Well, it’s no news that the 2019 CAF Awards—the biggest award ceremony in African football, has come and gone. For most people, the highly anticipated and most coveted award is the African Player of the Year (Male category), for obvious reasons.
This year’s edition was won by Senegal and Liverpool forward Sadio Mane, and it was well deserved. No African player has been more influential for club and country like him. Our own Asisat Oshoala, won the female category, and in so doing, equaled her compatriot’s (Perpetual Nkwocha) record of clinching the coveted award four times. While I say big congratulations to all winners on the night, I really felt bad that no Nigerian, bar Asisat, left Egypt with something.
It left a sour taste in my mouth as to how, Samuel Chukwueze (L), in particular lost out to Archaf Hakimi, in the youth category, or as to how the Lionesses of Cameroon, pipped the Falcons, Champions of Africa to win the best female national side in the continent. The only thing the Lionesses did better than the Falcons was scoring a goal more than them (Falcons) at the World Cup. They crashed out at the same stage, had the same goal difference, so I wonder what metric was used.
It was also shocking that none of our players made the cut for the CAF XI. Wilfred Ndidi who has shone brightly like a diamond for both the Eagles and Leicester City of England in recent years rightfully deserves to be there. The only midfielder who earned his place on that list is Idrissa Gueye.
That no Eagle was in the running for the best senior male category didn’t bother me much because to be honest only Ndidi has been consistent enough over the years but this shows how lowly our standards have dropped over the years. Since the turn of the millennium, only Jay Jay Okocha (2003 and 2004), John Obi Mikel (2013) and Vincent Enyeama (2014) made the final cut for African footballer of the Year nominations—though they ended up losing out, it is a far cry from what was experienced in the 90’s were our players contested vigorously for such awards, besides winning it in 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997 and 1999, we had two Nigerian players in the final three on five occasions.a
But the reality today leaves much to be desired as even our indigenous clubs are not faring well and in international competitions they often crash out in the group stages. Segun Odegbami was third and second best footballer in Africa in 1977 and 1980 while playing for Shooting Stars of Ibadan. Take nothing away from Salah, Mane and co, Nigeria, considering its sheer size, should be able to churn out world class talents, year in year out.
To get it right, we have to borrow a leaf from the Belgian FA, who went back to the drawing board after being knocked out of France ’98. A country of about 11m people, a fraction of Nigeria’s population and just 34 clubs across two divisions, the Belgian FA placed emphasis on youth and children camps, from under-eight and nine. Youth teams are the building blocks for any successful side, hence less emphasis should be placed on winning. While Amaju and his team have done well; a lot more needs to be done.
Most of the coaches in our leagues are tactically deficient and hence do not know the proper training regimen to develop a particular player, exposure to other football cultures in the course of studying for their badges is important. It is a different ball game to field 11 players on the pitch playing, say a 4-3-3 formation, without knowing the basic underlying principles that makes such system successful. The showing of our Eaglets at the last World Youth Championship is a pointer to that fact; they were always coming from behind to win games after their more tactical opponents have been wearied. While talent is key in football, so is skill and technical abilities, which translates to hardwork, and these days, football has gone scientific, so we need to catch up with the trend and develop these young lads to world beaters.
Transparency is yet another, if not the biggest problem. Like I said in the previous paragraph, less emphasis should be placed on winning. Football administrators and coaches should ensure that players of the required age are fielded during tournaments. This would naturally aid their development, instead of showing player(s) who would turn out to be “a flash in the pan”.
Macauley Chrisantus, Golden boot winner and silver ball winner after Toni Kroos of Germany, and his strike partner Akinsola of late Yemi Tella’s world conquering Eaglets of 2007 are prime examples, as their careers died as fast as it had begun because age caught up with them. Same can be said of Stanley Okoro, Fortune Chukwudi, a one- time captain of the Eaglets. The list goes on and on. With the introduction of the MRI tests, even though African confederations kicked against it at first, gains have been made, the Chukwuwzes and the Osimhens are products of this, even though much more still needs to be done.
Lastly, in seeking career moves, due diligence should be carried out. Emphasis should not be placed on wages, even though money is important. A wise career move, would give a good player a huge platform for development, a club like Dortmund is an example. A typical example is Kelechi Iheanacho, I had always insisted that his Manchester City move was a wrong one, he could have gone to a modest club, where he would be on the starting lineup week in week out.
A natural goal poacher he is, his move to Manchester stunted his natural progression. Same advice should be sounded to Victor Osimhen as he is currently courted by clubs in Europe, he should remain in Lille for a year or two, where first team opportunities abound. So also Sammy Chukwueze, as a wrong career move by both would stall their development.
Conclusively, despite the challenges, the future seems bright for the Eagles, we have a young team which with a tactically sound coach, we would dominate the continent for a very long time.
By Lucas Ifeanyi Uwagwu. Twitter: @usual_suxpekt