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Not since 1994 has the national team referred to as the Super Eagles been so united and committed to a cause as we have seen in Port Said, their centre in the ongoing Nation Cup championship in Egypt.
Not since 1994 has the national team referred to as the Super Eagles been so united and committed to a cause as we have seen in Port Said, their centre in the ongoing Nation Cup championship in Egypt. If it were in the past, some of the big players who have not featured so far in the championship would have revolted and accused the coaching crew of the team of selection bias. BEN ALAIYA, who has been following goings on in the team writes that five personalities may have contributed immensely to the new spirit in the team. Find out who they are in this special expose on the new Super Eagles.
When Austin ‘Cerezo’ Eguavoen was named the new Super Eagles coach after the sack of fumbling Christian Chukwu, many wondered whether he was not too quiet and reserved for the job. In fact, others thought he was too young and should have been allowed to mature a little longer, the same reason why Chukwu was picked ahead of him by the NFA and Sports Ministry during the last selection exercise for coaches.
The former hard-tackling skipper of the national team however had his own ideas about coaching, especially as he has been busy updating his knowledge of the game in Europe and Americas without the knowledge and support of either the NFA or the Sports Ministry. He may have also learnt from the fall of Chukwu that favouritism does no good in the selection of players and that is why he fell out with Yakubu Aiyegbeni, one of the bad influences in the immediate past regime.
It shows in the manner the players relate to him here. Last Wednesday after training, three players, Obafemi Martins, Taiye Taiwo and Ayodele Makinwa strolled out to buy some toiletries in front of their Helnan Hotel camp, some of us saw it as an opportunity to ambush them for interviews and we promptly approached them. Calmly, Makinwa explained that he would not be able to grant any interviews because only the team captain, Jay Jay Okocha or Sunmonu Belo Osagie could talk until otherwise directed by Eguavoen.
“I hope you people will understand this new order; we don’t want to disobey our coach,” he added.
That says a lot about respect and order, because if they had spoken, no sanction would have followed but respect they say begets respect and Martins was to add that Eguavoen respects all of them and they would not want to disrespect him.
The petit former Flying Eagles Chief Coach is another big player in the way things are run here in the national team camp. After his success with the junior side, he has won the admiration of many of the older players and that may have influenced the inclusion of at least five junior internationals in the squad in Egypt.
His fiery character has also helped to checkmate excesses by officials who may want to take Eguavoen’s cool mien for granted and he has done it with commanding respect that initial fear that he may fall out with Eguavoen has fallen flat on its face.
At training sessions, he takes charge of the midfielders, a very important part of the team, and tells his boss those he thinks should start a match. That other equally gifted midfielders like Garba Lawal and John Mikel Obi are not complaining thus far goes a lot to show what objectivity can bring to a star-loaded unit like the Super Eagles.
No one knew how this diplomat turned-soccer-manager got into the national team, but many think he caught the bug during the USA ’94 World Cup, where the Eagles were rated the most entertaining side and later at the Atlanta ’96 Olympics where the team won the gold medal. Since then, he has attached himself to the team and his employers seem to think he may be able to serve Nigeria better in that capacity. After all, soccer does much more public relations work for the nation than all the country’s embassies joined together.
In the new order, Belo-Osagie has become even more relevant and influential, because all the players seem to trust him and he has shown tremendous respect for the media, which has always been absent in the past. Last Thursday, during the team’s last work-out before the game against Zimbabwe, most of the players complained that they were being pestered by the media too much and the biting cold weather does not help matters; so they would like to be left alone after training. Sensing danger and a media back-lash, Belo-Osagia, quickly called meeting with the media and declared that the coach and skipper of the team would address them after training. It saved the day, because a lot of the pen-guys here were already gearing up for war and soccer followers know that at the moment, any negative write-up may have an equally negative impact on the team’s focus in camp. Put mildly, Belo-Osagie has a Midas touch that radiates friendship and unity in camp.
Ordinarily, many would assume that Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha should be the rallying point for younger players in camp. To some level, the real man they love to love is West Brom’s gangling forward, Nwankwo Kanu, who like Jay Jay may be planning retirement from the national team.
The fact that Okocha has not been playing may have played a role in the turn of events, apart from that many of the younger elements in the team think that Kanu is more disposed to them moving up in the ladder in soccer than Jay Jay. “When Kanu plays, a lot of the players feel that they are free and are likely to score. They don’t exactly feel comfortable when it’s Jay Jay; maybe it’s a thing of the mind,” commented one of the journalists here for the Nations Cup, Tony Ubani.
In camp, Kanu will often be seen talking to both the young and older players asking them to take their profession seriously as most of the older stock are on their way out. Kanu was to tell this reporter that he would still have come for the Nations Cup, even if he was injured and out of the championship totally, because he feels he can impact something in the younger ones. That has endeared him to the coaching crew and the players and made his contribution to team selection and training very important. To be exact, humility has made Kanu, a marvel in the new scheme of things in the national team.
The Ogoni boy who plays for Everton has long been tipped as the man who will become the Eagles skipper the moment he broke into the team and so far he has not disappointed.
In the absence of Okocha and Kanu from the start list, he has commanded the respect of the new generation and the coaches and his gentle and humble mien has been another plus for him.
Though he seems to be still learning the ropes, he has not made the mistake of playing a bully or creating a mafia as has been the case with recent national team leaders. Except club engagement does not permit, he is always one of the first to arrive camp. And when he is held back, the coaches always know why and will even defend him. Both the old and the younger generation of players in camp also seem to be very comfortable with his leadership of the team and victories so far means that he has a good aura for the impending transition in the national team that the world is witnessing.
Every other member of the team plays their role very well and can be counted also as influential in the new order but the five listed above stand out and they will go a long way in deciding how long the Eagles last in the Egypt 2006 Africa Cup of Nations.
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