At last, a truly new national football team of Nigeria is emerging from this weekend’s encounter between Nigeria and South Africa. A new Super Eagles has sprouted in this enchanting, beautiful laid back city in the mangrove swamps and dense vegetation of the deep south of Nigeria for all to see.
For the first time in a long while, not by any deliberate act or design, there is no Mikel Obi, no Victor Moses, no Vincent Enyeama or his replacement, Carl Ikpeme, in the camp of the Eagles. And no one appears to be missing them. Instead, the camp is bubbling with new players, a new spirit and an infectious confidence.
The average age of the new team must be around 22 or 23, if not lower. A new ethic is being gradually engrained in the team by German coach, Gernot Rohr, who has been silently working this past year, scouting for exceptional players and assembling a squad reflective of a team that can achieve his ultimate dream of building a world class team out of Nigeria.
Obviously, the German coach is not one to complain about anything. His vision and mission, to take a country to the World Cup, drive him. He has infected these new Eagles with this conduct of getting the job done first and complaining later. This is strange and new to Nigerian football reputed worldwide for its combustive nature around the subject of finances.
Not having Moses and Mikel in the team may also, indeed, be a blessing in disguise. This gives Rohr the perfect opportunity to present his new players to Nigerians, whose sentimental attachment to the ageing players became a huge challenge to whoever wanted to introduce change.
I have been observing the mood of Nigerians this week. It is crazy. I am yet to find one person willing to give South Africa even the slimmest of chances to survive what would undoubtedly be an onslaught on their defense by a team brimming with attackers.
When I asked Toyin Ibitoye, the media officer of the Eagles, about the new strikers a few days ago, his face lit up just as his excitement. He was quick to reel them off very quickly.
Henry Onyekwuru is the Belgian league’s top scorer this past season. He is very hot. Victor Osime, playing solidly upfront in the German Bundesliga has garnered invaluable playing experience and is brimming with confidence, making him a vastly improved player ready to explode in his debut match for the senior national team this weekend. He is very, very hot!
Kayode Olanrewaju, a graduate of Nigeria’s Under-20, is Austria’s current Player of the Season and the Austrian league’s top scorer. He is very, very, very hot. The Nigerian frontline is explosive.
The midfield also is red hot, Toyin went on; Ogenyi Onazi, hard as steel and tireless; Wilfred Ndidi, sublime midfield conductor; Alex Iwobi, creative G; and some more. I had to stop him before he gave away too much of Genrot Rohr’s weapons of destruction.
The new Super Eagles are, indeed, loaded with exciting new players that would make any coach envious, he told me. For the first time in a long time the Super Eagles are going into a match supremely confident, further boosted by history and the tradition of never having lost a single competitive match to Bafana Bafana in 25 years of their engagement in matches. In their overall 12 encounters, Nigeria’s only loss was in a friendly match in 2004 marking the Nelson Mandela Challenge. History is not about to be re-written any time soon, particularly with a manager like Rohr in place, a man determined to make the Super Eagles a nightmare not just for all African teams but for the rest of the world.
This new Nigerian team appears battle ready. All the invited players arrived a week ahead of the match, something that had never happened in years. Everything else is in place – a wonderful Uyo environment, immaculate lush green turf, a very friendly but vociferous fanatical army of supporters, and players not driven by the usual lure of money but the desire to win.
The football federation has also demonstrated uncommon commitment to fulfill all its financial obligations. It approved and funded the trips and matches to Corsica and Paris, and has promised to pay every due allowance and bonus when victory is delivered.
Under such a setting, it is easy, therefore, to understand the optimism and confidence of all Nigerians as mirrored in Toyin’s responses to my enquiry. The Super Eagles have never been this excited, confident and ready for a match.
Gernot Rohr has been quietly combing the leagues around Europe for young players honed by their regular high level exposure and are ready to establish themselves in the senior national team of Nigeria.
The absence of Mikel Obi and Victor Moses rather than dampen the team’s spirit is actually charging the new players to take it as a challenge to show they are either as good enough, if not better than, those they were replacing.
Coach Rohr has been working hard and tirelessly. He is very confident that the Bafana Bafana are in for a proper hiding, no matter what they do or who they present on the night, as the stage is set in Uyo for a new Super Eagles to soar high over the African skies!
First published in The Guardian as ‘Finally, a new Super Eagles!’