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Odegbami: The Inglorious Exit of The Flying Eagles!

Odegbami: The Inglorious Exit of The Flying Eagles!

I recall the good old days of Academicals football in Nigeria.

The secondary schools used to produce football players of quality in an endless stream. No one asked about their ages. Studentship determined and separated the boys from the men.

You had to be in secondary school to qualify to play in the regional or national academicals team of those days. Football encouraged enrollment of youths into school, and scholarships for the best players were a great incentive to play and excel.

Many of the national team players came through the academicals from all parts of the country. The transition from Academicals to the Green Eagles was smooth, based purely on the merit of performance. The public was as much a selector as the national coach in charge of the team.

I also remember the birth of the Flying Eagles with great nostalgia. They metamorphosed from the Nigeria Academicals. Both were feeder teams for the Green Eagles. That’s how some of the greatest players in Nigeria’s football history rose to the top. Their list is very long.

Meanwhile, the strength of Nigerian football was in the individual skills of players honed on the rough, hard playing grounds around the country. As a result of very bad pitches there wasn’t much emphasis on tactics. The limited knowledge and experiences of the country’s dedicated first and second generation coaches could also only produce players that could express themselves freely on the ball through dribbling, running at great speed, shooting powerfully, or making great crosses. The bottom line is that there must be something exceptional in a player for him to qualify for a place in Nigeria’s national team, beyond the common ability to kick and follow the ball.


Okechukwu Offia tussles with USA’s Konrad De La Fuente

I recall that Sam Garba, Peter Anieke, Ismaila Mabo, Babatande Nakande, Tony Igwe, all had to register as students in a secondary school in Jos, Academy Institute of Commerce, for them to be able to play their football at Academicals level from where they moved up to the senior national team.

So, being in secondary school was a requirement to play in the academicals.

You could not play from outside it, and academicals football was big, very big. It was a subtle enforcer of enrollment into secondary school for those who did not ordinarily want western education. It also promoted College football as a football development module. And it worked magic in the country.

Student players and teams packed stadia. Haruna Ilerika, alone in Zumratul College Agege, Lagos, could fill the Onikan Stadium with spectators. Stephen Keshi, the Olukani brothers, Tarila Okoronwanta, and Henry Nwosu, all in St. Finbarr’s College, packed stadia with fans. It was a similar story in different parts of the country

The attraction was the artistry of the players. They could do extra-ordinary things with the ball at their feet. Those were the same attributes that Etim Esin, Jay Jay Okocha, Kanu Nwankwo, Victor Ikpeba, and co inherited that separated them from the chaff, and turned them into superstars, well above their peers, and good enough to grace the football theatres of Europe.

The football field was a theatre.

On it the players could ‘dance’ and dribble as if to the beat of some ‘invisible’ music. Every time, they put up a show, shielding and passing, sprinting down the flanks and making precision crosses, hauling long throws, driving cannon shots, and heading crosses with power and precision. That’s how the nicknames came about: headmaster, blockbuster, slow poison, switching, caterpillar, tailor, mathematical.

In short, the players were technically sound and could do a whole lot of things with the ball, but often deficit of advanced understanding of tactics, discipline, systems and organized team tactics. These they needed to add to their arsenal of natural skills on the sophisticated fields of Europe in order to become the complete article.

Such breed of players was special but is now fast disappearing from the local scene. Coaches, also, of the blessed ‘old school’, unadulterated by imported foreign technicalities, are also becoming a very scarce commodity.

Also Read: NFF Defends Aigbogun, Rubbishes Allegations Of Player Extortion, Infighting In Flying Eagles

As a deliberate strategy to improve the standards of football, and to reduce the gap between First and Third World football countries, age–group competitions were introduced by FIFA. That’s when the Nigerian Academicals became the Flying Eagles and, now, the Nigerian National Under-20 team.

The difference between the then National Academicals and the present Under-20s is the stringency in eligibility. The academicals were exclusively drawn from schools (irrespective of their age), whereas the Under-20s are mostly drawn from major clubs and have to produce documents to show that they are under the age of 20. That’s the problem here – documents. In Nigeria, documentation and integrity do not go together. FIFA’s good intentions have become Nigeria’s greatest setback in football development!


The on-going FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Poland clearly shows the unintended and unwanted consequences of FIFA’s development agenda in a Third World country like Nigeria.

Nigeria were ousted in the second round of the championship following one of the worst series of performances I have ever seen a Nigerian team put up. That speaks volumes.

For a country that has won the Under-17 championship three times in its history, but finds putting up a similar spirit and performance at a higher level impossible, something is definitely wrong. That wrong component is why the country has never won the Under-20 Championship as would be expected in accordance to FIFA’s good intentions, or the World Cup proper as predicted by Pele in 1989.

