Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Eagles Not Yet Super, Says Mastoroudes

WITH the AFCON 2013 celebrations effectively over for Nigeria, it is gratifying to note that the Football Federation (NFF) and Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi have accepted good counsel to bury the hatchet and start planning for the next challenge for the African champions. Last weekend, respected football aficionado John Mastoroudes was the guest on my programme, Soccertalk on Radio. While congratulating Keshi on his achievement, the former Leventis United boss says the Super Eagles are still far away from world class. Enjoy my conversation with Mastoroudes as he bluntly dissects the much celebrated African champions...

Mumini: The euphoria of Nigeria’s victory at the 2013 AFCON is beginning to die down, but I’ m sure you still have a few things to say about the tournament.

John: Exactly what you said, Mumini. There is definitely euphoria in the air; there is hope of the Super Eagles eventually becoming an international force so that the world will start appreciating the strength of our team as Champions of Africa. It‘s good that we are still jubilating. We have bragging rights as African Champions until the next competition and so we can keep celebrating.

However, I was very pleased to hear (Super Eagles coach Stephen) Keshi say the team is still in progress because we just cannot think we have reached our peak yet. We still have to work hard to become a dominant force in world football. You can win a tournament with a lot of things working in your favour.
But we still don’t have a complete team yet. For me, there are certain things that we really need to put in place to become a world force. I‘m happy that Keshi acknowledged this too and is ready to continue working hard to make the team stronger.

Mumini: Did you ever imagine that the team could win the AFCON in South Africa prior to the start of the competition?

John:  No, I did not believe Nigeria could win. In the first three games, the team did not do well. It was not until the closing stage of the third game against Ethiopia that we were sure of making it to the next round. Everyone was skeptical about the team‘s chances, in the first round.

In the first game against Burkina Faso, we saw a disjointed Super Eagles. As a matter of fact, I was so disappointed with their performance in that game. I started thinking that the condition of the pitch, which was not good, affected the performance of our boys. But at the same time, there was no co-ordination in the defence, midfield and attack. I think what really helped the team at the stage was the influence of our goalkeeper (Vincent Enyeama). He did a good job in organizing his defence well. I must say Enyeama had an excellent tournament.

Mikel Obi too had an excellent tournament. I never saw him play so well for Nigeria in the past, like he did in South Africa. But the revelation of the tournament was Victor Moses, because without him our attack could have been totally un-coordinated. That showed in the game he didn’t play. Emmanuel Emenike deserves commendation, too. He justified the faith of the coaches in him. But Brown Ideye, Ahmed Musa and Ikechukwu Uche, I didn’t think were good enough.

In the midfield, Sunday Mba scored two fantastic goals. What made the two goals fantastic was not the way he scored them but the manner in which he worked his way into those good positions. But the rest of his game was nothing to write home about. He fought well, but didn’t exhibit much football class.  Ogenyi Onazi from Lazio had a good tournament. He played very well and brought a lot of stability to the midfield unlike when Fengor Ogude was played in that position. Ogude was just committing fouls and there was not one good pass from him. I think Inter Milan‘s Joel Obi – who missed the tournament due to injury – would be a good addition to the team. He will certainly bring solidity to our midfield.

Then, we still need two strikers especially an outside right (Number 7). Musa had so much potential but I don’t know what happened to him. The orange tint on his hair didn’t help him.  It was not until the last two games that he actually played better. He was falling on the ground and couldn’t control the ball well; he ran faster than the ball. His fall in the final match when a pass from Moses was coming to him was certainly the biggest joke of the tournament. We need to add quality players to our attack; strikers who are of international standards.

The defenders are good. Ambrose Efe, for me, was a revelation. Remember that at the start of the tournament, I told you that it is important for us to have good full backs. Full backs who will help the defence and also join in the attack. Ambrose and Elderson Echiejile both had a good tournament. However, I’m concerned that if anything happens to either of them, we might find it difficult to replace them. We still need to build a stronger squad.

The two central defenders -Kenneth Omeruo and Godfrey Oboabona- I think will play together for a long time. They have the talent and will grow as well. The two of them have a great future ahead. However, I am of the opinion that they played pure, physical African football which is why they did well. If we meet skillful squads, teams that put the ball down and have good technique; I don’t know how well they will cope with that. As far as African football is concerned, in which you play with speed and power, they did well, but international football is totally different. In the beginning, the defense was not solid enough, we conceded some goals which I refer to as jokes. But we were lucky to progress until the team later improved.

