By Melvin Ini
So much has been written and said about the players that populate the Nigerian squad, but so little, relatively, about the coach. We have focused all our energy on the players but have forgotten to ask a very crucial question, "Is Stephen Keshi ready to take on the world?"
In terms of discipline in the squad, he has been ready since day one, but in this fan’s opinion he is, tactically, miles below par.
The Nigeria team has shown evidence of only two different formations, either 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, this makes us vulnerable and predictable for the opposition. Few at the elite end of the sport will have much trouble combating our style and pattern of play. Compared with the top nations, Nigeria are unconvincing. Spain, for example,have trialled about five different formations in the past two years and can easily switch between them when required, either to full-out attacking 3-4-3, midfield dominance with a 4-5-1 or defensive lock-down by adapting the same formation.
Let us consider the match against Morocco at the CHAN when Nigeria went three goals down—Keshi was lost! His only response was to make a couple substitutions and encourage his players through words at half-time. There was no change in formation and no change in approach—he merely switched like for like and hoped for the best.
It was the determination of the players, and perhaps the decision taken by the Moroccan coach to start defending the minute the second-half whistle was blown that saw us through in that match. Luck also played its part.
Agbim | Enjoyed unflinching support during the CHAN tournament
Don't expect the same fortune at the World Cup. Keshi needs to step up his game if he would like to compete against the other top coaches in the sport.
I also question whether Keshi is brave enough to make the changes required within matches and within a tournament—in this sense, is he failing the Nigerian side?
If top players fail to find their form, or underperform, after the first two games of the tournament, will Keshi have the confidence to drop them for other squad players? I fear not!
Evidence comes in the shape of Chigozie Agbim. The stopper retained his place in the CHAN team (and the faith of Keshi) despite a series of blunders that threatened to undermine Nigeria’s tournament and erode any confidence that existed within the defenders ahead of him.
When one considers the sentiments of the other two goalkeepers in the squad, imagining them watching on, observing Agbim’s mediocrity, one fears for the morale of the World Cup party.
Since the first match, Agbim has clearly been the weak link in the side. Despite a poor sense of positioning, limited speed and anticipation, shoddy diving ability and underwhelming communication skills, Keshi has kept the player in the team as though it was his birthright.
The opening four games saw Agbim concede eight goals, yet he retained his place.
I, for one, pray that Vincent Enyeama and Austin Ejide are available for our clash against Argentina—the thought of Agbim being charged with keeping out Lionel Messi is too much to bear.
The situation that developed with Agbim reveals a genuine cause for concern ahead of the summer. Can Nigeria fans trust the Big Boss to make the tough decisions, the right decisions, when a situation calls for them? I, for one, believe the biggest change he must make is within himself.
- Ini wrote via firstname.lastname@example.org
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