Pele and a few others watched Nigeria’s Under-17s in Scotland in 1989 and predicted that by the turn of the last Century, Nigeria would win the senior World Cup following what he saw of the team.

It is almost 30 years since then, 19 years into a new Century. Pele has been made to eat his predictions.


This week, Nigeria’s Under-20s put up a performance that made Nigerians shut their eyes in shame and wonder what had gone wrong with the FIFA development module. The performance had nothing to show: no exceptional players; no organized play; no clear tactics; no discipline; no creativity; no artistry; no class; no style; no colour; nothing! Just a bunch of very physical, ordinary players running without a strategy whilst their hapless coach watches in total stupefaction, wondering what to do, and doing nothing.

The greatest surprise is that Nigerians are showing surprise at the turn of events. The country’s football is, of course, a reflection of the state of the country.

How can a system where corruption thrives, fueled by bribery, brazen lies, cheating and falsification of documents be expected to produce a football environment that is productive?

Deny it as much as Nigerians like for so-called ‘patriotic’ reasons, the truth is that at age-group competitions (every single one of them) the country cheats. We all shut our eyes to the truth and use much older players. Everyone knows it. Even the international organisers know it too in their hearts but can do nothing. I have heard as much in conversations at some high levels.

They do not punish us because there is no evidence of our act. So, they let us burn up in our self-deceit, certain of the consequences of our short-sighted folly – heading nowhere. The lame excuse we give is that some other countries do it as well. So, it is alright to embrace corruption because others are corrupt?

So, FIFA lets us wallow in our cheating and celebration of pyrrhic and shallow

‘victories’ that are of little value, at the cost of the more lucrative, more prestigious and more glamourous championships.

Nigeria also hires a coach with paper qualifications, but without the experience and pedigree to handle a national team with a goal to win the World Cup at a level the country has never won before, and expect a miracle.

Poland 2019 has been a sad reminder of the direction Nigeria should not head. The country must go back to the era of exalted values and high morals, of good conduct and character, and perch on to a new ground where to win is not by all means, but to compete with dignity, fairness and integrity.

We were there only a few decades ago.
That’s where we must return to.
Enough of the shenanigans.

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  • Emmy laze 5 years ago

    The mathematical football guru has said it all.Poland 2019, is Nigeria’s worst outing ever in the U-20 world cup.What a shame and catastrophic outing for those direction less and purposeless bunch of players and the so called technical bench.Nigerians are not going to forgive the NFF and those that made us bow our heads in shame before the world.That is simply my take.

  • Kellugs 5 years ago

     Baba Shegeee,

    One of a few who speak so well about the ills of the society. Your words are akin to punching with a pinch . Thank you so much for this write up I sure  hope those in charge of organizing football activities  in Nigeria could  learn a thing or two from your erudite corner. 

    It was really pathetic watching the Nigerian Under 21 team play knowing that our standards are way above that exhibited by that team. I just hope they learn from this debacle.

    Thank you

  • Abdulrazak 5 years ago

    Nigeria did not field U 19s in Poland. We took old men pretending to be U 19s.

  • Glory 5 years ago

    Good one from one of the best No. 7 the world of football has ever produced. I think we have another disaster begging to happen with our golden eagles. Lateef Omidji n the other two English based players, truly u-17 were not considered as good enough to play. I know a 17 year old when I see one in Nigeria, forget about MRI, absolute rubbish. Yes few of them could be within that age grade but there are others there that are not. Tired of this nonsense.

  • Glory 5 years ago

    Is it not a shame that we once had a little Messi, that has retired due to aging even before his elder brother Lionel Messi?

    • Pompei 5 years ago

      Hahahahaha! Nice one Glory! Junior Messi retired before senior Messi! So who is fooling who?

  • Naija we hail thee.
    God help us.

  • Ndubuisi 5 years ago

    Uncle shegun may God be with you. You have spoken without mincing words the problem of our age grade teams. Let him that has ears listen. If Nigerians has gone with truly under 20 we would have worried so far they played good football. But watching our so called u20 performed poorly is a disgrace. Let’s go back to our root and change things. Enough of employing amateurs as our coaches.

    • Adewuyi Olaosenikan 5 years ago

      Ahh, Ndubuisi Egbo, well done sir. We still remember your days in Super Eagles sir.

