The Super Eagles, after titillating the insatiable appetite of over two million football-loving Nigerians with their stellar performance at the group stage of the on-going Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Cameroon, have painfully crashed out of the competition at the Round of 16.
The Super Eagles posted a 5-star performance, winning all their three group stage matches and earning the maximum nine points in the process. The Augustine Eguavoen-tutored Super Eagles defeated seven-time winners and tournament favourites, Egypt 1-0; dumped hard-fighting Sudan 3-1 before outclassing Guinea Bissau by two goals to nil.
It was the first time the Super Eagles were achieving such a feat in a major tournament and were the only team at the Cup of Nations to hit that target, not even the hosts, Cameroon, who settled for seven points.
The feat automatically conferred the tag “tournament favourites” on the Super Eagles, with pundits such as Nwankwo Kanu, Ghanaian ex-international Asamoah Gyan and Leicester manager, Brendan Rodgers, all tipping the team to return with the trophy to Nigeria.
After their scintillating group stage showing, the Super Eagles shattered the raised hopes of Nigerians when they failed to perform when it mattered most, losing 0-1 to a highly tactical Tunisian team and crashing out of the tournament in the process. The round of 16 encounter was an anti-climax for the Super Eagles.
The lacklustre performance of the team left millions of Nigerians routing for team back home speechless just as the 500-man strong supporters club dumbfounded as they lost their voice and could only watch with disbelief and mouth agape as the minutes and seconds ticked by to the end of the match.
Nigerians were baffled. Were these the same guys who mesmerized Mo’ Salah and his team mates, some asked? Was there a dressing room bust up before the game? What exactly went wrong in the match? So many questions begging for answers.
Giving his opinion on what went wrong in the match against Tunisia, Head of Sports Desk, Ray Power FM, Yenagoa, Patrick Osuagwu, said the tactics the Tunisian camp deployed was to close down on the wingers, Samuel Chukwueze and Simon Moses since the strength of the Super Eagles lies in the flanks, and it paid off.
Seeing that his game plan was not working, Eguavoen ought to have changed his tactics but he did not. He went on to state, during the post-match conference, that you do not change tactics in the middle of a competition! Another problem was that the Eagles allowed their fine run in the group stage get into their heads and they underrated the Tunisians.
The outcome of the match raised a lot of questions concerning the competence and technical depth of Eguavoen and by extension, all the local coaches, who have been clamouring to be given the opportunity to handle Nigerian national teams. Do they have the competence to read matches and neutralize their opposite numbers’ strategies?
For many Nigerians, Eguavoen ran out of ideas against a technically disciplined Tunisian side. He was hapless, leading many to ask if Nigeria should ever give local coaches any chance again, whether on interim or permanent basis.
Since October 8, 1949, when Nigeria played its first-ever international football match against Sierra Leone, the country has had a total of 48 coaches, 23 of whom were foreigners while local coaches accounted for 25. When Jose Peseiro mounts the saddle, he will be the country’s 24th foreign coach.
John Finch, an English man, was the first-ever coach of the (then) Green Eagles while Daniel Anyiam, appointed in 1954, was the first local coach. In fairness to them, a good number of the Nigerian coaches, who have handled the senior national team, gave a good account of themselves while they held sway.
When asked if Eguavoen was a good advert for local coaches, the National Vice President of Youth Sports Federation of Nigeria (YSFON), South-South zone, Kali Gwegwe, said Austin Eguavoen may have been technically incompetent in Nigeria’s match against Tunisia, but he (Gwegwe) still pitches his tent with local coaches, pointing out that engaging foreign coaches was counter-productive.
According to Gwegwe, “The issue of foreign coach for our national teams is counter-productive. Frankly, our local coaches can do what the foreign coaches do. The problem has always been the “Nigerian factor”. This factor has to do with favouritism and tribalism. Apart from these factors, there is nothing a foreign coach would do that local coaches cannot do.
“With regard to Eguavoen being a good representation for local coaches, I am of the opinion that he is. Nevertheless, the NFF needs to put in place a grading, reward and discipline regime to put the coaching profession in the right track. The NFF should provide the enabling environment for local coaches to succeed. Coaching of national teams should not be an all-comers affair.
“Let me add that the success of a coach is determined by technical competence, sincerity, vision, courage, carriage and backing by the employers. Most local coaches lack sincerity and technical competence, which are the major ingredients in coaching. This is why they fail. Nigeria lost to Tunisia because of the technical shortcoming of Eguavoen. It takes a sound coach to know that knock out stages have a different spirit and approach. This is where North African countries are better.
He said Nigeria should start grooming its local coaches to man the country’s national teams, adding that coaching is not rocket science.
Contributing to the issue of choice of coach, the Head of Sports, Niger Delta Television, Gbarantoru, Mr George Ameli, said “Eguavoen, in my opinion, is a very good representation of local coaches, coupled with his exposure and is equiped for the job.You have to wonder why the administrators are comfortable keeping him as Technical Director but uncomfortable keeping him as Technical Adviser.
The tactical discipline of the Tunisians was too strong for the Super Eagles and when you are faced with such a scenario you shouldn’t offer gifts like our defence did because the opponent will nail you and close shop, which was exactly what the Tunisians did. But that does not take anything away from local coaches. I stand with them.
On his part, Loveday Herbert, sports editor of the “New Waves” newspaper, said “After so many years, I saw a re-branded Super Eagles under the current technical crew. Though, the Super Eagles lost at the knockout stage, their performance was not below par. In my opinion, Eguavoen and his crew should be retained. If the NFF insists on a foreign coach, it must be a world class, grade “A” tactician. If the same length of time and backing given to a foreign coach is given to our domestic products, they will do better”.
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Also speaking, Head of Sports Desk, Ray Power FM, Yenagoa, Patrick Osuagwu, said, “For me, Coach Eguavoen did well, especially in the group games where we saw the Super Eagles express themselves beautifully on the pitch, showcasing their skills and commanding ball possession. Eguavoen’s tactics paid off, which saw him winning the Best Coach of the group stage.
“For the former player, I can say his experience helped him, since he had handled the team before, and also coached some football teams in the country’s elite league. Austin Eguavoen is good, but I have my reservations about other local coaches.
“Some local coaches should be given the opportunity but certainly not all of them. Competitions like the CHAN tournament should be the testing ground for the local coaches before graduating to handling the Super Eagles in grade “A” competitions like the Cup of Nations. For now, I would rather have a foreign coach with pedigree instead of local coaches”, Osuagwu concluded.
Chairman of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN), Bayelsa State Council, Alambo Fred Datonye said, “My take in all of this is that Nigerians were too much in a hurry to demand the sack of Gernot Rohr. The Franco-German came when we could not qualify for two straight AFCON tournaments, in 2015 and 2017. He qualified the team for the 2019 AFCON and got to 3rd place, qualified for the 2018 World Cup, qualified for 2019 AFCON and reached the final play off stage for the 2022 World Cup, yet he was fired.
“We disrupted the team’s rhythm with his sack. Nigerians celebrated Eguavoen too early. When he met a tactically disciplined and savvy Tunisian side he was clearly outfoxed and had no answer. If we are to give local coaches any chance, it should be on track record of achievements and merit. For me, Emmanuel Amunike or George Finidi are better. So, until our local coaches are ripe enough, I am afraid we should continue to rely on foreign coaches.
Surprisingly, in spite of Eguavoen not being a good advert for local football coaches, at least in that match against Tunisia, pundits say they prefer local coaches to their foreign counterparts but insist that local coaches should be supported and accorded the same respect given to foreign tacticians.