Wednesday, April 17, 2013

These Eaglets Are Special

I AM writing this on Tuesday morning, less than 48 hours after our Golden Eaglets demolished Ghana’s Black Starlets 6-1 at the African Under-17 Championship in Morocco. By the time you read this, our next game against Cote d’Ivoire may have been played and you would know the result but, for me, it doesn’t matter whether the Eaglets win or not. In fact, it doesn’t matter whether they win the tournament or qualify for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) later this year. In just one game against Ghana, I have seen enough to confirm my previous prediction that these Eaglets will go places.

Last December, I wrote in this column that this set of Eaglets put together by coach Manu Garba assisted by Emmanuel Amuneke, Nduka Ugbade and Emeka Amadi have the potential to win the FIFA (senior) World Cup itself in Qatar 2022. That must have sounded like a cracy prediction to some people but nobody thought lightweight Greece could ever win the European Championship or that little Togo will ever qualify for the World Cup. Yet, those episodes have come to pass as football continues to throw up surprises to confound its pundits. Cameroun at Italia ‘90, Nigeria at USA ‘94, Senegal at Korea/Japan 2002, Cote d’Ivoire at Germany 2006 and Ghana at South Africa 2010 have all demonstrated the potential of a black African team at the FIFA World Cup. One of them will definitely win it one day and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be Nigeria first.

I have published below excerpts from my December 2012 article titled “Nigeria – World Champions 2022.” If the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) missed it or didn’t take it seriously at the time, I hope they will pay greater attention now.

It’s uncommon for a Nigerian team, at any level, to completely dominate a Ghanaian team and defeat them so comprehensively as the Golden Eaglets did to the Black Starlets last Sunday in Morocco. Indeed, the Ghanaian coach Paa Kwesi Fabin who had boasted before the match that he knew how stop the Eaglets confessed after the match that “Nigeria surprised us; we didn’t see such a heavy defeat coming.”

On my part, the surprise was that the local Nigerian press was rather muted about the 6-1 scoreline. Going by  the historical rivalry between the two countries, I had expected a more jubilant celebration in our newspapers. Obviously the sports editors must have reasoned that this is a “mere” under-17 event but I disagree. Even if Nigerian cockroaches defeat Ghanaian cockroaches 6-1 in a football friendly, that for me  is a lead story!

Joking aside, I just think that these Eaglets are something special and we should treat them specially.
Unlike their Under-20 counterparts who don’t know how to put the ball into the net, what stands the Eaglets out is their ruthless finishing in front goal. And with the likes of four-goal hero against Ghana, Isaac Success hungry for more success, these Eaglets may yet be the one to fulfil Pele’s prediction of an African FIFA World Cup winner.

Over-aged Eaglets

THREE members of the Nigerian team were reportedly thrown out of the competition in Morocco after they failed the MRI test introduced by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to check age cheating at the cadet event. Cote d’Ivoire and Congo each also had three players expelled bringing the total to nine.

Considering how rampant age-cheating has been in Nigerian football, the fact that ONLY three Eaglets failed the test is a sign of progress (Lol). Nevertheless, the NFF should investigate the matter in order to establish whether the guilty players deliberately misled the coaches, or the coaches were complicit in falsifying the players’ ages.

The truth of the matter is that some players will continue to lie about their true ages in order to get into the national teams. It’s the job of the NFF and the coaches to fish them out.

In Defense of Taribo West

TALKING about age-cheating, former Super Eagles defender Taribo West was in the news recently when the president of his former Yugoslav club, Partisan Belgrade, accused him of lying about his true age.
Thankfully, Taribo has since received support from Inter Milan of Italy officials where he also played. But even before the Inter intervention, my position was that Partisan president Zarko Zerceric was talking rubbish.

Since he didn’t provide any substantive proof, I took his “revelation” as a smear campaign. Taribo is a Nigerian World Cup and Olympic hero and we mustn’t  jump at rubbishing our heroes at the prompting of some loudmouth foreigner. Our first reaction always should be to defend, not condemn our players, unless their guilt is proved beyond reasonable doubt.

Is NFF Broke!

