How The Super Eagles Became Merchants Of Gold
The next time the Super Eagles will be representing Nigeria at a major tournament, we should write them off, scoff at their chances of making any real impact, bestow them with monikers like ‘Super Chickens’ and hang them to dry before the first ball is even kicked in anger.
The last time anyone checked, the above prescription worked five stars. Left for dead, backs against the wall and derided at home, Stephen Keshi’s blend of experienced and rookie stars delivered Nigeria’s third Nations Cup trophy and in some style as well. Here are a few other factors that conspired to crown Nigeria African Soccer Champions….
1. Stick To Your Guns:
Only a brave man would leave some of his ‘best men’ behind as he heads to battle. And Stephen Okechukwu Keshi was a brave man.
Obafemi Martins had one chance to prove he could feature in the Coach’s Nations Cup plans. As he huffed and puffed in that friendlygame against Venezuela, Martins was kissing his Nations Cup ticket goodbye. Keshi was unyielding and firm when Osaze threw some tantrum on social media after his team selection was made public. By slamming the door shut on Osaze, Keshi appeared to send a clearmessage to the rest of the team: “Look guys, there is only one Boss calling the shots here; and gentlemen, no matter where you play your football, that Boss is me”.
The result was a disciplined and focused team heading into Africa’s biggest soccer showpiece.
Lesson: Most of the time, discipline is central to achieving a team’s set goals and objectives.
2. Make Your Mistakes, But Correct Them As You Go Along:
Two drab games against Burkina Faso and Zambia in the group stage were all Keshi’s detractors needed to bay for his blood. Not even a 2-0 win against Ethiopia in the final group game could placate his critics. Stephen Keshi was swimming against the tide for most of the tourney. Every post match press conference was a battle-field. And then came that win against the Ivorians; complete with all the stars of their incongruously named ‘golden generation’.
One game. One good game.
While we railed and cursed, Stephen Keshi was perfecting his team, refining his strategies and imbuing his team with doses of confidence and belief.
Lesson: You will certainly make mistakes at work, in your career, in relationships. Not learning from them and moving on, is however the biggest mistake you could be doing to self.
3. Team Bonding Is The Holy Grail:
Individually, Keshi’s team read like a joke. Efe Ambrose and Elderson Echiejile looked like the guys next door. Oboabona was a home based footballer with a boyish look about him. Emenike looked all brawn and no brains. Sunday Mba appeared like he could use a shave and Kenneth Omeruo only got a first team place because team skipper, Joseph Yobo was struggling with niggling injuries. These were not your regular ‘bling bling’ loving footballers with dyed hairdos (the moment Ahmed Musa got rid of his dyed hairdo, he got his name on the score sheet).
But by God, they were a strong bond, getting better with every game. They had a point to prove. “We keep communicating during games”, Obi Mikel enthused. “In this team, everyone is a Captain”, Vincent Enyeama announced during one Press Conference. “The Coach believes in us and we are playing for him”, one of the less fancied players who was suddenly thrust into the limelight, told his interviewer.
Lesson: Behind every successful organization is a team ethic. Go figure.
4 . Keep Your Eyes On The Ball:
After putting four goals past the hapless Malians, A few journalists covering the tourney had to wonder why the Super Eagles hotellodge wasn’t overflowing with wild celebrations, hangers on and some partying. For Pete’s sake, the team no one gave a chance had just blazed their way into the final of the tournament! Some partying would have been in order; more so since the final game was a couple of days away.
In the past, Nigerian teams had been known to indulge in some form of wild behavior in the middle of competitions. Not Keshi’s team, it appeared. “We haven’t won anything yet”, was the refrain from a clutch of players. “We will only celebrate after we win the final game on Sunday”. Keshi’s candor and humility also shone like a million stars throughout the tournament. After every game, he would inform the press that he was still building his team and they weren’t there just yet.
Lesson: They were all on the same page. They had a singular goal and left the champagne on ice until that goal was achieved.
5. Win In Some Style:
“This was not a Nigerian team we just played; this was the Brazil of Africa”, a stricken Malian goalkeeper cooed after his team were put to the sword by a Super Eagles performance that combined style, possession, intricate passing and swashbuckling finishing in eye-catching measure. It was arguably Nigeria’s best performance at the tourney—one that left their Malian counterparts dazed.
“No one can stop Nigeria from winning the Cup now if they play like this”, Didier Drogba blushed after his own team had also been annihilated by a rampaging Nigerian team that was beginning to find its rhythm in South Africa with plenty of expansive football to boot.
Lesson: Strive for excellence in everything you do. And if you can do your job with some swag, why not?
6. Prove Your Mettle :
John Mikel Obi shut me up at the just concluded tourney. And he may well have shut me up for good. I was one of those who wondered aloud if he could still create goal scoring chances given his mechanical defensive and robotic performances for Chelsea every other weekend. In South Africa 2013, Mikel Obi looked reborn—spraying passes all over the pitch, directing play like an orchestra, guiding his less experienced midfield counterparts, getting stuck in when required and ; wait for this……even shooting at goal!
He reveled in his role as a deep lying playmaker and won himself many admirers. Never mind CAF’s choice of Jonathan Pitriopa, Mikel was my AFCON 2013 most valuable player. All the play went through him. He launched attacks and contributed to keeping the team’s shape. Before the semi final game, Obi’s pass completion rate stood at 247; the most by any player at that stage of the competition. Journalists covering the Super Eagles hotel base said he was often seen encouraging his younger peers off the pitch as well and chipping in words of advice where needed.
South Africa 2013 may just have provided the stage where Mikel eventually came of age. And long may this continue.
Lesson: Become A Leader wherever you find yourself and you might as well be shutting a few persons up as well.
The writer is on Twitter as @egbas