By Ed Dove
The makeup of Nigeria’s 30 man provisional World Cup squad was debated intensely before the federation’s official announcement, and the deliberation has continued extensively since Stephen Keshi revealed his selection.
In the days leading up to the announcement, I invited Super Eagles fans to access an app I had created on my website which allowed supporters to choose their own Nigeria squad of 30. (The Nigeria Squad Selector App)
In the few days before the official squad reveal, over 13,000 people accessed the resource and many posted their results on Twitter or shared them with the rest of the national fanbase.
I have subsequently used the results to calculate the most popular XI and the 30 players who were chosen the most regularly by Super Eagles fans to be a part of their World Cup preliminary squad.
In this feature, I compare the results of my Nigeria Squad Selector with the squad of 30 as chosen by the Big Boss to represent the nation in Brazil.
Keshi | Much Scrutinised
Fascinatingly, the biggest surprise among Keshi’s squad of 30 also happened to be the player who most divided Nigeria fans. Of the 76 options for the Super Eagles squad selector, Joel Obi was the only one who split fans 50-50. Exactly half of Nigeria fans voted him into their squad of 30, while exactly 50% opted to ignore him.
It is intriguing that arguably Keshi took his biggest gamble on the player who exactly divides the Nigeria fanbase.
I would suggest, however, that these results are slightly skewed by the midfielder’s dire injury record.
Certainly, the response to Obi’s inclusion has been almost wholly positive; if fit, there are few Nigerians who wouldn’t want him in the squad. I suspect that the 50% of voters who ignored him, did so largely because of the risk he represents and the suspicion that he might not be fit, rather than because of any inadequacy on the player’s part.
Indeed, I believe that had Nigeria fans realised, five days ago, that Obi would be fit enough for consideration, he would have received the favour of far more than 50% of fans.
Joel Obi | The Perfect 50-50 Split
Seven players featured in the average 30 as chosen by Nigeria fans but didn’t make Stephen Keshi’s final cut. Of these, perhaps only two could be considered a shock.
Leon Balogun, after only a brief cameo with the national side, was chosen by 71% of fans, but was overlooked by Keshi. Almost 16% of respondents even wanted the Germany-based defender in their starting XI.
Again, with opposite results to Joel Obi, injuries may well have been the decisive factor here, as Balogun hasn’t played since making his Super Eagles debut against Mexico in March.
Balogun omission leaves 71% of fans disappointed
Of the shortlist of 76 names, Ideye Brown was the 23rd most popular player.
51% of fans named the Dynamo Kyiv man in their squad of 30, but he too has missed out. Four respondents, @k_ef4real, @FisayoDairo, @rakspd and @adesam1998 even backed Ideye for the starting XI, but it seems as though the forward’s impotent displays have finally caught up with him.
The other six names are interesting, and perhaps reveal that Keshi is more conservative and less adventurous then an average Super Eagles fan.
Obasi | Chosen by 60% of Nigeria fans...but not by Keshi
Over 60% of respondents wanted Chinedu Obasi in their squad of 30—I advocated the Schalke forward’s case in a recent feature with Goal Nigeria but my pleas, it seems, fell on deaf ears, as the versatile forward has missed out.
Further attacking options that were popular among Nigeria fans include Ike Uche (51%) and Sone Aluko (48%). Keshi has resisted the temptation to turn to these two and has, instead, plumped for Uche Nwofor and Michel Babatunde.
The former was chosen by a tiny minority of only 7.3% of Nigeria fans, while Babatunde was hardly more popular, being chosen by less than 10% of respondents.
Uche may have had his (well-publicised) issues with Keshi, but can the Big Boss honestly say that Nwofor and Babatunde are going to be more effective in Brazil than the Villarreal man, Aluko or Obasi?
Taiwo | 40% of you wanted him as backup, Keshi says no
Similarly, Taye Taiwo was a popular option among Nigeria fans, being named by 40% of ‘would-be Keshis’. 8.5% of respondents even backed the Bursaspor man to steal a starting berth ahead of Elderson Echiejile, who has played only thrice since moving to Monaco in January.
Despite ongoing concerns about the left-back’s fitness, Keshi has not been as adventurous as average Nigeria fans about resolving this issue. Instead of turning to Taiwo, the Big Boss has picked Juwon Oshaniwa as backup to Elderson.
Oshaniwa, by contrast, was only selected by 23% of voters.
52% of fans opted to name Lukman Haruna in their World Cup 30, with almost 5% of supporters even backing the Dynamo Kyiv man to take a starting role as the side’s ‘Third Man’. Notably, however, Haruna was less popular than Sunday Mba (73%), Ramon Azeez (60%) and Nosa Igiebor (56%), and only 2% more popular than Joel Obi.
Of the central midfielders in the running to provide backup to Ogenyi Onazi and John Obi Mikel, or even start alongside them, Haruna was always going to face a struggle to reassert himself.
Agbim | The faith of the manager, not of the fans
The squad of 30 contains seven players who were not among the Nigeria fans’ favoured 30. I have already mentioned Uche Nwofor, Michel Babatunde and Juwon Oshaniwa, while Dan Akpeyi cannot fairly be considered in the statistics as his name was added to the squad selector options only after the squad reveal.
Despite his struggles at the Championship of African Nations, and the bad press he has received subsequently, Chigozie Agbim was selected by 26% of voters. Largely, I suspect, this was due to a dearth of other, realistic options.
Similarly, Reuben Gabriel was only called up by 13% of fans who compiled their own squad lists. The electorate, it appears, are unable to perceive what Keshi sees in the Waasland-Beveren man.
Finally, Nnamdi Oduamadi was chosen by only 37% of respondents. The Varese man isn’t too far away from favour among Nigeria fans, but his underwhelming showings recently have erased the memory of his fine outings against Kenya and Tahiti. The Milan loanee needs to make the most of the coming weeks to ensure he is on the plane to Brazil.
Odumadi | Super Eagles fans remain unconvinced
One thing that has become apparent to those Nigeria fans who attempted my Super Eagles Squad Selector is just how difficult Keshi’s job is.
As fans, we aren’t privy to all of the many pressures from above and the intricate dynamics that can formulate within a squad. Nigeria have a wealth of playing options across the world, some will fit, some won’t, some may be on good form, some won’t; it’s impossible to please everyone, and incredibly difficult to stumble upon the ‘best’ or even a ‘right’ answer…if indeed one exists.
The 30 is settled, the blinds have been drawn, and we are in the lap of the gods and upon the wings of the Eagles.