As the Super Eagles face the Brave Warriors on Sunday, the trainer is under a lot of pressure to deliver the dividends of his rebuilding process quickly
By Akinbode Oguntuyi
In less than 48 hours from now the serene city of Calabar, South East Nigeria, will host the Super Eagles of Nigeria as they take the first tentative steps towards qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
A few years ago, this game against the Brave Warriors of Namibia would have elicited only a passing interest from Nigerians. After all the "mighty" Super Eagles are drawn in an "easy" group that includes "minnows" of African football - Malawi, Kenya and Namibia.
Many fans would already have dismissed the pairings in this group, and would have started looking at the possible opponents for the World Cup place in the final round.
After all, none of these teams have ever recorded a win against any Nigerian team at any level: Kenya have lost the last four matches against Nigeria, both competitive and friendly; Rwanda have lost once in Nigeria, and drawn twice in front of their fans; while Namibia are patiently waiting their turn to feel the wrath of the Eagles.
But that's only on paper, things are different now, and the men that employed Stephen Keshi are getting jittery.
That is the indication of how far Nigerian football has crashed. The confirmation of the 65th place the Eagles currently sit in Fifa rankings: NFF and fans urging caution because the Brave Warriors of Namibia are coming.
How are the mighty fallen.
It is an open secret that one of the unspoken mandates given to Keshi when he got the Super Eagles job was to rebuild the team. The other unwritten part was, the how to do it.
That is why half way into the mandate given to the manager, the message from employers to employee has shifted from "rebuilding" to "we don't want to take any risks, time for experimenting is over".
New Super Eagles | Keshi's rebuilding process under pressure to succeed
This "new" Eagles team rose out of the ashes of an earlier rebuilding process by Samson Siasia. That process was truncated when Siasia developed cold feet, abandoned the project half way, and reverted to the "tried and trusted" in a futile attempt to qualify Nigeria for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations.
Now, we are almost back at the same spot. The question now is: what exactly do the officials of the Nigeria Football Federation want? That has always been the dilemma of every coach that the different administrations have employed since the heady days of Clemens Westerhof ended: to rebuild, or to maintain?
- The conventional wisdom is that the Super Eagles team as constituted under Shuaibu Amodu was a rickety patched-up job, an accident waiting to happen.
- The conventional wisdom is that you need to develop your home league to have a good base for the national team.
- The conventional wisdom is that you need to put together good pieces to make a solid national team; not throw together super stars, and hope for a miracle.
- The conventional wisdom is that: since we all know that any good thing takes a while to build - once the path is clear and set - we patiently work through the process.
But those are conventional wisdom. It is becoming apparent with every sacked coach that the only acceptable wisdom from the big wigs at the NFF is success, NOW. And try rebuild while at it. If you can.
That is the only way to explain the volte face of the NFF. There is absolutely no reason to wish for a repeat of what befell the Eagles in the recent past: mediocre players with big egos holding the nation to ransom; but that is where we are heading again.
The declaration by the head of the technical committee of the NFF will not only drain the confidence in the new team Keshi is building, it will ensure that the sniggering that started when this team fell to a last minute goal by Egypt, becomes laughter of derision from those players we now want to approach cap-in-hand again.
Their feeling of being indispensable strengthened by our collective lack of character to persevere through a rebuilding process.
What do we want exactly? To build a new team and reap abundant rewards later; or to keep returning to the "tried and tested", keep fumbling through mediocre results with the holy grail of regular tournament wins tantalizingly close but elusive?
Siasia started well, but succumbed to pressure halfway through and failed. The last thing he heard was the scornful laughter of those who "advised" him not to gamble.
We wait and see whether Keshi will follow the same route: the jesters are waiting to have a good laugh...on his account.