Mumini: Obviously, Nigerians are just happy that the Super Eagles won the Nations Cup and it seems most people are not really looking critically at all these details you are talking about. Next month, the 2014 World Cup qualifiers will resume and all the points you mentioned need to be addressed.  How quickly do you think Keshi will be able to plug all the holes you just talked about?

John: As a matter of fact, I think he himself must have definitely seen most of those things and I‘m sure he has a pool of players he can call upon now to beef up the team.

There are some players we didn’t call in the past who I think can still help the team. I‘m thinking of Osaze Odemwingie even though it is not ideal to start bringing new players in, especially those he did not want in the first place. But I don’t think it will be a bad idea to bring in one or two. Odemwingie will certainly bring class to the team. Assuming he has any remorse for what he has done, if he comes with his tails between his legs and follows the coaches’ instructions, he will definitely help the team. We don’t have a striker of his class in the team at the moment.

Mumini: You are right there because the moment Emenike had an injury and couldn’t play in the final, the attack was generally blunt?

John: Ideye is a good striker but he cannot function without Emenike. On his own, he can do nothing. That is my personal assessment.

Emenike’s problem in the past with the Super Eagles was that he was not scoring. Now he has his scoring boots laced on firmly, he has shown how prolific he can be for both club and country. What impressed me most is not that he scored four goals at the Nations Cup because he missed some good scoring chances, too. But it is his fighting spirit that really impressed me.

 Ideye, who I do not value as a striker also fought for the team, too. He was always running, fighting to get the ball back. The same thing with Sunday Mba.  Even though I didn’t see much class from him as a footballer, he was always fighting too. That was what we lacked in the recent past; we lacked the fighting spirit. That spirit was so evident in South Africa. You see, our boys came into the competition as underdogs.

In my article before we played against Ivory Coast, I called on soccer-loving Nigerians to rally behind the Super Eagles. Rallying behind them was what would give them the positive energy to do well. We did that and totally outplayed the Ivorians. Most importantly, we played on a good pitch which allowed our boys to exhibit their class. Against Mali, it was another superb performance from our boys. It was even better than what we saw against Ivory Coast.  From the beginning, I said that the Ivorian team was old. So, we took advantage of that, we also played as a team and beat them hands down. As a matter of fact, the 2-1 final score line was not a true reflection of the game.

Mumini: Now, I will like you to comment on the home boys that made the team. A lot of Nigerians are expecting that the home boys should play bigger roles in the Super Eagles.  Do you agree?

John: Well, the home-based guys who played in South Africa did well. I think they have the potential to play better than they did. They will grow but they can‘t do that in our league here. These boys, I’m talking about the home-based lads, very soon will want to become professionals. I‘m of the opinion that we should not discriminate between home and foreign based players; everybody who is a Nigerian deserves to play in the national team if he is good. Therefore, I don’t want to make any distinction.

Now, if he (Keshi) can find some more talents, for example there is a guy (Ejike Uzoenyi) who is a good left winger. I saw him last year when he was introduced in some games; he exhibited good skills and class. In subsequent games, he completely collapsed; he was not the same player and that was why he was not used again. I don’t want to place so much emphasis on this because, as I said earlier, any player our national team coaches find in the national league who can do well, will not be playing in the league in the next six months. What do you do then? Should we just leave it at that?

It is the duty of our coaches, not the national team coaches alone, but all other coaches, too, to recommend good players to their colleagues who are managing the various national teams. Then, they will go and look at such players. In addition, there should be proper communication on the players needed: left full backs, wingers and all different positions. Keshi should begin to do this. That is what I’m looking forward to.  The coaches should be able to recommend players to him which he in turn he will assess. That is how it should be done.

Mumini:  The point you are making is that irrespective of where players are playing, home or abroad, Keshi should just go for Nigeria’s best players?

John: I don’t like this idea of people thinking that it is because Keshi selected six home-based players that we did well in South Africa. That‘s not right. If people are saying he should use more home-based players and Keshi follows the trend like Samson Siaisa did then, well…. you know Siasia listened to what Nigerians were saying, and then thought he could do anything he liked. He later found out that it was not right.

Mumini:  Let‘s look at the immediate assignment before the Super Eagles, that is the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. From what we saw at the Nations Cup, quite a number of African countries like Cape Verde and Burkina Faso are coming through strongly. They have shown they are also good. The traditional top teams like Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Algeria and Tunisia are still there. Cameroun and Egypt will also be back. How do you think Nigeria will cope? Remember there are still  only five World Cup tickets for African teams.

