Journalism in the service of society

A Manager, not a coach, for the Super Eagles!

What the Super Eagles need is a manager and not a coach.  

In the national team, there is  less coaching and more player management; less technical training and more tactical planning – a very thin but delicate difference.

Coaching is about teaching players the rudiments of how and what to play through repeated practise. Management is telling them what strategies to play at short notice, and hoping they do so!

Coaching requires a lot of time and rehearsals to master a winning strategy.

Managing is quickfix of tactics and organisation. 

 That’s why the best coaches of clubs hardly ever consider being managers of national teams. The two roles have very different approaches.

Thbest news out of African football is that Nigeria has finally bowed to the voices of reason to end the ugly, mental enslavement of coaches on the basis of the colour of their White skin, ahead of better experienced and better qualified local coaches. 

 Finidi George, an experienced Nigerian ex-international player with the highest qualifications is the manager Nigeria needs at this time, a gentleman to the core, one commanding great admiration and respect from the players, administrators and fans. 

His success will be determined by the number of exceptionallygifted players he is able to assemble at very short notice to play as close to a team as possible.

To have several players come from a particular club or league often helps.

But the most important ingredient is having a collection of extremely gifted players for all the positions. Nigeria is enroute to achieving that. 

Ademola Lookman – finally, greatness! 

There is a very thin line separating a very good player from greatness. That transition often comes in a sudden boost of needed fuel ‘idling’ in every good player’s mind.  

There is a talented football player sought after by many clubs, big and small. 

For a few seasons, he plays from match after match displaying occasional glimpses of something exceptional without quite getting there, convincingly. He sometimes moves from one club to another, brandishing those flashes of brilliance but ending up with a shortfall iself-belief and consistency that are needed for greatness.

Then, one day, it happens. He finds a great coach who helps him to make the transition aided by conspiringelementsMotherlucoffers the player the gift of an opportunity which, if exploited, provides the perfect platform for the player to be launched into the stratosphere of greatness! 

In  one match of magic, it happens and everything changes in the player’s career and even life.

 I know because it happened to me.

For several years at the start of my football career I was doing well, earning personal accolades, winning some important matches for club and even the countrywinning local cups and championships including the league and even the FA Cup, topping the league’s goal-scorers charts for three consecutive years, and even scoring the most number of goals in winning Nigeria’s first African club cup. I was the first Nigerian football player to be listed in the top ten (and ended up as Third) best players in Africa in 1977, when I was not fully aware of just how good I was and could be. 

Through all of that period, I was just a very good player, not very consistent, afraid to take certain risks, unappreciative of my depth in the game and how good I was despite all the shower of encomiums. Even when I was the most celebrated football player at the eve of the 1978 AFCON in Ghana, and ended up as a joint highest goalscorer, I was still not convinced, in the depths of my mind, of my true capability

 Then it happened on that fateful and eventful evening of March 22, 1980. Buoyed by some good fortune, I flew like I had never flown before, played without fear and with a certain conviction, scored two goals created in heaven, and contributed to earning for Nigeria its greatest trophy at the time.

In the 90 minutes of that match, I knew for the first time, what greatness was: knowing what to do beyond the ordinary;  being unafraiddeliberately aware of one’s capability; playing like the greats of football – cool, calm, sure, confident and deadly! 

When I scored a brace (I could have scored more), it was the turning point of my football playing, the transition point from being good to being great. 

 Not every player gets to that point of realisation. The few that do, stand out after that. Watch the likes of Jay Jay Okocha, Kanu Nwankwo, Friday Ekpo, Haruna Ilerika, Henry Nwosu, Finidi George, Samuel Garba Okoye, and some others. Once they get to that transition point, they come into the fullness of their ability and ‘greatness’ starts to manifest through their consistency, confidence and masterful displays.  

 That’s the slight shortfall, so far, in Victor Osimhen’s place in football till now. He is a very good player but still on the periphery of greatness despite his becoming Africa’s best player and his stellar goalscoring in Napoli. When he makes that final mental transition, when he becomes fully aware of his capability and starts to play deliberately with ease, confidence and composure, he will immediately join the ranks of the gods of African football. 

 Last Sunday night, during the final match of the Europa Cup, Ademola Lookman who flew like an eagle, may have transited into that realm.

His three great goals, with a historic victory for his team to boot, may have taken him to the edge of greatness. In 90 minutes, at the moment of his club’s greatest challenge in football, his earned the transition rights through his performance. It is not easy to score a goal in football. To score two goals is extremely difficult. To score three in the finals of a European Club championship is a ‘miracle’.  

 I listened to Ademola Lookman after the match when he addressed the press. I saw in his eyes and heard in his voice, the evidence of his metamorphosis from a really ‘good’ player to a ‘great’ one, going forward. Ademola will never be the same player again. In a quantum leap, he finally completed what he started at AFCON 2023. Now, he is in the territory of the gods of the ‘Beautiful game’. 

I congratulate him, and wish him great days ahead in his football. It is now that Nigeria will start to enjoy and benefit from the greatness of the man. 

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