Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Way We Play

When I read bloggers who say they use their blogging as therapy, I wondered but now I have realized some truth in it. I do use blogging for therapy too. Going through my posts for last year, they were mostly rants. I blog when I'm happy. I blog when I'm mad at something or someone. Yeah. Its therapy. And its free.

My last post was something else. As you all know - even those who are not fans of African football {soccer for those who don't speak English})- The 26th African Cup of Nations (ACN) is going on in Ghana and Nigeria is participating.

In fact, some people predict that Nigeria will win the cup going by some '14 years' permutation. Nigeria won the cup twice in 1980 and 1994, 2008 is fourteen years since the last victory, so ... what happens to Ghana, Cameroun who had won it back to back before? Or Egypt, who are also current champions. Well, since I'm yet to get that memo, I am still watching.

Our first match with Ivory Coast ended in a 1-0 loss for Nigeria on a night when it looked like I was watching a strange team play. I looked again. The players were Nigerians alright, but the pattern was wrong! My darling Super Eagles playing without wingers? My heart almost stopped about the 20th minute when John Utaka picked up the ball from the right flank and ran towards the center of the pitch! What was he thinking? Obviously he was playing to instructions from the German coach, Berti Vogts.

Take nothing away from the Ivoriens, they played very fluid football with their midfield as pivot but thats what should have made them easy to beat. Kanu and Mikel could hold ten of them in the middle any day; Just to take the ball to the sides and run rings round them. Simple! (As any Nigerian will tell you ;)). After the goal the Ivoriens simply went into defence with up to ten men behind the ball at any time.

I have a problem with German coaches for our national teams. Ironically, Nigeria's first ACN victory in 1980 was under a German coach, Otto Gloria but people - well, my father mainly- said he inherited a good team built largely by his predecessor, the Yugoslav monk, Father Tiko. He is also credited with the introduction of foreign-based and foreign players into the Nigerian team. The team had two Ghanaians in the line up; funny nobody remembers them now.

Otto Gloria was smart. He simply adapted to the team he met and added a few 'foreign' ingredients to make his job a success. Other German coaches after him do not seem so smart after all.

German coaches particularly seem to want to impose their own 'German formations' and 'German systems' on Nigerian footballers. And when they fail, they blame it on 'discipline'. It has nothing to do with 'discipline'. Not until the late 1980s did Nigerians begin to see football as anything but a pastime. It was something you do when you are not doing 'real' work. Its enjoyment. Simple.

And, we have a way we play the game.

Just as any group of eleven Brazilians will play their 'samba' football and any group of eleven Britishers will play their 'kick and follow'; pick any group of eleven Nigerians (male or female) to play football and we run on the wings. Its the way we play.

Its even said that Nigerians can play the game with just 8 players. Four guys at the back, one on the left wing; one on the right wing; one guy upfront and one guy running down the middle to do damage. You may or may not add a goalkeeper.

I don't know why the Germans don't get it. They always try to impose one strange formation or the other. They don't understand the Nigerian pattern of play so they try to bring in theirs and it usually always ends in frustrations and failures for the coach and a waste of time for the country.

Manfred Honer tried it in the late eighties and it led to an open rebellion by the players. He left the country without even packing his bags. The Frenchman, Phillipe Troussier tried to be too 'German' for his own good by insisting on his strange 3-5-2 formation which they said worked well in Ivory Coast but hey, we are not Ivoriens. Much as he was liked, he lost out to 'player power'.

The self-styled 'Dutchgerian', Clemens Westerhof is probably the most successful coach of the Nigerian national team because he came, he saw, he adapted. Before coming to Nigeria, he was just a small time coach in a village in his native Holland but when given the opportunity, he studied and understood the politics that surrounds everything in Nigeria.

He introduced power into our 'wingplay'; our wingers ran faster and delivered 'pull outs' more accurately. He adapted the Dutch 'mass attack, mass defence' system to originate from the back to the wings to the center and it can go from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2 to whatever in the same wave. Many theorists said Nigeria had no pattern of play known in football, so we said 'No-pattern? That's our pattern'.

He was also known to be good at motivating his players and there are stories of the occasional joint being passed round in the dressing room at half time. Hey, anything to keep up team spirit right?

On his watch, Nigeria won the ACN in 1994 and qualified for the World Cup for the first time ever, at USA 94. Also attained Nigeria's highest ever ranking of being Number 4 in the world. And the world took notice of Nigerian football. That team is still considered the greatest Nigerian football team ever!

When Nigerians complained of not seeing enough of their team because they always 'trained' in Europe, he brought in his compatriot Johannes Bonfrere who did the actual training while Westerhof played the politics. As taciturn as Westerhof is loquacious, Bonfrere Jo was a silent worker. Nigeria won the Olympic gold for football under him at Atlanta 96.

Now will this German learn anything from history? I sincerely hope so. News from Ghana has it that he had been 'spoken to' and we would revert to our natural wingplay from the next match against Mali tomorrow. I sincerely hope Berti Vogts is as smart as Otto Gloria. If not ... as he is reputed to be one of the highest paid coaches in the world, he could be on his way out.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Its The Wings Stupid!

Will someone please tell that idiot German that an eagle cannot fly without its wings. We had no business losing that match.

I am still upset.


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