THERE are “rumours” that the Nigeria Football Federation is broke. I call it rumours because I can’t believe it... yet.

For many years, we have criticized NFF managers for their profligacy but they have always told us to shut up. We have warned them about their bloated staff and we’ve been ignored. We have repeatedly attacked them for their penchant to turn every international assignment into a jamboree and we’ve often been told we were jealous. For decades, thanks to limitless government subvention, the NFF and its forerunner NFA spent money as if money was going out of fashion. Now, they tell us they are broke! I can’t believe it.

But it appears that the “rumour” is true. Last week, the technical committee announced Nigeria’s withdrawal from the CAF African Championship (CHAN) qualifiers for home-based players due to “paucity of funds.” We were told that the backroom staff of all the national teams will be reduced from 17 each  (can you imagine, 17!) to seven and one of the early victims is Super Eagles assistant coach Sylvannus Okpala who has been fired. We heard that match bonuses for the Super Eagles and their coaches (the highest in Africa and arguably one of the highest in the world!) will be reduced at least by 50 per cent. Other cost-cutting measures are expected to follow. Maybe the NFF is truly broke after all.

They had it coming. For so long, the NFF, despite hiding under “FIFA-autonomy” from government interference, became so reliant on government subvention that they didn’t market their national teams properties well. And even when sponsors voluntarily approached them, they sold the properties at a miserable price, and handed the big chunk of it to middlemen. Government subvention did not allow professionalism and enterprise to flourish in the commercial management of Nigerian football. I remember Taye Ige of Hotsports describing the “NFA” as a body standing by the river yet washing hands with spittle.

Now that government funding has become grossly inadequate like we have always predicted, the NFF has run into trouble. Unfortunately, they have not cultivated the private sector well enough to fall back on funding from corporate organizations. A long, dry road lies ahead unless government has a change of heart and provides additional funding. Not even the often under-reported FIFA grants can fill the hole in NFF’s pocket.

Although the current pain is self-inflicted, I still want to salute NFF President Aminu Maigari for finally summoning the courage to do the inevitable. Maigari met the culture of wanton profligacy at the Glass House which he found difficult to curb immediately lest he was resisted by vested interests.  But now that he has an alibi to make the necessary changes, he must go all the way.

If the NFF can pull Nigeria out of a developmental competition like the CHAN and reduce bonuses of players who are the main actors, then the cost-cutting must extend to executive committee members, staffers and National Assembly sports committee members and their hangers-on who have been feeding off Nigerian football and using it as their Automated Teller Machine.

Let’s hope that the days of the locust are truly over.

Keshi Goes AWOL

MEDIA reports suggested that Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi has complicated the on-going “crisis” in the national team by travelling to the United States last week reportedly without official permission from the Nigeria football Federation.

Personally, I can’t see any complications at all. How the NFF handles the matter on Keshi’s return will say a lot about their own capacity for man-management  (something that Keshi  is thought to lack), ahead of our crucial June fixtures.

I am still reserving my comments on the so-called Eagles “crises” but I will give a hint now: NFF should “manage” Keshi and leave Keshi to “manage” the players. A word is enough for the wise.

Champions League Finalists

THE draws for the European Champions League semi-finals were made last Friday with Bayern Munich confronting Barcelona and Borrusia Dortmund facing Real Madrid. Nobody knows for certain which teams will triumph in this Spain versus Germany double confrontation, but I’m placing an early bet on Bayern and Real facing off for the final on May 25th at Wembley Stadium.

Last year, I got into trouble with Chelsea fans when I predicted that Barcelona would beat them to face Real Madrid in the final. I scored zero out of two predictions as Real also lost to Bayern while Chelsea heroically eliminated Barcelona.

This year, I’m expecting my Octopus to score two out of two. I just think Jose Mourinho’s Real hunger will be too much for Borrusia to cope with while Bayern will decisively solve the Lionel Messi riddle. As PSG showed in the quarter-final, Barcelona are nothing against top opposition without Messi and Bayern would have taken notice and stop Barcelona.

Are you also bold enough to throw your hats into the ring? Send me your predictions!

Nigeria: World Champions, 2022

(Culled from Soccertalk, December 2012).

COMMENTATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, there goes the final whistle and history has been made. Nigeria are the first African country to win the FIFA World Cup. The Super Eagles have done it! They have beaten Brazil by two goals to one in front of 100,000 spectators at this magnificent air-conditioned stadium in Qatar. The Africans have won the first FIFA World Cup to be hosted in the Middle East. The prediction by the great Pele of an African World Cup triumph has finally come to pass. Ironically it is at the expense of his own country, Brazil. The Brazilian players are still in shock. But the Super Eagles are jubilant. They are dancing all over the pitch. Nigeria are world champions! What a story...

THE FOREGOING is my prediction for the Super Eagles in 2022, ten years from now. Yes, Nigeria will win the World Cup and the core of the team that will do it for us are the current Golden Eaglets.

In six qualifying matches played at home and away against Niger Republic, Guinea and Mali, the Eaglets emerged victorious on every occasion, scoring a massive 25 goals in the process and conceding only once.
Their opponents may not be rated highly even by African  standards, but when last did any Nigerian team win its matches so convincingly and in such commanding fashion even against the so called “minnows?” I have a very strong feeling that this particular set of Eaglets will achieve something great in the future.

Rather than tipping the Eaglets for glory just at next year’s (2013) African Under-17 Championship in Morocco or even the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in UAE also next year if they qualify, I have set a bigger goal for them because I want the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to start looking at the bigger picture and nurture this team accordingly. Whether the Eaglets win in Morocco or not, whether they qualify or win in UAE or not, the NFF should draw up a technical programme to keep and nurture them with the 2022 FIFA World Cup in mind.

There is a general consensus amongst football watchers that these Eaglets are the youngest to be assembled by Nigeria in recent times. Although few of the players may not be exactly under-17, they look and behave closer to 18 to 20-year-olds, rather than the 25 to 30-year-olds that have been paraded as Under-17s in the past. In 10 years’ time when I’m tipping them to win the World Cup for Nigeria, these boys will be at the peak of their careers as 28 to 30-year- olds with at least one World Cup experience (in 2018) under their belts.

I suggest that the NFF should draw up a detailed 10-year technical development plan for the Eaglets that will culminate in their winning the FIFA World Cup in Qatar come 2022.

The plan should set minimum standards for the players as they progress in their careers and stipulate how those who fail to meet those standards will be dropped and replaced systematically. The plan should include how the NFF will relate with the players’ present and future clubsides and their individual managers. The plan should also state at what point these players will be weaned from their present coaches and the condition for upgrading the coaches alongside, if necessary, as the team advances.

All these may sound rather academic and rigid for a game that is as unpredictable and spontaneous as football. But as Barcelona Football Club of Spain have proved in the last few years, football can be planned deliberately and played systematically with highly positive results.

Nigeria should take a cue and plan with a clear-cut objective to be world champions in 2022.


  1. Despite 3 of the players failing the MRI test, am still of the opinion that this is the youngest Eaglets team ever. However, let us remain muted about these so called 'special' Eaglets. Nigerian teams tend to disappoint when one start talking too much about or placing much expectations on them.

    Whether or not they emerged champions (in Africa or the world), what we need to do as you have said is to have "a plan with clear cut objectives" so the players can develop into world beaters.

    Agree with you completely on UCL predictions but Mourinho should be wary of these Germans!

  2. After this second match, oga Mumuni are you still willing to say this eaglets are special? Well I sincerely think they are not. Also, my take is that Manu Garba is not a technically sound coach and if this present crop of eaglets do qualify for the world, they will not lift the cup. They will not even get to the final. The saving grace for Nigeria would be for her to get a technically sound coach. A coach who have been with the national teams for more than a decade should know how to read a match but this Manu Garba doesn't and it's a pity.

