With a population of more than 173 million people and a growing economy, Nigeria is the giant of Africa. The county has a football mad population with people devoted to the English Premier league and the Champions League. Nigerian players are spread out to the four corners of the globe. However the country’s national team, the Super Eagles, have often failed to soar on the international stage. Even though they were holders, the Super Eagles embarrassingly failed to qualify for the last African Cup of Nations. The Super Eagles only silverware is the African Cup of Nations, which they have won thrice. In addition, Nigeria’s best showing at a World Cup is making it to the second round.
However much smaller countries, such as Cameroon, Ghana and more recently Ivory Coast, are flourishing on the international level. Ghana, which has a population of 25 million, has the best showing of African teams in the World Cup, making it to the quarterfinals in 2010.
So what’s going on with the Super Eagles? International football has changed a lot since the 1980s. Financial interests now play an important part of the game, and the growth and prominence of the Champions League, may have eclipsed international football.
Gbenga X-Adebija, President & CEO of Ashton & Layton, a Lagos-based public relations firm, said there are several problems plaguing the Super Eagles.
“It’s a combination of several factors especially abysmal standards in football administration and corruption,” X-adebija said. “The players may also be somewhat demotivated with declining enthusiasm for playing for the Super Eagles.
He said Nigeria is actually doing well, compared to countries like Ivory Coast and Ghana, but with its resources and talent, it should be doing much better.
“Comparatively speaking, Nigeria has done better than Ghana and Cameroon but we should be at higher performance levels because of the quality of players we have as well as investments made into the football sector,” X-adebija said.
Pulling on the green shirt used to be a matter of national pride, but with many Nigerians stars getting paid a fortune every week in Europe, a lot of players are reluctant to turn out for their country. European clubs are also hesitant to release players for long trips and also worry about their expensive talent getting hurt. Incidentally, this is not just a problem with Nigeria, some English stars, such as Alan Shearer and Paul Scholes, opted to curtail their international careers, so they could prolong playing at the club level.
Corruption is endemic through Nigerian culture, the country is ranked as one of the most corrupt nations on Earth. Football, unfortunately, is no different. There is also the specter of government interference. Outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan once threatened to disband the team after a poor World Cup showing. Allegations of bribery and match fixing are rife in the domestic game. According to an 2013 article from The Economist, 12 of the 20 teams in the Nigerian Nationwide league were unbeaten at home and one team, Plateau United Feeders, finished a game 79-0!
“Government and the private sector in Nigeria have made massive investments over the years but the monies have been largely misappropriated thereby depriving Nigerian football of the derivable benefits,” X-adebija lamented. “Corruption and financial mismanagement are regrettably endemic in Nigerian football administration.”
The Nigeria Football Federation has dabbled with foreign coaches with mixed success. Dutch coach Clemens Westerhof led the Super Eagles to success in the African Cup of Nations in 1994, but German coach Bertie Vogts was a flop. Some big names from English football, such as former England managers, Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle, have been also been mentioned as possible coaches.
However, foreign coaches run into the same problems of corruption within the Nigerian football administration.
“A few years ago, Glenn Hoddle apparently was accepted to coach the Super Eagles but refused to involve himself in the shady financial arrangements which came with the deal,” said X-adebija said. “So we lost the opportunity of having a world-class coach like Glenn Hoddle.”
X-adebija is also in favor of developing the skills of Nigerian coaches by sending them to study under top-notch managers.
“We need to sustain and improve current levels of investment in football so that Nigerian football can remain competitive, reduce corruption and improve standards in football administration, establish academies for budding talents at various age levels and send our coaches to understudy greats like Mourinho, Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti, etc.,” X-adebija declared.
Manny Otiko is an America-based journalist who writes for several publications such as FourFourTwo and Salon.com. You can contact him on Twitter @mannyotiko.