Nigeria
had gone through a very difficult qualifying series for the USA 94
World Cup in which Clemens Westerhof used about one hundred players
in all.

By
the time we played our last game in Algiers
against Algeria, it
seemed every one knew the team, at least the eleven that would start.
However, Westerhof had a problem. First choice left full back, Ben
Iroha was injury prone.

There
was also the little matter of a replacement for long standing
captain, Stephen Keshi who on the strength of his current performance
may not have been good enough to go to the World Cup, but “had to”
because of his leadership qualities and may be as compensation for
the time he had spent with the team.

Chidi
Nwanu and Emenalo crashed the 94 World Cup team

Mike Emenalor tangos with Diego Maradona at the World Cup in USA

Stephen
Keshi had broken into the Green Eagles with a debut against Norway in
a friendly game in Oslo on August 12, 1981 that ended 2-2 (Felix
Owolabi, Ayo Ogunlana).

Though
he played only one World Cup Qualifier for Espana 82, the 2-0 loss in
Lagos to Algeria as a late substitute for Christian Chukwu, he was an
integral part of the Eagles’ failed qualifying campaigns in 1986
and 1990, so he probably
deserved to be at the World
Cup.

But
Westerhof, knowing he was going to the World’s biggest stage needed
somebody he could trust in center back. He already had Okechukwu Uche
and Uche Okafor and the duo
of Austin Eguavoen and Emeka Ezeugo who could fill in their, but
the media had started a campaign for somebody else, a
defender they thought should
be in the World Cup party.

For
Ben Iroha, Westerhof had
tried Uche Okafor and Nduka Ugbade in the
left full back role before
but may be he
ended up thinking Okafor was best suited in Center Back and Ugbade
was not good enough for the World Cup so he went scouting.

Mike
Emenalo was part of the Enugu Rangers team that won the Nigerian
League in 1984 as well as a
Green Eagles player before he moved to the USA.

He
last featured for the Green Eagles in 1986 World Cup Qualifiers
playing against Kenya in Nairobi, Nigeria won 3-0 with goals from
Fatai Amao, Hussein Khari (own goal) and Rashidi Yekini.

Emenalo
also played in the 3-1 reverse fixture win in Lagos where Dahiru
Sadi, Rashidi Yekini and Yisa Sofoluwe scored.

He
then played in the ill-fated
games against Tunisia where Nigeria won 1-0 in Lagos (Okey Isima) and
lost 2-0 in Tunisia and then
he traveled out of the country, many believing he was in the USA to
school and then play in the semi professional leagues there.

After
that, Emenalo disappeared and was almost completely forgotten by
Nigerians until he returned on May 15, 1994 in a friendly game
against Suriname,
just a few weeks to the start of the World Cup.

He
actually was at the Boston University from 1986-89 and then played
for Belgian club, Molenbeek until 1993 before moving to Eintracht
Trier in Germany, where he was when Westerhof picked him for the
World Cup party.

At
that time, information dissemination was not like it is now. There
was no internet and of course no social media so
it was
really difficult to tell how Westerhof knew of a fellow called Mike
Emenalo, how he scouted him and how he became part of the Super
Eagles with less than two months to the World Cup.

He
eventually made the team to the USA.

Chidi
Nwanu started as a player of Enyimba in 1983 and then moved through
Spartans, then ACB before “disappearing” to the lower rungs of
the Belgian league.

In
1988 he was part of Nigeria’s disastrous
team to the Olympic Games in
Seoul but after that nothing much was heard of him as he worked his
way up the top in Belgium, playing for
Beveren
and then Anderlecht.

During
the qualifiers for the World Cup for USA there was a media campaign
in Nigeria for Westerhof to give him a recall but the Dutchman
rebuffed all entreaties.

The
campaign for Nwanu to be called up at a point became so bitter that
it was suggested in the media that certain players in the team
(referring) to Stephen Keshi were afraid to let Nwanu into the team
for fear of losing their place.

However,
on the 15th
of May, 1994, Nwanu featured for the Eagles against Suriname
in a friendly match and subsequently made the team to the World Cup.

Chidi
Nwanu should thank the Nigerian media who put so much pressure on
Westerhof
before he got his recall. Not that he was a poor or average player,
but somehow the coach just did not seem to want him in the team.

