As
reports filtered in mid last week that Frenchman Paul Le Guen was the chosen
expatriate to task with taking the Super Eagles to Russia 2018 World Cup finals,
it signaled the end of debate as to whether Nigeria needed a foreign coach or,
for that matter, whether Nigeria had learned from its dreadful experience at
the hands of most of the expatriates in the past.

At
the bottom of the debate, it should be said, lay mental preference for foreign
products even more than the debate itself.

Sports
journalists and analysts who argued for the engagement of foreign coaches postulated
that local coaches could not instill discipline among the players and were
generally easily influenced in team selection which they said ultimately posed
adverse effect on results. They also argued that other African nations had
employed expatriates ahead of the qualifiers scheduled to begin in October. Curiously,
they omitted Senegal which has former international Aliou Cisse in charge of
the Teranga Lions and who has a bright chance of leading his motivational
players to the World Cup.

It
was even more curious that no reference was made to the plethora of average players
that seem to suffuse the Eagles’ camp in recent times such that the team has
lacked a leader on the pitch, a condition for success in campaigns. No
reference was also made to how a near-insolvent Nigeria Football Federation
(NFF) would fund the agreed N16.2million monthly wage for Le Guen or if he
would be capable of tinkering entirely unknown players towards qualification
for Russia 2018. Nor was any mention made of whether the Eagles’ assistant
coaches would give way as the Frenchman was expected to bring in his appointed
assistants. It appeared the slogan was ‘let us get Paul Le Guen first and other
things will follow.’

That
the NFF shrouded Le Guen before the reports came last week did not help matters
in any way. Why would the federation not subject the old coach to scrutiny if
it had not already concluded on engaging him.

To
be sure, the NFF did not condemn wholesale the local coaches. “It is not that
we don’t have good coaches at home,” NFF President Amaju Pinnick said recently
at the start of his “no going back” campaign for an expatriate. “But we also
have a need to engage a strong coach who can coordinate the team and maintain
sanity in the dressing room,” he also said, as if to suggest that the local
coaches had failed woefully in coordination and maintenance of sanity.

But,
the deed had been done and all parties for and against the coming of Le Guen
can only forge ahead.

Yet,
everyone must return to the reality of Group B of the qualifiers which has Nigeria
alongside World Cup veterans Algeria and Cameroon as well as 2012 African
champion Zambia. It would not matter who is in charge of the Eagles again or
which players Nigeria would have to deploy. There is war on the route to
Russia, as the “Group of death” suggests and it is a war that would test the
strength of each of the quartet to the limit. Nothing helps the fact that only
one ticket is available to the “warriors”.

So,
how ready is Nigeria?

Hardly
can anyone stick out the neck for Eagles at this point, no thanks to the team’s
epileptic performances in recent times, epitomised by the miss of AFCON 2017
ticket. But the NFF believes the ticket is achievable, although it has since
admitted that the group would be tough.

“Lots
of people believe Algeria is a threat to our qualification for Russia. But I
also think we are a threat to the Algerians too as they know that they cannot
afford to take us for granted,” Pinnick further said while hinging Nigeria’s
survival in the group on what he called “early preparation”. It was not
unlikely, therefore that he had matched his words with action with the
appointment of Le Guen, sneaky as it turned out.

Perhaps,
in Pinnick’s reckoning, Cameroun and Zambia posed lesser threat than Algeria. It
could be a warped reckoning, however. Only time will tell.

Nearly
all the former Eagles’ stars are unanimous that Nigeria is in one hell of a war
to get to Russia. But they have expressed optimism, nonetheless, that “it’s
football where just anything can happen” after discovering that there are no
particular players to rely on in the Eagles’ pack to take Nigeria to the
“Promise Land”.

Super
Eagles’ Assistant Coach, Salisu Yusuf, who had worked with former coach Sunday
Oliseh until he was saddled with the job in April, whereupon he achieved two
quick results at defeating Mali and Luxembourg in friendly games within five
days in soon after, dared to differ.

“Honestly,
I am least bothered about the competition in Group B,” Yusuf said, with confident
smile playing on his face.

“We
may look less advantaged compared to Algeria and Cameroun or even Zambia who
can also be slippery on a good day. But all this does not take away the fact
that we are good enough for the World Cup,” the former Nigeria international
midfielder remarked.

Yusuf
seemed to possess the antidote to threats in the group. Hear him: “We must have
the right mentality and believe in ourselves.”

On
the reason for his overflowing confidence, hear him yet again: “We have a group
of exciting young players who are hungry to make names for themselves and in
the process win the ticket for Nigeria.”

Total
support from all and sundry will serve Nigeria right as the “war” gets underway
in the first week of October; the support that is interestingly not assured for
the Eagles as yet and a fact that seems not lost on Algeria’s captain, Sofiane
Feghouli, who declared last week in apparent first mind game against the Eagles
who appear favoured with a first fixture away to Zambia as the North Africans
host Cameroun: “The entire people of Algeria are totally behind us. We will
just add our quality and commitment to win the World Cup ticket.” 

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