There are several ways to deal with players if one is to succeed as a coach. Most people agree that it is important to draw out camp rules and clearly spell out the terms of engagement. What however standout within the context of a football team management is discipline. No matter what other arrangements are in place, once discipline is lacking, a coach might as well look for another job.
In the past, the issue of discipline cropped up regularly with our national teams particularly the Super Eagles. Players strolled to camp when they like offering no cogent reason for delays. When pushed to act properly, some of them would go ahead to leverage on their influence with the ruling class and intimidate their handlers to soft pedal. This had been the lot of our football and the results have not been great except for the glorious years under Clemens Westerhoff who was able to instill discipline in the team and damned the consequences.
The latest in the long saga of this vice was played out recently under the new coach Stephen Keshi when John Mikel Obi refused to play any out of the two friendly matches organized for the team. He claimed to have back strain. The extent of his ‘injury’ was revealed on Sunday when he started for Chelsea against Liverpool. It took his poor display for Villa Boas to shunt him out after the first half.
Unlike other nationals, Nigerian players tend to turn themselves into something else once they make any headway. And often times than not, their progress is quickly halted by their haughtiness. One cannot overemphasize this as the reality stares all of us in the face to the extent that yesterday’s promising players have been turned to fringe stars in their respective clubs.
One thing the likes of Mikel Obi fail to realize is that without the platform Nigeria offered them, they would be nobodies today. I do not know of many prominent Nigerian players whether in the recent past or present that got into a major European club without having played for the country at one time or the other. Those that made it big without this experience actually are few and far in between.
I have heard people say severally that the arrogance displayed by our players is due to the fortune they command and the poverty around them. While this may be true, it should however be noted that none of our egoistic current Super Eagles players earn up to the likes of Samuel Eto ‘O Fils, Yaya/Kolo Toure, Seidou Keita, Michael Essien, Haruna Kone, Didier Drogba etc. Yet these gentlemen answers national team calls with dedication, discipline and commitment.
Going further up the ladder, distinguished players such Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Christiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Pierse, David Silva, Cesc Fabregas and so on cherish playing for their countries more than the average Super Eagle player. For someone like Messi for instance, winning big with Argentina must be his greatest aspiration. He knows that without this, he would forever be in the shadow of many of his compatriots.
A smart player should also have an eye on history. Joseph Yobo just equaled and eclipsed the all-time appearance record previously held by the late Mudashiru Lawal. This was also a record that would have been broken by Jay Jay Okocha but he chose to play selected matches for the Super Eagles while helping his average Bolton team out in England. While some play for money, other more perceptive athletes engage in the game for history.
I believe without any iota of doubt that Nigeria can succeed on the big stages of African and world football again. This however would only be possible on the altar of sacrifice, selflessness and untainted discipline.
Coach Stephen Keshi therefore must be ready to be both tough and understanding with his choice of players. Anyone that exhibits any form of indiscipline should be shunted out of the team. He must be ready to step on toes, break barriers, court controversy and like Westerhoff; damn the consequences.