Nwanu
eventually played all four games for Nigeria at the World Cup and put
up five star performances in them. Emenalo played three, starting
from against Argentina, after Ben Iroha got injured (as usual) after
the opening game against Bulgaria.

Yekini did not play a single qualifying game but was at the World Cup in France
France
98 gate crashers

To determine the most tragic
World Cup in terms of preparations that Nigeria has been in, one
would be hard pressed to choose between 1998 and 2002.

After an above average outing
in USA where the Super Eagles were voted the 2nd most
entertaining team, Nigerians probably thought it was time to win the
World Cup.

From the first World Cup
Qualifying match in 1997 to the competition proper, Nigeria had four
coaches, Shaibu Amodu, Monday Sinclair, Phillipe Troussier and Bora
Milutinovic, a shambolic way to go through World Cup Qualifiers, but
the Nigeria Football Association and coach Bora Milutinovic were not
done as it was now time for a player merry go round.

The team was disjointed from
start to finish as Amodu was sacked after a draw on the road to
Kenya. Was that really why he was sacked or was it because he
challenged the sports minister in an interview?

Monday Sinclair was just stop
gap for Troussier, who after qualifying the team for the World Cup, a
section of the media, the controversial group in Lagos started a
campaign against him not being a “World Class Coach” whatever
that meant.
His
“strange” 3-5-2 formation was also used as ammunition for his
sack as these same group of editors and football writers claimed the
Nigerian players were not used to it.

It
was funny because at that time the spine of our national team,
Jonathan Akpoborie, Sunday
Oliseh, Taribo West, Victor Ikpeba, Wilson Oruma etc played in
Leagues and clubs where the 3-5-2 was very popular, but Troussier
left and Bora came in, a
“World Class Coach”
with World Cup experience.

Joseph
Dosu had an accident while celebrating Nigeria’s qualification for
the World Cup and was bedridden, Ike Shorunmu got injured in a
friendly game before the World Cup and Abiodun Baruwa was deemed to
have lost form so was dropped.

Rather
than stick with Willy Opara who was doing well at Orlando Pirates and
Ndubuisi Egbo, then draft in Uche Akubuike at Jasper United as a 3rd
choice who wouldn’t get to
play anyway, a retired and
holidaying Peter Rufai was brought into the team and
immediately in a coronation
ceremony was named first
choice keeper. He featured
in the 5-1 drubbing by Holland on June 5, 1998 and the rest is in the
FIFA archives.

Rashidi
Yekini who last played for the Eagles against England on November 16,
1994 also returned in the Carlsberg Cup played in Hong Kong in
January 1998 against Hong Kong in a 2-0 win (Yekini, Siasia) and
subsequently made the team to the World Cup in France even though he
did not play in a single qualifying game.

How
a player like Jonathan Akpoborie missed out on the World Cup in
France in 1998 continues to remain a mystery until this very day.


Ogbeche benefited from the disorder and made it to 2002 World Cup
The
2002 jamboree

After Nigeria qualified for
the World Cup in 2002, the bronze medal winning performance at the
AFCON was considered not good enough and the coaches were sacked.

Some internal problems also
saw a massive clear-out of regulars in the team for some others who
may not have naturally been given a look in.

Out went the captain, Sunday
Oliseh, Finidi George, Victor Agali, Wilson Oruma, Victor Ikpeba etc
and in came the likes of Justice Christopher, Bartholomew Ogbeche,
Femi Opabunmi, John Utaka, Ben Akuwegbu, James Obiora and Vincent
Enyeama.

Yakubu Aiyegbeni who was at
the top of his game at that time had eye surgery and even though he
thought he was fit enough for the World Cup, was not considered by
the coach.

Justice Christopher played
just two World Cup Qualifiers and was never considered an integral
part of the team while Bartholomew Ogbeche, John Utaka, James Obiora
and Femi Opabumi were only called up a few months to the World Cup
for friendly games after the planned disintegration of the team by
people who did not mean well for Nigerian football.

Ideye also gatecrashed
Shock injury to Mikel Obi saw Ideye at the World Cup in South Africa

At the World Cup in 2010,
Brown Ideye gatecrashed at the last minute coming in for injured John
Mikel Obi.

