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The beautiful game turns ugly for Nigeria

Super eagles of Nigeria Super eagles of Nigeria

For us Nigerians, there are few things that unite our hearts and minds quite like the Super Eagles taking flight on the international football stage. From the scorching deserts of the north to the humid creeks of the delta, allegiances to club and ethnicity melt away when our national side dons the famous green and white.

It’s a phenomenon that was on full display during the last Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast early this year. After a spirited run to the quarter-finals, Super Eagles fever gripped the nation. The dire economic realities of fuel subsidy removal, sinking naira, and soaring food costs were put on the back burner as we rallied behind the team. Though they ultimately fell short in a heartbreaking final loss to the hosts, that AFCON campaign rekindled the love for the three-time continental champions.

Hopes were high that the momentum would carry over, but months later, those dreams have turned to disappointment and disillusion. The man tasked with writing a new chapter of glory, former international Finidi George, has struggled mightily since taking the reins after Jose Peseiro’s departure.

With the Super Eagles struggling in the last two matches in CAF’s World Cup qualifying stage, the unthinkable stares us in the face — Nigeria could miss out on the 2026 tournament in the United States, Canada and Mexico. A draw at home to South Africa and a shocking loss in Benin has left the Super Eagles in a dire position that no true Nigerian football lover wants to comprehend.

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I’ll admit, I was one of those celebrating Finidi’s appointment at the time. An indigenous coach leading the national team has been a long-held desire of mine and many others. After all, the coaches who took Ivory Coast and Morocco to the heights of AFCON glory and a semi-final run at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar were both native sons. If they could instil a unique cultural identity and drive historic success, why couldn’t we?

How naive I was. Based on the evidence so far, Finidi looks completely out of his depth with this talented Nigerian squad. We have elite attacking talents like the hat-trick hero in the Europa Cup final, Ademola Lookman, Victor Osimhen and Victor Boniface.

Tactics and formation decisions have been baffling, to the point that Finidi seemed unfamiliar with the very concept in a recent interview. This is a team stacked with players featuring for some of Europe’s biggest clubs – they deserve much better guidance.

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The honest truth is that the former winger is clearly punching above his weight at this level. His two competitive matches have exposed glaring deficiencies that simply cannot be acceptable for a football nation of Nigeria’s pedigree.

We are the giants of African football, blessed with a rich talent pool and a proud history of success across age groups. Missed World Cups should be unthinkable, not peeking around the corner.

So where do we go from here? Finidi’s shortcomings are evident, but is frantically sacking him mid-campaign the answer? Or could a compromise solution of appointing an experienced technical advisor to work in tandem with the local coach provide the steady hand needed to right the ship? There are merits and pitfalls to either approach.

For those understandably clamouring for the hiring of an elite foreign coach, a tough question must be asked – can the Nigerian Football Federation realistically spend the amount required to bring in a world-class manager? Our economy has been battered in recent years, and funding may simply not exist for that level of splurge no matter how impactful on the pitch.

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Regardless of the direction taken, one thing is clear – the current situation is unacceptable for a nation with the size, resources and football heritage of Nigeria. We are the Super Eagles, the biggest footballing brand in Africa. We cannot be mere spectators at the grand festival of the World Cup.

The coming weeks will be critical for determining this team’s immediate future and pathway back to the global elite.

The Nigeria Football Federation would be wise to carefully weigh its options and take the decisive actions needed to protect the proud legacy of the green and white. When that legacy is threatened, the anger and passion of over 200 million Nigerians following this beautiful game will rain down with frightening force.

In this pivotal moment, I am reminded of the words of our former captain and national icon, Nwankwo Kanu: “If you don’t give your all, you won’t be able to succeed.”

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Our crest of the soaring eagle will be tarnished if this team doesn’t find the fighting spirit and unwavering belief within themselves to achieve their immense potential. Anything less would be an injustice to the crest, the jersey, and our passionate supporters singing for our darling Super Eagles.

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Views expressed by contributors are strictly personal and not of TheCable.
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