John: Well, as African Champions we have already made a statement on what we can do. By rights, we have got to be there. Unfortunately, that right must be exhibited on the field of play; we have to work for the points that will ensure we qualify for Brazil 2014. I believe that our success in South Africa is going to make our boys respect themselves more, that’s an important thing. As long as they realize that they are champions and they go out determined to teach the other teams a lesson. Once they go with this strong attitude, then they will qualify. Even though anybody can beat anybody in Africa nowadays, we have to fight for it. You have to be totally superior to the other teams to be sure of qualifying. Now we are superior to the other teams, but I hope we will go out there and prove it that we are champions.

Mumini:  Talking about being Champions, you made history with Leventis United when you were the Manager of that great team. They were Champions in Nigeria’s division three, division two and division one in successive years during the 1980s. We will like to learn one or two things from there, in order to give us a consistent Super Eagles.  How did you do it back then?

John: One important thing is that there must be continuous motivation and continuous refreshment of the team. For example, the team that won the Nations Cup might not be good enough to do well at the World Cup where the stakes will be higher. That is why I’m saying Keshi has to enlarge his squad with players that can help him achieve his aim. If the two full backs are not playing, I don’t think we have good replacements. I remember that when Echejile sustained an injury, I was scared for the player -Juwon Oshaniwa- brought in to replace him. Keshi needs to start using more players now. Thank God we have the Confederations Cup coming up in June in Brazil. We must use that competition to bring in some good players into the team.

nPOST SCRIPT: What are your views on Mastoroudes’ critical analysis of the Super Eagles? Send your response to 08179545076 or soccertalk@ Better still, you may visit my blog today to post your comment and join the conversation at the forum. See you there.

Barca in Danger

nI AM  writing this ahead of the Spanish Copa del Rey second leg clash between Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Nou Camp, so I can’t comment on the outcome (You know the result). Both sides meet up again on Saturday in the Spanish League but that match may be of little significance as Barcelona already have a good points cushion to regain the League title by season’s end.

The tie that is of interest to me concerning Barca is their Round of 16 clash with AC Milan in the Champions League. Milan’s 2-0 first leg win at San Siro last week was so comprehensive that it is difficult to see a way back for Lionel Messi and co.

The signs are ominous for Barcelona because it was in similar fashion that another Italian team, Inter Milan, under Jose Mourinho eliminated them from the same competition in 2010. I can’t wait for the return leg at the Nou Camp to see how the Catalans will try to unlock an inspired, water-tight Milan defence and still stop the dangerous counter-attacking Milan forward line from doing further damage at the other end.

In my opinion, this is the game that will define Barcelona’s 2012/2013 season.


  1. Mr Mastroudes is right on the button when he says players like Ideye and Mba lack real class, but show lots of fight. Translation: less style, more energy.
    Ideye/Mba's qualities are the components Eagles have lacked in the last decade.
    Classy players like Osaze maybe reference-points for the pundits, and in the coaches' manuals, for their cerebral play, but they win no trophies.
    Let the records show that every successful side has possessed a blend of craft and GRIT. Craft, contributed by the classy players; GRIT, delivered by the artisans, the "foot-soldiers" who would make that extra tackle, or strike that speculative shot from an impossible angle, or run that unnecessary extra yard.
    Football never ceases to teach us that the game defies some of our old cliches. Quality does not always trump substance. Ask Cote D'Ivoire.
    So lets not "over-fix" a decent thing here. Our bane these unsuccessful years past has been our obsession to re-create that squad of 1994 which was a team staffed by hybrids of craft and graft(Amokachi, Amuneke, Adepoju, Iroha, even Yekini)
    On a scale of craft and class, the current squad is probably the least equipped of our cup winning squads. But not even our super-1994 class won AFCON so convincingly.
    Listening to Keshi, the Big Boss seems to have drawn on his long experience to identify the kind of players required to develop this project.
    Keshi has achieved the right balance in the squad, and must proceed on this trajectory.
    With due respect, Mr Mastroudes, I will take Ideye over Osaze everyday of the week all year long.

  2. Osaze is not a discipline player,he is always having qualms with his coaches which is vry bad and can lead to distractn to other player.But he is a gud lad though.

