BackpageWhy Nigeria Should Not Happen to Super Eagles

Why Nigeria Should Not Happen to Super Eagles

June 16, (THEWILL)- The current dismal performance of the Super Eagles in the 2026 World Cup qualifiers is a microcosm of the broader issues plaguing our nation. With just three points from four matches, including an embarrassing loss to Benin Republic, Nigeria is in real danger of missing out on the expanded 32-team World Cup in North America. This disappointing run encapsulates the “Nigerian attitude” that has become an albatross around the necks of many of our national endeavours.

The communique from the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) after their recent meeting lays bare the numerous challenges besetting our flagship football team. From the need to hire an expatriate coach, to beefing up the technical department, to a lack of player discipline and commitment – the problems are multifarious. However, the core issue is the same malady affecting Nigeria as a whole – a breakdown of responsibility, accountability and seriousness of purpose across all levels.

Football is more than just a game, it is a tool of diplomacy and national projection on the global stage. The networking and reputation-building that comes with World Cup participation cannot be replicated elsewhere, especially now that moneyed interests in Saudi Arabia and Asia are heavily investing in the sport’s commercial potential. Nigeria must recognise this reality instead of treating football as an afterthought.

The Federal Government’s apathy towards adequately funding and preparing the Super Eagles for this World Cup cycle is symbolic of its skewed priorities. How can we expect our team to compete at the highest level when the government has been derelict in providing the necessary financial muscle? State governments have been no better. It is a shame that as the players ply their trade and excel for their wealthy European clubs, their own country cannot rally similar resources for critical qualifiers.

This cavalier attitude is part of the reason we are in this mess. We had the players to at least make the playoff round, but institutional unpreparedness has squandered a golden generation of attacking talents like Victor Osimhen, Victor Boniface and Samuel Chukwueze. In their prime, they may never grace the World Cup stage because “Nigeria happened” to the Super Eagles.

Compare our approach to that of fellow group leaders, South Africa. Their government understands what is at stake and is supporting their team’s quest to make a long-awaited World Cup return. It is no surprise that Bafana Bafana currently tops our group, primed to end their 20-year World Cup drought. They are doing the little things right off the pitch to enhance their chances of qualification, if you know what I mean.

For too long, Nigerian football has embodied our national dichotomy, a rich reservoir of talent perpetually undermined by institutional inertia. Our struggle in these qualifiers has seen the familiar narratives of administrative bungling, player indiscipline, subpar facilities and inadequate preparation. The story is dizzyingly repetitive at this point.

We had a team ranked fifth in the world in 1994 and were regulars at the World Cup through the 2000s. However, years of stunted development, rapid coach turnover and lack of long-term planning has turned us into a laughing stock on the continental and global stage. Our players may be European League stars, but they remain hostages to the Nigerian factor hobbling the national team’s progress.

The NFF’s suggestions of employing a foreign coach and widening the player pool are knee-jerk reactions that miss the larger point. The problems are systemic and deeply rooted in how football is governed and funded in this country. Papering over the cracks with new hires and new players is akin to using a sticking plaster for a gaping wound. It is merely postponing the inevitable downfall.

If we are truly honest with ourselves, we know the reasons for our struggles. The sports ministry is a revolving door of unqualified political operatives who lack any technical expertise or vision. The NFF itself is a building of bureaucratic entrenchment staffed by largely out-of-touch individuals. And at the government level, there is a deficit of political will to utilise football as a tool for national development beyond the ephemeral optics of a few frivolous international friendlies.

Bureaucrats move files and chase photo-ops while the real work of holistic development – investing in grassroots programs, enhancing training facilities, empowering coaching staff, and creating elite developmental pathways while getting involved in the unspoken politics of the off-field game – grinds to a halt. It is a perfect confluence of incompetence at every critical junction.

For our footballing renaissance, we need a root-and-branch reboot. The government must prioritise developmental funding and infrastructure as strategic national investments. The focus should be on long-term planning rather than pedestrian, ad-hoc crisis management. There has to be greater synergy between the sports ministry, the NFF and active player representatives to align vision and objectives.

Young talents must be nurtured from an early age in an elite environment with clearly defined pathways to the national team and overseas professional clubs. There should be institutional memory sustained by consistent technical leadership to ensure continuity of football philosophy and playing identity across age-group national teams. There is also the need to broaden the country’s reach in the diplomatic levers that influence the game.

Simply hiring and firing coaches and players without attacking the systemic issues is an exercise in futility. The malignant growths stunting our development must be surgically removed. Otherwise, the national team’s woes will persist, and genuine progress will remain ephemeral.

Qualifying for the 2026 World Cup may already be a lost cause, but that makes the need to reboot even more urgent. Enough is enough – Nigeria must stop happening to the Super Eagles. We are a nation that exports football talent across the globe while our national team wallows in perpetual underachievement. For that generational injustice to be corrected, transformative actions must be taken beyond the stadium.

As a proud football nation, we cannot allow Nigeria’s broader dysfunctions to keep undermining our national teams. It happened in 2022 and is unfolding again here towards 2026. We cannot let another golden generation waste away. It is time for a national reckoning – away from myopic quick fixes towards sustainable institutional reforms. That is what our football deserves, and it starts with keeping “Nigeria” away from the Super Eagles’ dressing room.

***I just received news after submitting this piece that George Finidi has resigned as Coach of Super Eagles. I will share my views on this development in my next article.

 

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