Brown Ideye was part of the
Nigerian U20 team at the World Youth Championships of 2007 in Canada
and was never a part of the Super Eagles, but an injury to John Mikel
Obi ensured he got a late call up to the team. He never got a game
too.

Ideye had never been part of
the Super Eagles before then and he even wore the number 10 shirt at
the World Cup, a jersey that was never seen on the pitch.

The likes of Rabiu Afolabi,
Sani Kaita, Lukman Haruna, Chinedu Obasi, Uwa Elderson Echiejile and
Dele Adeleye found themselves at the World Cup in South Africa
through means that could be argued to be much more than their
performances on the pitch and what they could bring to the national.

I remember the Lagos based
media hyping Rabiu Afolabi who never played a single World Cup
Qualifying game and nicknaming him the Robocop. Afolabi got just one
game at the World Cup.

Flavour
N’abania at the World Cup in Brazil
Till this day, no one is sure how Uchebo got on the plane to Brazil

Nigerians watched on in horror
as the legendary Stephen Keshi almost ruined his good work of the
last two years with the squad he named for the World Cup in Brazil in
2014.

Out the door went Brown Ideye
and Sunday Mba, two players who basically won him the AFCON a year
earlier.

In their stead, we saw the
likes of Uche Nwafor, Michael Babatunde, and Michael Uchebo.

Remember, that Osaze
Odemwingie who had been dropped from the team during the qualifiers
returned to play at the World Cup.

The point of these history
lessons is to explain what is going on right now in Nigerian media
space especially the online and social media is nothing new and has
been going on right from pre- 1994 when Nigeria first made it to the
World Cup.

Let the hustle begin
Anthony Ujah wants to be in Russia

It’s that time of the year
before a World Cup when the campaign to get players into the team is
in full voice and Nigeria is the main focus of this piece.

Ever since that draw against
Algeria that ended the World Cup Qualifiers with Nigeria firmly in
Russia, the media, especially social has been awash with reports of
one strange Nigerian player or another vowing to be in Russia or
scoring a unique goal or two.

Even an appearance these days
in Europe guarantees a screaming headline to the PR people who are
out there to spin stories about their friends and clients but nothing
that happens is new, is it?

I actually saw one about a
Nigerian playing in the lower rungs of the Argentine League who wants
to be at the World Cup. It is that bad.

The players themselves are
leaving nothing to chance as reports reaching us indicate that
Anthony Ujah had left Asia for Germany and Brown Ideye is also on the
move, a deal that should be announced soon, both good for the players
to enhance their chances of playing at the World Cup.

Vincent Enyeama has also moved
to Angers in the French 1st division and even though he
has repeatedly said he is not ready for a comeback to the Super
Eagles, regular football would once again be ammunition for the guns
of the #BringBackEnyeama gang.

The position of some players
on the World Cup bound party also seems shaky because they have been
very anonymous at their clubs.

Ahmed Musa and Kelechi
Iheanacho may be on the books of Leicester City but do not seem to be
players of the club as people are gradually forgetting what they
looked like the last time they played for the club.

Elderson Echiejile has not
been in the best of form for Nigeria in the last last few games and
may think his place on the plane is not certain yet.

Cases have been made for the
likes of Joel Obi, Austin Ejide, Dele Aiyenugba, Godfrey Oboabona and
Obafemi Martins to return to the team and truth be told, at least
three players who did not feature in the last three World Cup
Qualifying matches for Nigeria will be in Russia and at least two who
did not play at all in them.
The media is in full voice
while the Spin doctors have gone on over drive.

It is all about their clients
going to the World Cup, whether they are good enough to be there or
not.

If Gernot Rohr caves in to
pressure, it won’t be because he is a bad manager, no, not at all.

Clemens Westerhof, Bora
Milutinovic, Adegboye Onigbinde, Lars Lagerback and Stephen Keshi
also fell for it.

As I watch the drama unfold on
Social Media, I will be here hoping that the Super Eagles can at
least get eighteen players at the World Cup that can actually play
football when called upon.

Anything less than that will
certainly be disaster for the country once again.

Grab your pop corn as you are
about to read about that Nigerian scoring goals in Azerbaijan.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Great piece there man. I do hope we will learn from history and do what is reasonable rather than emotional and mediocre call for inclusion of players who should not be mentioned for the world cup party.
    Nigeria is on the march again.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here