Nigeria and the Beautiful Game of Soccer

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FRIDAY ESSAY:  Nigeria and the Beautiful Game of Soccer




Mobolaji E. Aluko

Soccer Maestro



February 13, 2004



Updated February 14, 2004






Recently, I joined millions of other Nigerians to watch our Super Eagles defeat our perennial nemesis Cameroon in the quarter-finals of the African Nations’ Cup (ANC) football (soccer) tournament that ended in Tunisia on February 14.  I then watched with sadness as we lost by penalty kicks to the better home team Tunisia in the semi-finals.  I could not but feel sorry for the young Russia-born Nigerian Osaze Odemwingie who missed the penalty kick that sent us crashing out prematurely, but I now feel happy for him that he eventually scored the winning goal (after the inimitable Jay-Jay’s second free-kick goal of the tournament) that gave us the Bronze medal by beating Mali.  Tunisia went on in the Final game to beat Morocco 2-1 (who had given Nigeria a shock 0-1 defeat in our first group match) to lift the continental Cup.


But not to worry – we shall be baaaack!


But there are a few things that amuse me or puzzle me about Nigerian soccer:  the unifying force that it brings to bear on Nigerians (amusement) ;  the wonder when we win (puzzle);  and the wonder when we lose (puzzle).


Why the puzzles?  Considering the chaos and anarchy that always precede our choice of national teams, despite the individual talents of the players, it is a wonder that we have a record of decent wins, not to talk of any international ranking at all.  So each time we take to the soccer field, it is surprising that we are never too far from winning, and then when we lose, we are surprised too!


During the last World Cup in  Korea/Japan in May/June 2002, I spent some time analyzing all the teams that featured therein, and used my analysis to come up with a few pointers about Nigerian soccer.


Here goes from me –  11 Points of Nigerian Football – from the Soccer Maestro himself.






2.  That local coach must have played on the national side before, or at the very worst at a top-side international club, so that players respect him.  Please check the records of World Cup winning national teams.  That would have eliminated our 2002 World Cup team coach Chief Festus Adegboye Onigbinde.


3.  As a result of (1) and (2), that local coach should be grooming national side players for coaching duties while coaching.  That means that he should choose the captains of the National side CAREFULLY, in a manner that the captain is actually a coach-in-training, and also COACHES while playing.  I am of the strong belief that once players start to play on the field, much of the task of the actual off-field Coach is virtually over, and the players on the field COMPLETELY take over.  So a player who is also an on-field coach is VERY IMPORTANT and can be quite crucial:  Franz Beckenbauer was one such player.





4. I support the use, to a large extent, of a  SCIENTIFIC method in choosing players.   Thus for players in the following positions:


(i) Forwards – number of shots attempted at goal; number of goals scored; percentage of shots attempted that are scored;  distance from goalpost of goals scored;


(ii) Goalkeepers – ditto;


(iii) Midfielders – number of tackles; number of missed tackles;


(iv) Backs – ditto.




We should put our prospects on some metrics scale, and coupled with consistency, use that to provide some objectivity to the choice of team members. Since soccer is about scoring goals and preventing goals, I believe that particular attention should be put on top scorers and goalkeepers.


At the present time, I am still not ACTUALLY sure whether there is an objective manner in which our team players are chosen.  The whims and caprices of the coach and/or technical adviser seem to hold sway, coupled with hints of ethnic bias, undue favoritism and search for national character in our national teams.  These factors are never too far below the surface.


5.  I support the use of MORE LOCALLY-BASED players. Undoubtedly, these can only come from well-administered sports academies for coaches and players, competitive local leagues (professional, and even universities and secondary schools),  and participation in international tournaments. Few countries have ever won the World Cup with the majority of its players playing OUTSIDE the country – please check the records –  although with soccer now catching the “globalization” bug, that will no longer hold at all in due course. The greater use of local talent has an additional advantage:  it makes for distinctive style of play (an advantageous feature which Brazil has now practically given up, again due to globalization) and it makes call-up for national camp and actual play easier.


6.  I support the use of BATCHES of players being called into camp from A FEW CLUBS only, rather than TOO MANY CLUBS.  All successful national sides in the World Cup, out of say 23 players in camp, normally choose roughly half to two-thirds of them from no more than 5 clubs (could be local or international clubs), rather than the present case when Nigeria chooses 23 players from almost 23 different clubs from all over the world! 


In the last World Cup, for example, Brazil’s squad  had (among others)  3 players from Sao Paulo, 2 from Corinthians, 2 from Gremio,  2 from Roma, 2 from Atletico;   England had   4 from Leeds,  4 from Arsenal, 4 from Manchester United,  3 from Liverpool,  and 2 from West Ham.  On the other hand, Nigeria had only 2 from Paris St Germaine PSG (Jay-Jay Okocha and Ogbeche) and 2 from Shaktar Donesk (Okoronkwo and Agahowa) – and hardly any two of them were on the field playing at any one time, if at all!


The bunching of clubs means that there is greater uniformity of coaching styles and play that these players bring to the national side from their club-side teams, rather than have a national coach having to blend 22 different coaching styles and plays!



7.  I support FIELDING  – not just calling to camp – at any given time bunches of players from the same club.  That is because no scorer scores by himself, and he needs to have supporting players who know his speed and on-field mannerisms.





8.  I do not know whether at this time the Nigerian Football Association (NFA) should be fully private or fully government-run, but with private company oil giants being joined now by  telecommunications giants in Nigeria – and all of them making money hands-over-fist in Nigeria – I believe that we should be moving more from a government-controlled NFA to a more private one.  Hopefully they will be joined by agricultural giants soon, to provide both food and football for all.   After all, if we are privatizing everything in Nigeria, we might as well privatize the NFA.






10.  I used to be darn good in soccer myself – please ask around –  but age has caught up with me.



That  is beautiful for the Beautiful Game, and we should do everything to improve our reputation in it.  It is the only glue right now that unites us Nigerians – and we need it badly


Best wishes all.



Bolaji Aluko

Former Soccer Player turned Soccer Analyst

Proud Soccer Uncle






Origins of “The Beautiful Game” (“Bonito Jogo”)


For World Cup 2002 information, see:


For interesting history of Nigerian Soccer, see:
Nigeria – Details of World Cup Matches

The Official Website of the Nigerian Football Association


For the soccer exploits of my niece in the UK, please read:




Bolaji Aluko, a U-50 sports enthusiast,  used to play football (soccer to some) as a dangerous, fleet-footed center-forward for Dallimore House in Christ’s School, Ado-Ekiti (1966 – 1970), and for a Latino-dominated city-league club-side in Santa-Barbara, California while in graduate school (1979-83).  In his illustrious sporting career , he also played field hockey, lawn tennis, table tennis and chess, some of them from a local level  to the  international level  He currently lives in Burtonsville, Maryland, USA.


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