  3. OSAZE, is still very much needed he brings experience and even positive leadership into the team especially when it comes to his work rate on the pitch, however his recent antecedents has only marred his climaxing career. I put it to you all that if osaze,BIG boss and NFF can put away their differences, it would yield good fruits for the EAgles.
    Joel Obi absence was greatly felt by my own assessment, having the two OBI's on that midfield would a great plus for the Eagles, then as for Mba's apparent Fighting spirit and lack of "class" well considering a player of his "class" the dude can only get better with time, unless he is a fake sha.
    finally, with reference to the need for more deadly Strike force, nobody is talking about Chinedu ObasI or bringing back Martins

  4. Am Bengy I reside in California.Ade Orile airs my exact views, Mastaroudes hope I got the spelling right, the eagles project is on the right track, Germany won world cups with no more than one or two crafty and classy players each time, even worse Italy won world cups with no more than one crafty and classy player with a striker who knows where the goal post is, pls check. I respect your view but Ade Orile is spot on you missed the mark, we want a team of 90% gritty players and 10% class and crafty ones, always a winning formular ask ivory coast,Mali, and Burkina faso.Osaze should just face his club career now and forget eagles he does not respect any coach, the small money he is making in the UK has flushed his manners, the money he makes 35k pounds a week compared to what yaya toure makes a week 200k pounds,big player my foot he should go and sit down. We do not need him cause he will only come and upset the balance in the team, Keshi is not stupid you know. He is bad luck, case closed.

  5. @ Ada, you know what is classy? Your comment... speechless

  6. There is no doubt that this class of Eagles is less endowed compared to the class of 1980 & 1994. However, I think we are 70% there. We just need 5-8 players (with commitment & same fighting spirit) to strengthen the team and the coach is in the best position to determine the players needed. The good thing is that Keshi himself has admitted that the team is still growing.

  7. Gentlemen, I think Mr. Mastoroudes hit the mark with the point that international football is a different ball game. In Africa, you need grit and ruggedness to win matches but on the world stage, you need to add flair, experience, intelligence, style and technique. That is why up till now, most African team stumbles at the senior level on the world stage.
    Someone mentioned d Italian and German teams that won the WC. They may not have ball jugglers and wizards like Messi and CR, but they have extremely talented and intelligent players who have their own unique styles.
    The confederation cup would help us figure out where the present SE stands in this regard.
    We should be careful of over-estimating the potential of the players. Many of the teams we played @ AFCON are not the best we played in recent years. Part of our continuity bane in the 80s and 90s is that success always made us feel we can conquer the world. Media and fans start talking of winning everything "winnable", players attitude change, complacency creeps in, we crumple like a pack of cigarettes and the cycle starts...
    Truth is that dis team is not even halfway to becoming a global dominant force.

  8. All the so called "not yet classy" players need is exposure. One thing that is glaringly missing is a complete attacking midfielder. We have him already, just need to nurture him back to his real self. His name is Rabiu Ibrahim. The boy is too good to be on the bench. Something is defintely wrong somewhere. He needs to come home and check the "spiritual" side of thingsto ascertain what could possibly be amiss. As for Osaze, he was one of the clique tha plotted Siasia's fall. I know what I'm talking about. They were all here in Miami in 2011. I won't say more than that.

  9. @Dele, Rabiu needs to come back to Naija and join any of the top flight teams to prove himself. He is warming the kilmarnock bench week in week out in Scotland back water league (remove Celtic and possibly Rangers, all other teams are subpar). To me I don't think he is SE material for now. By the way he was in Faro camp pre-Afcon and was dropped.

  10. Oga Kuma,
    That Rabiu is warming the bench does not mean he is not in shape. He still has to go through the physical training the team practices all the time. What Keshi needs to do is to see him in an Eagle friendly for at least 30 minutes to judge if he's ready or not. Against Catalonoia, he was on for less that 5 minutes, during which time he never even touch the ball

  11. @Dele, I do agree with you 100% on Rabiu about going through daily training with Kilmarnock (so it is assume he is in shape). However, if Rabiu cannot make the first eleven or at least start over 50% of Kilmarnock games since he moved there, then something is happening somewhere. Maybe only these coaches are seeing it (from Sporting in Portugal to PSV Holland to Celtic and now Kilmarnock). Rabiu's is loved by many and I am sure you do too, however he needs to show his quality(ies) at the club level first and then get an invite to SE. SE needs more creativity in the midfield just as you have mentioned in your first post and I do agree with you.

  12. A good manager doesn,t always goes after his staff,s shortcomings especially when he has the potential to get the job done.Keshi should learn from siasia.It is only with an open mind that a coach can succeed.Keshi should forget about the past and invite those needed to execute the confederation cup glory.thanks

  13. I agree with you all. I recently organized a camp on organize youth Soccer Camps and next month I have a team going there to perform in the camp

  14. Nigerian team has proved that they are best in African continent -