Lars Lagerbäck is not going to the World Cup to perform experiments. Conventional wisdom shows that that may be a fatal approach. The Nigerian coach will be going to South Africa in June with the players he inherited from Shuaibu Amodu.
What is then the difference between having coach Amodu in South Africa and Lars Lagerbäck who failed to qualify Sweden for the same competition? The outcome of the performances of the Nigerian team will be known in June 2010.
I cannot give a prediction of the outcome in South Africa but I know that the strategy of Mr. Lagerbäck will be different. Nigeria may end up playing a more defensive-style football and if this happens people are really going to be upset with the coach especially if the Super Eagles are disgraced out of the tournament.
Every Nigerian is a football analyst in his/ her own rights. If Lagerbäck’s strategies fail they will tell him what he doesn’t know about our football. They will let him know in clear terms that next to God, the next thing on the minds of Nigerians is football. To hell with politics and the looting politicians. Give us good football and take our sorrows away.
It doesn’t matter that Nigeria qualified for the world cup by a slim chance. The expectations are the same as if we qualified in a big way. Hence it is clear from the team squad that Mr. Lagerbäck himself is not willing to take chances. But the big question is “will he and his boys deliver when the heat is on in South Africa?”
Football coaches have one of the most fragile jobs in the world. Lagerbäck may not realise this because it took so long for him to get booted in Sweden despite several imperfections. Nigeria’s imperfections have produced coach after coach and the recycling of Amodu is a clear piece of evidence. He’s been there 3 times in the last 12 years !
If Lagerbäck fails in South Africa-not getting to the second round or quarter finals-there will be extreme pressure on his employers to fire him. That sort of failure will seal the automatic end to the international careers of the present crop of Super Eagles, most of whom are already past their primes anyway. If Lagerbäck survives he may eventually get the chance to try and do something new for Nigerian football. In that case, say 3 years from now, it would have become evident what he can do with the bunch of talents that Nigeria boast of. Some of us will get the chance to compare his records in Sweden with the situation in Nigeria if he survives 3 years as the coach of football-crazy Nigeria.
Just before the world cup, Nigeria will play 1 or 2 friendly matches. That is if the Football Authority is not fooling around like they did last month. These matches will not be adequate preparations for a country that is serious in going far in the tournament. If Nigerian plays the friendly matches, they will provide rare opportunities for Lagerbäck to see his squad first hand.
Performances in the friendly matches for those who get to wear the national colours and the few days in training will culminate in final selection of players for the world cup.
My expectations are not so high. Still the Nigerian in me wants Nigeria to do well in this world cup. Nigerians need something to cheer about, something to soothe us despite our political and social worries. Football is our religion and history has it that during those moments when Nigeria could have been torn apart, we were kept together by the common glories that football brought to our troubled nation.
I wish Mr. Lagerbäck and the Super Eagles all the best that the god of soccer can give them. With such a dull preparation, they will need all the luck in the world if they want to survive any game at all in the tournament. Good luck may even come from the seat of power. In Nigeria and for Nigerians, anything can happen!
Goalkeepers: Vincent Enyeama (Hapoel Tel Aviv, Israel), Dele Aiyenugba (Bnei Yehuda, Israel), Austin Ejide (Hapoel Petah Tikva, Israel), Bassey Akpan (Bayelsa United, Nigeria)
Defenders: Taye Taiwo (Marseille, France), Elderson Echiejile (Rennes, France), Chidi Odiah (CSKA Moscow, Russia), Onyekachi Apam (OG Nice, France), Joseph Yobo (Everton, England), Daniel Shittu (Bolton Wanderers, England), Ayodele Adeleye (Sparta Rotterdam, Netherlands), Rabiu Afolabi (SV Salzburg, Austria), Terna Suswan (Lobi Stars, Nigeria)
Midfielders: Chinedu Ogbuke Obasi (TSG Hoffenheim, Germany), John Utaka (Portsmouth, England), Brown Ideye (FC Sochaux, France), Peter Utaka (Odense Boldklub, Denmark), , Kalu Uche (Almeria, Spain), Dickson Etuhu (Fulham, England), John Mikel Obi (Chelsea, England), Sani Kaita (Alaniya, Russia), Haruna Lukman (AS Monaco, France), Yusuf Ayila (Dynamo Kiev, Ukraine), Osaze Odemwingie (Lokomotiv Moscow, Russia)
Strikers: Yakubu Aiyegbeni (Everton, England), Victor Anichebe (Everton, England), Nwankwo Kanu (Portsmouth, England), Obafemi Martins (Wolfsburg, Germany), Ikechukwu Uche (Real Zaragoza, Spain), Victor Obinna Nsofor (Malaga, Spain)