  3. @ Anonymous Hmm...I wonder about the poor technical quality of your own comment as well. You glaringly failed to give us a catalogue of a sound technically competent coach.You see, I marvel at how Nigerians can be so quick to dismiss a budding team like this. These are eaglets, young boys who are just at the cradle of their football career. They played their hearts out and really did well to win the game against Ivorians. As a matter of fact, I watched the game on Eurosport and the usually highly critical commentators were so enthralled by the quality and depth of the technical display of these boys that they were qualified by many heartwarming adjectives. I live very close to Ajax stadium in Amsterdam and sometimes to kill boredom of winter, I visit the traning ground of Ajax academy. As the young lads are tutored on how to develop their skills, you wonder if they will ever excel because of the 'greeness'of their touches.But these experienced coaches know that with time, they will emerge as world beaters. My point,Europeans are patient and future-oriented in their objectives. Back home, we want quick fixes, quick money, quick relationships, quick prosperity and quick results. Nonsense! Please, you who know it all, can you suggest a suitable replacement for Manu Garba? What are the guarantees that "your superior and technically sound coach" will deliver? I have never been so proud as a Nigeria listening to the praises from the commentators yesterday even after the boys lost to the Ivorians. Mr. Mumini,I completely share your optimism and passion, these boys are going places.

  4. Oga Mumuni, abeg, first dream about the emergence of capable football administrators in Nigeria.
    The dream of a glorious 2022 is, well, far-fetched.

    The major hurdle these Eaglets face is the unwarranted pressure heaped on their young shoulders by a football culture that does not see beyond the present.

    Woe betide these young boys should they fail to win the CAF U-17 trophy.
    Even if they qualify for the FIFA U-17 W/Cup, they are condemned to win that too.
    Their level of play matters not. No one is going to analyse the participation of these boys in these DEVELOPMENT TOURNAMENTS; and no one is going to provide a road-map for their future.

    It is ridiculous that Nigeria has no football think-tank, an institution that harnesses Nigeria's best football brains solely for the development of the Nigerian game.
    It is not incredible to imagine that Match-Reports involving Nigerian teams are non-existent.
    Is there an exhaustive technical analysis of the recent AFCON 2013?

    Until proven managers are given the chance to administer football, Nigeria will often grope their way to the top of African football; but will always fall short of her true potential in world football.

    Lets face it: the NFF is a joke organisation over-run by incompetence.
    Sadly, I cannot laugh, because the joke is not on Maigari and Co.; it is on these Eaglets.

  5. @Manuel, you are quick to point out that Eurosport commentators praised the skills displayed by the eaglets but you never mentioned that this same commentators kept talking about the need for the coach to open up play using the wings. They talked about the need for the eaglets to do this throughout the match but they didn't. Whose fault is that? The players' or the coach? I don't need to mention any coach but I'll say that a technically sound coach is identified by how he reads a match and changes his strategy to counter those of his opponent. Did you see any of that from the eaglet's coach? Soccer has gone beyond playing fine football. What matters is your ability to put the ball in the net. Fine football without outscoring your opponent is nothing but defeat. Go and ask Brazil or find out why they modified their samba football. as individual players, the eaglets are good, don't misunderstand me. But the fact remains that the Ivorians were more disciplined and better organized than the eaglets and their coach was smarter than Manu Garba. Take it or leave it but time will tell.

  6. No need to quarrel here. Fball is about winning, losing and drawing. That match would have ended a draw if not for that mistake from that defender. The fact still remains that these boys are young and if managed like barca and egypt, we can get somewhere nice in d future.

  7. I'm tipping Barcelona and Dortmund for the UCL final.

  8. Emmanuel Amuneke actually played for Barcelona first team and Ugbade grew up through the school system, so I can't be surprised at the Eaglets' style.However if the NFF cannot tell Nigerians the school records of these 14 - 16 year old players, then we are still beating about the bush. Of what use are the Shell Cup,Principals Cup etc if the talents discovered therein are not playing for the national under 17 team? The current wild celebrations are only putting unnecessary pressur e on these kids.

  9. I want to disagree with popular views about the eaglets coach, Manu Garba. He may not be sound technically, but when it comes to fishing out young talents, he is good at that. In 2007, he was part of the Yemi Tella coaching crew and we can testify that those boys were exceptional in their play.
    However, coming to these present eaglets, I'd say they have these cohesiveness about their play. I hope they are kept together for a long time because it will benefit our super eagles in the future. I just hope what happened to the 2007 set does not happen to this 2013 set.

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