By Aisha Shuaibu
The 2022 FIFA World Cup has commenced in Qatar and the Super Eagles will not be participating after losing their qualifyers match against Ghana in March at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium in Abuja.
Despite the excitement around the World Cup matches, Nigerians especially those who traveled to attend have expressed disappointment in not being able to watch the national team during what is seemingly a historic World Cup season.
This is the first World Cup hosted in the Middle East and Qatar went out of its way to present one of the most extraordinary experiences for football fans in Doha. It has also been recorded as one of the most expensive World Cups of all time, set to exceed $220 billion.
The tournament has already set records of its own after Cristiano Ronaldo became the first man to score at five FIFA World Cups (2006, 2010, 2014, 2018 and 2022), Lionel Messi the first player to score in four World Cups for Argentina (2006, 2014, 2018 and 2022), and Saudi Arabia defeated Argentina 2-1 shattering their 36 game winning streak.
It appears, though, that the country was more prepared to host than play as Qatar became the first host nation to be knocked out of the FIFA World Cup after the opening two games.
Nigeria is already looking to 2026 with plans to qualify and make up for their missed opportunity this year. But the work is much easier said than done and the factors that affected Nigeria’s participation in Doha must be examined to get to the root of the problem(s).
Coaching, player development and team synergy have been identified as some of the issues facing Nigerian football but on a broader scope, the Nigerian Football Federation and the relevant stakeholders have failed to lay the foundation for the development of the sport in the country.
Being the 4th biggest exporter of footballers in the world, it is evident that Nigeria has an endless pool of talent waiting to be discovered and invested in. It is hard to accept that we have world class Nigerian players representing and playing for other international teams but return home to poor facilities and below average standard of training, and are still somehow expected to deliver when representing their country.
The mental is just as important as the physical for our athletes and the lack of commitment to their wellbeing and professional training is a contributing factor to the lack of motivation to get their head in the game.
A strong coaching and training staff are the bedrock of a winning team. They are able to identify and leverage a team’s strengths, work on their weaknesses and drive the overall advancement of the team. Player development must be the ultimate priority of the Nigerian Football Federation who should collaborate with other government bodies and private institutions to revive the culture of sports in schools, in local leagues and of course within the national team.
They must also rid Nigerian football and the overall sports ecosystem of all distractions in form of politics, favouritism, and corruption, which are added factors resulting in the state of football in the country. The success of the Super Eagles is a matter of national concern because of what events like the World Cup does for our global representation, peace building, business opportunities and nationalism.
Football is a powerful tool that unites Nigerians all over the world regardless of tribe or creed, and when we sing our anthem in stadiums, we do so with pride and passion till the ground shakes. The vandalisation of the Moshood Abiola National Stadium in Abuja after the loss against Ghana was not only a barbaric display but a cry for help from people who were desperate to feel some hope for their country through the game that they love.
After an incredible first half, somehow the Super Eagles let the match go and that led to a messy riot in the end. Violence is indeed inexcusable, but just like in managing children, tantrums have a source that must be traced and treated. In this case, sports is the treatment.
The culture of competitive sports especially in schools has regressed in Nigeria compared to where it was as at a decade ago. Inter-school and interstate tournaments were prominent across the country as schools and local teams competed against one another to defend winning titles.
Most of those games were enabled by proprietors and initiatives that understood the importance of sports and healthy competition in the lives of youth, which contributed to their personal development and discipline as an added bonus. The passion young people pour into sports is undiluted and unshaken, and this zeal must be brought back to our learning institutions. By starting in the schools, camps and programs, we invest in the future generation of Nigerian athletes.
The part the federal government plays in this is in ensuring its governing and regulatory bodies are engaging private sector players as well as public school administrators to create a safe environment for the culture of sports to thrive and granting access to needed support. The success of Nigerian football will not be overnight but to rehabilitate existing issues is to also work from the bottom up and that begins with junior players.
Nigeria making it to the 2026 FIFA World Cup will not only be beneficial to the Super Eagles but to all stakeholders of Nigerian sports i.e. journalists, sponsors, merchandisers, administrators, promoters, and fans. Preparation must begin now in overhauling the National team and putting the infrastructure in place to best prepare for 2026 in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Nigeria cannot afford to miss two consecutive World Cups, but we will also not be in a position to earn a spot till we introduce international standard training to our local footballers. The ecosystem encompasses sports facilities, experienced administrators, officials, scouts, agents and doctors who must incorporate modern techniques and technologies to prepare Africa’s giant for the global stage. To see the results we want, we want must put in the required work and that is non-negotiable.