There is anger all over the globe as Super Eagles continue their Humpty Dumpty fall from the high walls of soccer. Veterans are even more worried as chances of qualifying for the 2026 World Cup look abysmal.
Patrick Ekeji rose from Nigeria Academicals in 1972 to play for the senior national team, between 1974 and 1980. He also managed the Eagles in 1986. Paul Okoku was Vice captain of the Mexico 1983 Flying Eagles squad. In 1984, he won African Nations Cup silver with the Green Eagles.
Ekeji said : “At the risk of sounding repetitive, I say again that the character of our national team – the Super Eagles – today, is at best fluid, very unpredictable. It is a big challenge for any coach to package a resilient and reliable team from this set of players.”
Okoku joined him. “This team lacks the will to qualify for the 2026 World Cup proper. They are slow to develop a sustaining attack and the midfielders are unable to live up to expectations. I have not seen them perform at a high level with the killer instinct Eagles have come to be known for.”
According to Ekeji, “this fluid set of players, stroll in from different football environments. And they are supposed to risk injuries that certainly would affect their jobs out there. In such a scenario, our national coach fields players not mentally tuned to give it their all.
“Emeka, ‘e be as e get oooo’. I know this because I was once there, ‘from the pitch to the summit’. Yes, that’s my take.”
Okoku was emphatic. “There is a clear lack of commitment and nonchalant attitude on the part of the players who may be avoiding injury risks due to concerns about missing out on contracts. No blame there. Consequently, the team’s failure to commit to their purposeful playing is tragic.
“It would be shameful and humiliating if they do not qualify this time, following FIFA’s expansion of the World Cup format from 32 to 48 teams. It means that Africa will have nine teams as opposed to the previous five, with the possibility of another place through a knock out stage.”
He spoke the minds of Nigerians. “Evidently, our people, home and abroad, are frustrated with the team, rightly so, and as such, are eagerly awaiting the day when these collective ‘professionals’ will have a decisive victory against their opponents.”
Ekeji did not spare the NFF. “Let’s have the scorecard of this NFF. With what yardstick do they measure themselves? Many years ago, I had good reasons to advise the NFF to review their programmes in order to be able to fund them.
“The issues around the performances of the Technical Crew engaged by the NFF deserves, I think, a national discussion. While I was in office (as NSC Director General ), they never listened to me on funding. It was termed interference.”
Eagles manager, Jose Peseiro, was also x – rayed. In Ekeji’s words, “if a teacher, relatively ‘constantly’ produces a class of students whose scores are low at most exams, then there must be something not adding up with the competence level of that teacher.”
Okoku summed it all up. “Jose Peseiro and his players lack the ‘Super Eagles’ identity in all the games they have played so far. Irrespective of their professional status, they do not have the desire or team spirit needed to execute his game plan, assuming he truly has one that he believes in”.
I remember my chat with Indomitable Lions legend, Joseph Antoine Bell, at the Senegal ’92 African Nations Cup. He spoke glowingly of Stephen Keshi. They had met in an Abidjan radio studio prior to the Cote d’Ivoire 1984 grande finale.
“Keshi”, Bell told me, “was so confident that Nigeria would beat us (Cameroon). Roger Milla looked at me and we wondered what gave the ‘small boy’ such confidence against senior players like us.”
There are only a few players with that confidence in Peseiro’s Eagles. Maybe, Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Osimhen.
Iwobi’s uncle, Jay Jay Okocha, was ready to die after Cameroon went ahead 2-0 in the grand finale of the 2000 AFCON decided in Lagos. His goal drew Nigeria level.
Nigeria lost dubiously in the resultant penalty shoot out.
Emma Okala was so committed that in 1977, twenty four hours after Enugu Rangers were forced to a barren draw in Lagos by AS Police of Senegal, the goalie captained Nigeria against Ghana in the soccer final of the ECOWAS Games. Ekeji switched to the left from his usual right back position and scored one of the two goals that ended the game 2-1 for the hosts.
Taribo West was bloodied in Kobe during the Korea/Japan 2002 Mundial. He continued to fight. Mikel Obi’s father was abducted a few hours before a Russia 2018 outing. He was not weighed down. That is the true Eagles’ spirit.
Peseiro is only interested in harvesting Euro Nigerian players who cannot distinguish Ajegunle from Coal Camp. The two who understand Naija, William Troost Ekong and Leon Balogun, have been fenced off for looking into the eyes of the Portuguese merchant.
Sports minister, John Enoh, must act fast. These Peseiro Eagles can only take us to the Land of Tears. Sadly, says Okoku, “the indigenous coaches and domestic players, have been abandoned to their fate.”