a step in the right direction. As we congratulate ourselves, let us plan ahead for the future, let our administrators not try to cheat or shortchange those who have truly laboured to bring honour to Nigeria. And let us support our teams. Let us believe in them; we will win more tournaments, including the Confederations Cup in Brazil!

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