Sonala Olumhense: The Super Eagles’ road to the chieftaincy

by Sonala Olumhense

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It is no coincidence that each time we enjoy a little success, our old structural and administrative devils return to haunt us, as they have in the current FIFA suspension.  

Brazil did not win the 2014 World Cup into which she poured such formidable resources and emotion.

Actually, I do not see Brazil winning any major international soccer titles any day soon.  Seeing Germany ravage and pillage the once-dominant team on its home soil and in front of its weeping fans is not the reason for this conclusion.  Seeing the team earlier in the competition is.

Watching the quality of Brazil in the competition, as opposed to Brazil in its prime, was a lesson in humility.  The Brazilian teams of previous generations did not just play soccer; they translated it into a Jason Bourne thriller, with more suspense, twists and turns than the INEC electoral register.

Rivelinho. Jairzinho.  Garrincha. Eder. Pele.  Zico, Socrates: men slipperier than an eel dipped in Vaseline, with more guile than a Shakespeare sonnet, and more shooting power than an APC spokesman.

At their feet, the ball obeyed impossible physical commands.  In their possession, the game appeared simple, obvious and inevitable: Bourne navigating a transnational criminal conspiracy and reacting with instinctive finesse to every danger or provocation on the way to the inevitable, sublime finish.

On the pitch, those Brazilian teams did not merely play soccer: they weaved stories of seduction and passion and poetry.  That was how they made converts of opponents and passersby, and Brazilians of every fan.

Worse still, they often made supporters of the opposing team cheer for them rather than their team.  They placed an ‘R’ rating on soccer, for “Restricted,” and marketed it as Brazilian.  They could treat you to long spells of bewitching possession, and plunder goals with disarming ease.

That was how the Brazilians put ‘world’ in the World Cup.  But then came Coach Luiz Scolari’s disaster on July 8, 2014, a date that will now live in soccer infamy.

What the competition confirmed is that Brazilians no longer command soccer like supra-natural creatures from a faraway galaxy.  On their own soil, they unveiled a game that is more Chelsea than Arsenal, and more Enyimba than Santos.

On paper, Brazil’s was not a bad squad, but it was Brazilian only in nationality, not in its soccer heart, the colour of its soul, or the method of its mechanics.

In its heart, the team reflected European geography and politics, and only memories of Brazilian alchemy.  Its soul was fragile, and from its first match against Croatia to its collapse against Germany, its philosophy was huff alternating with puff.

Huff and puff came to a screeching tragedy in the disastrous semi-final.  But Brazil may have done more than lose its quarter-final contest to Germany: it may have provided a global decolonization of soccer, and surrendered her invincibility.  Perhaps the sport has moved from being a tantalizing and breathtaking Brazilian spectacle into a democracy, with Brazil’s game coming back from the heavens just as others figured out how to get there.

How did that happen?  Better phrased: where has Brazil been?

Not in Brazil; we all know that.  Brazilian soccer moved to Europe many years ago, and apparently forgot to return.  Every year, the big clubs of Europe have marketed the fiction of every Brazilian soccer player being the best.  All you have to do is place “Brazil” in the nationality column and the clubs trip over each other to give them their own banks.

Each player would then be flown to Europe, to be re-engineered by coaches who maintain the fiction of the Brazilian superman.  It was in Europe that Germany prepared to dismantle Brazil, and it was a sample of those fake Euro-Brazilian players Germany last Tuesday treated like Zaire at the hands of Yugoslavia at the 1974 World Cup.  They lost 9-0.

But enough of the past.

In the next few months, Brazil will work hard to exercise its demons, and to prove that its 2014 experience does not foretell a new soccer world order.

Nigeria, which arrived in Brazil as Africa’s champions ought to enter that fray.  Nigeria did not have a bad World Cup; it just did not have one that was good enough.

By good enough, I do not mean winning the cup.  We just did not do all we could have done, or enough with what we had.  There is both room and motivation now, because there is room at the top.

In February 2012, I threw my support behind Coach Stephen Keshi’s efforts to rebuild Nigeria’s Super Eagles.

Since then, Keshi has re-defined the team, unveiled many unexpected gems, and won the African Nations Cup.

As Nigerians, we often demand the impossible, and in Brazil, many people spoke loosely of reaching the semi-final.  It was the near-impossible where we might have been Brazil in the headlights of Germany.  We needed the humility I thought we earned in the loss to France, but hopefully, also the understanding that we are very close to a major announcement.

Some people blame Keshi for our failure to advance beyond the round of 16.  We ought to be grateful to him for getting us there.

The right end from which to look at the telescope is that Keshi has been on the job for just two and a half turbulent years.  In that time, he has done the two most important things: unlock the door to categories of players who were being overlooked, and demystify soccer administration.

With our second round showing in Brazil, I think he provided an excellent foundation for the future and that his tenure should be considered a success.  Not excellent, but successful. We all have our favourite players; that is not the point.

Left to me, Keshi should be given another contract so he can consolidate our modest achievements.  With continued careful guidance and the emerging younger teams, Nigeria can be a formidable team in the next couple of years, but there must be continuity, and Keshi must be prepared to listen to his critics.

I also object to reports that Keshi is refusing to work with the Technical Department of the Nigeria Football Federation.  He must understand he cannot be permitted to operate as a one-man sheriff department.  Nobody can, or should.  There is a lot of pettiness in the administrative and technical bodies, but that is a lesser danger than enthroning an autocrat.

In 2018, and beyond, Nigeria has the potential to challenge for the World Cup, but only if our football is liberated from governments and bungling administrators…if they will permit it.

It is no coincidence that each time we enjoy a little success, our old structural and administrative devils return to haunt us, as they have in the current FIFA suspension.

We can be the next Brazil, but not unless we rise beyond our individual limitations, as is often the Nigeria story.

I wish to end by joining those who are congratulating my good friend, Chuka Momah, upon the publication of his two excellent sports titles, Sports Spectacular and Mohammed Ali.  I finally got my hands on copies last week, and was immediately reminded of Chuka’s passion, drive and excellence.

These are the attributes we need if we are to contest the chieftaincy left vacant by Brazil.  In the words of Margaret Walker, “Let a new earth rise!”

 

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

 

 

 

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