New Telegraph

Eagles: What Finidi Must Do

After weeks of uncertainty, Super Eagles are firmly placed to go for their eighth World Cup ticket following the appointment of Finidi George as new manager. The players know their gaffer as much as he understands the team.

After understudying his predecessor, Jose Peseiro, as assistant coach, the coast is clear for the 1995 UEFA Champions league gold medallist to turn out a perfect combination of European and African mentality which is what he needs to make the difference. Relying much on patterned European methods has been the bane of tropical soccer.

In the recent past, Peseiro saw nothing good in the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL). The Portuguese spent most of his time flying about in Europe, relying on ready-made stars. Finidi made the Super Eagles in 1991 right from the local league.

And that was because then manager, Clemens Westerhof looked inwards to raise a formidable national team. The Dutchman did not believe in superstars and went ahead to find alternatives. Westerhof dropped Peter Rufai at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport before his first outing with Nigeria, against Cameroon in1989 ahead of a crucial Italia 90 qualifier.

He also side-lined Sunday Eboigbe. That was how Alloy Agu, Okey Uche and Herbert Anijekwu became regulars. The 1990 ECOWAS Championships in Bauchi provided the much needed opportunity to raise a new team. Ben Iroha, Daniel Amokachi, Moses Kpakor, Tajudeen Oyekanmi, Abdul Aminu, Wasiu Ipaye and Ayo Ogunlana turned to favourites.

They formed the bulk of the Super Eagles to the Algeria 1990 African Nations Cup. When Stephen Keshi and Samson Siasia proved hard to get, Westerhof travelled to North Africa with just two Europe based professionals – Andrew Uwe and Ademola Adesina. Rashidi Yekini joined from his base in Cote d’Ivoire.

The new Eagles rose from a 5-1 drubbing in their opening game against the Desert Foxes to go all the way to the grand finale where they lost narrowly to the same Algerian team.

After that performance, the so called big names had to prove themselves before Westerhof. Finidi did not make the team to Algeria but eventually became an integral part of the Super Eagles.

If he was not given the opportunity as a home grown Sharks player, possibly, the right winger would have faded away and never become a household name in Nigerian football.

There is nothing to tell Finidi about the place of the Super Eagles in the hearts of Nigerians. What the people need is results, laced with trophies

The future lies at home. The country is blessed with talent; an eagle eyed gaffer has everything to gain moving from Enugu to Ibadan, Lagos to Kano in search of possibles.

In 1989, Ranch Bees of Kaduna came to Lagos to teach ACB a bitter lesson. School Boy, Amokachi, ran rings around Eboigbe and Bright Omokaro. That was the day Westerhof found the ‘Bull’.

Finidi understands the Nigerian mentality. The moment a coach begins to collect money from field players, his respect is gone. At Ajax, Louis Van Gaal, was not a man to be cheapened with cash or colour.

He drafted Finidi to the first team and got the best results. No player can be too big for the coach. That you are worshipped in Europe does not mean the Super Eagles coach is a lesser being. His word must be law. Westerhof did not feel comfortable with Richard Owubokiri and found a way to frustrate him.

Owubokiri had played big in France before moving to Portugal. The former Sharks striker was a big item and had Libya 1982 African Nations Cup experience. When Westerhof called him to camp against South Africa in 1990, there were no issues.

Owubokiri, like other Europe based professionals, did not stay at the Obasanjo Farm Camp of the Eagles. However, he made sure he arrived at Otta ahead of others, choosing to hire a vehicle to Ogun State from Lagos.

Apparently, Westerhof preferred him to join the team bus. On match day, the crowd wanted to see the best of Ricky. He scored the first of Eagles four goals. Westerhof was not impressed. The coach used that opportunity to show his preferred top nine, Yekini, who also found the net. Owubokiri was substituted and that was his last game as an Eagle.

The choice of Yekini paid off. He advanced to win the African Nations Cup after being named African Footballer of the Year, and scored Nigeria’s first ever World Cup goal at USA’94. A good coach should always be ready with an alternative.

There is nothing to tell Finidi about the place of the Super Eagles in the hearts of Nigerians. What the people need is results, laced with trophies. Only lazy workmen fight their tools. A man who won laurels with the team and led Enyimba to league triumph has every reason to prove his mettle.

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