As the World Cup approaches, Nigeria need to have a good strategy that will ensure the best possible players are the one that will wear her colours in Brazil next year
By Babajide Alaka
That the Super Eagles have one leg in Brazil is stating the obvious, what must be running through coach Stephen Keshi’s mind would be how to package a very competitive set of players for the team as Nigeria steps out in its fifth quest at the World Cup.
While less endowed and less talented countries (no pun intended) like Senegal and Cameroon have gone to the quarter-final stage of the Mundial, the best that Nigeria has done is the second round in 1994 and 1998. The purpose of going to Brazil next year should then be to go past the stages where we have failed previously.
So whether it is the issue of Peter Odemwingie or Joseph Yobo returning to the fold of the Super Eagles, Nigerian football fans will always have diverse and sometimes divisive opinions.
But in a stat-fuelled football environment, we need to examine the basis of the recall or call-up as the case of someone like Imoh Ezekiel, may be. The point that has to be emphasized is that this x-raying is to ensure that Nigeria – if we qualify for the 2014 World Cup – go to the Mundial with her best set of 23 players.
Also it needs to be re-emphasized that the coach has the prerogative in all matters that pertain to player selection. He knows the right combinations (or we assume he knows). It must also be said that some players may be magnificent for their clubs but do not fit the psyche of the national team or as some would say – they are of a ‘disruptive influence’.
And we should also not be dogmatic in our approach to making the Super Eagles a highly competitive team come the World Cup in Brazil. On this level of altruism we can begin to tell ourselves the ‘real’ truth that stares us in the face and not cut off our nose because we want to spite the face.
Which players have the technical, tactical nous and the intelligence required to help the national team achieve at least a quarter-final place in Brazil? That should be the question before we start asking ourselves whether they fit the coach’s purpose or not.
It will also take reminding that Romario was not the most personable player even amongst his teammates but the team recognized that he would be a vital cog in their winning the World Cup in 1994. All kowtowed to him and they won their prize. When he was deemed surplus to requirements in 2002, he was jettisoned by Phil Scolari. Like I said, all this argument will be brokered by Stephen Keshi and his judgment will be deemed the final response.
So who are those that should be recalled? Is it Joseph Yobo, Peter Odemwingie, Obafemi Martins, Ikechukwu Uche, Lukman Haruna, Taiye Taiwo, Sone Aluko, Victor Anichebe, Joel Obi, Chinedu Obasi (if he ever gets fit)? The list goes on and on.
Or is it the likes of Imoh Ezekiel, Leon Aderemi and Nedum Onuoha who have not played for the national team. Should they be invited to fight for places in the team? Everyone would probably have their own list of players but all cannot be mentioned in this article.
We then have to look at the players currently in the national team and evaluate whether they will be able to stand world-class competition.
At that point we can then make intelligent and cogent statements concerning who should or should not be in the team to Brazil putting at the back of our minds that it is not the starting 11 that wins tournaments but the whole squad of 23 players. Then and only then can we begin to argue on whose place is merited or not.