Reimagining the Nigerian Soccer Team’s All-Time Eleven

Sports broadcast giants Super-Sports recently presented its viewers with a Super Eagles all-time eleven which has generated sustained discourse across social media and beyond. Whereas the subject put forward by the broadcast outfit is a very interesting one, it somewhat doubles as a recipe for quarrels, hence the enormous controversy it is generating. A quick recap of Super-Sports’ 4-3-3 has Vincent Enyeama in goal, Augustine Eguavoen at right full-back, Celestine Babayaro at left full-back, while a pairing of Joseph Yobo and Uche Okechukwu (by the way, Super-Sports erroneously displayed a wrong image of a younger surname-sake) make up the central defence. In midfield are Sunday Oliseh, Augustine Jay-Jay Okocha, and John Obi Mikel; while the inimitable trio of Emmanuel Amunike, Finidi George and Rashidi Yekini offer offensive threat upfront.

On the first premise, doing a Nigerian all-time eleven is not a day’s job. Without a lot of doubt, football has ranked as the most popular sport in Nigeria since her independence, at the very least. Nigeria’s first Olympic gold medal came in the brace forms of long jump and football at Atlanta ’96. Yet, to emphasize the accident of the gold in long jump, the country is yet to be heralded by a pretender let alone a successor to Chioma Ajunwa! While Nigerian-born athletes have and continue to grace the global sports scene with world-beating performances donning the colors of developed nations, like Great Britain and the USA, the only sport where there has been a semblance of sustained success for Nigeria is football. This is so in spite of the rather dismal modern history of Nigerian football. Other than the gold medal of the Atlanta ’96 soccer team, Nigeria managed to win the Olympic soccer silver and bronze medals at Beijing ‘2008 and Rio de Janeiro ‘2016 respectively. And if age-cheating is to be cited for this measure of success (being that the Olympic soccer competition has certain age limitations) as is the case with Nigeria’s record at the Under-17 and Under-23 World Cups, the Super Eagles have reached the World Cup second-round twice and have won the African Cup of Nations thrice, along with several medal-place finishes through the decades.

But one must desist from digressing any further. The Super-Sports folks that came up with the foregoing eleven did so based on limited historical knowledge. There is also a sense, perhaps, in influencing the broadcast giant’s selection, of how certain individuals who have played for the Super Eagles in the past carry themselves and are faring today. However, all factors considered, it is probably more prudent in this instance to do an all-time twenty-two (if at all) rather than a stark eleven. This is crucial more so because of the caliber of talents that have graced the green and white while plying their trade in a sport conducted on green and white turfs. In truth, the Super-Sports’ team would be less controversial if it were termed ‘post-1990 Super-Eagles eleven’. Such a terminological combination in captioning would be doubly effective in that it grossly mitigates the risk of rubbishing many of those who played for the green rather than for the dollar. Many millennials are privy to team camp scuffles over payment of allowances and associated discomforts which are features that weren’t a part of the art of representing one’s country decades earlier. So, in order to avoid quarrel both at the cemetery and in the contemporary space, one would offer a short illustration of the futility in naming a Super Eagles all-time eleven. In the following paragraph, one is compelled to get a sense of how – as is in music and acting – Nigeria has been so blessed with several elevens.

Super-Sports’ pick at right full-back, Augustine Eguavoen, makes for a debatable choice since many question whether he was a right full-back in the realm of great. To be sure, methinks Joseph Yobo was a better right full-back than he ever was a center half. His exploits at Standard Liege and Olympique de Marseille are loud illustrations of this. Becoming a center half at the latter-clubs and country level was based purely on expediency and available resources (talent). And that’s just the right full-back position! One is yet to entertain perspectives that Joe Erico, Peter Rufai or Dosu Joseph, for example, are claimants to the goalkeeper position too. Nor is Stephen Keshi, Benedict Iroha, Dan ‘the bull’ Amokachi, Nwankwo Kanu or Samson Siasia any less great. Older Nigerians wouldn’t possibly leave out Mudashiru Lawal and the ‘mathematical’ Segun Odegbami (of the 1980 AFCON winning class). Indeed, what do we make of the memories of Samuel Okwaraji and Thompson Oliha, both with short-lived careers? Where to position a Victor Nosa Ikpeba (who was the prince of Monaco long before a certain Thierry Henry graced the royal terraces)? Similarly, one is conscious of folks who would make a strong case for Taribo West’s inclusion in a Nigerian all-time eleven just because he played for both San Siro giants – a rarity he shares with an exclusive class of greats like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Andrea Pirlo, Christian Vieri, Mario Balotelli, Patrick Vieira, Sulley Muntari, Hernan Crespo, Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids and Ronaldo de Lima.

Simply put, Super-Sports’ prescription of Nigeria’s all-time eleven is a recipe for quarrels.

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Garhe Osiebe


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