  • Destano 5 years ago

    All this things everyone has saw and are talking about in the u20 the Mr so called amaju pinnick nova hear am wetin the fool cor dey talk for the mata he nor anything because corruption dey kill am 2 make god punish all of una

  • Destiny 5 years ago

    Only god na go intervain for Nigeria sha

  • Pompei 5 years ago

    Before the U-20 Afcon, I observed that the average age of the SAMBISA ELEVEN looks more like 27. And I lamented this fact. When we take 30 year old men to U-17 tournaments, chances are that we will do well, because men will usually get the better of boys in a contest. However, in U-20 tournaments, the situation changes. Our opponents are no longer boys. Not quite fully grown men yet, but they are bigger, stronger, mentally tougher. This is perhaps why we have struggled at this level.
    Our obsession with under whatever competitions is killing our football. It is always nice to win, under whatever competitions included. But as Mathematical 7 pointed out, the main purpose of all the youth teams is to identify potential Super Eagles. And this process must be merit based! The Godfatherism, nepotism, man-know-man, bribery culture that we have today must be eradicated for our football to move forward. We have 5 U-17 world cup titles. To what end? You can imagine the FIFA eggheads laughing at us, as they watch us destroy ourselves with misplaced priorities. They will not tell us what to do, never. They will rather sit back and watch us mess ourselves up. We need to buckle up and do the right thing. If we get it right, we have the potential to win the world cup (the real one, not under whatever). But to do this, we need to get out of our own way!

  • We you see a technocrat who has also played the game come out open as he has always done over the years, to express his exasperation at the shambolic and shameful display of the flying eagles, then, you know that what we the fans have been saying is correct.
    Anybody that says “truth is bitter” is saying so because his or her mouth has been “soured with lies.” We are yet to her from the NFF that they regret the performance of the flying eagles and Aigbogun, their coach. If it takes the NFF this long to apologize to Nigerians about the display of the flying eagles in Poland, then, it can only mean they are not ready to turn a new leaf.
    I have said it over and over again that if Nigeria (Nigerian government, NFF, coaches, and all Nigerians) eschew corruption from all works of life, we will have more that half of the Golden eaglet and Flying eagles progress to the Super eagles. I still repeat that, that was the norm in the early 1980s. I thank Mr. Segun Odegbami for alluding to this fact and mentioning players (not just 1, 2 or 3 to buttress his point in his write up).
    When our ex-footballers clamored to be given opportunities to coach our national teams, they were told (mostly by NFF) that they don’t have the qualifications to coach Nigeria’s national teams. Now many of them have gone on to acquire coaching certificates, but the NFF because of corruption will not allow them to successfully coach our national teams. This is why someone like Emmanuel Amunike has gone to Tanzania, and successfully taken them to the nations cup after years of absence. Mind you, Tanzania does not have the enormous talent that abound in Nigeria.
    It may be argued that Amunike did not succeed at under 20 level. But relatively, he did succeed because his players are now gradually getting into the national team (one of the real reasons that FIFA created age grade competitions).
    If the system works, Nigerian ex-footballers who are now coaches will excel as Nigeria’s national team coaches. Stephen Keshi proved it in Togo. Emanuel Amuneke is now doing same in Tanzania. But Nigeria, it will not be possible because corruption will eat up their ideas and vision.
    We all know how a Nigerian under 17 or under 20 should look like. So, when some lazy NFF and coaches parade “grandfathers as under 17s or under 20s, we know. people come to the defense of “grandfathers” as under 17s or under 20s, have had their mouth soured with lies. That is why they will not condemn lies and falsehood when they see it. We do not need documents to prove that a player is way above 17 or 20 years old. We are talking about Nigeria where documents can be doctored and age falsified.
    Someone said at age grade competitions that Africa and South Americans are the greatest culprit when it comes to fielding overage players. I agree with that person. Take a look at Nigeria, Senegal, and Mali in this tournament. Look critically at South American teams and you will realize that, there is an element of truth in this allegations. We may not have evidence or document to back up our assertions but the allegations cannot be denied. That is why many African and South American players who play at under 17 and under 20 levels find it difficult to break into their national teams.
    If Nigeria paraded players who are well over 20 years in Poland as under 20 players, I wonder when they will become matured enough to break into the super eagles. Probably when they become 40 or 50 years ( seeing that majority of the current super eagles players are also between 20 and 35 years, at least going by their football age)? This is why it is very important to question Rohr’s rationale for inviting players from this flying eagles; players who could not cope with players from USA, Senegal, and Ukraine, to the super eagles.
    For Nigeria to excel at all works of life she must shun corrupt practices. There is no two ways about it.

    • Glory 5 years ago

      @Josh, thanks for such beautiful piece. Pls try not blame Rohr for that cynical invitation of Utin n Ozzowafor, championed by our media men and saddly, some ex footballers who never stop pressuring Rohr to invite homebased. We all know, if we must be honest to ourselves, that every single pure talented homebased is shipped out to foreign clubs, as soon as they are discovered. And where does that leave our homebase football? Footballers who merely know how to kick n follow, lacking that X Factor needed to play at both national/ international level. Utin a player lacking football brain while Ozorowafor, yeah could be a good player for SE but surely looked too old for U-20. All of these things are destroying us as a nation n even these players individually. I remember a player who once took the world by storm at the U-17 n was compared to Maradona. Got signed on by Anderlecht. They saw he was small in size n decided to put him through some decent diet to help him grow n develop as a true teenager would do, developing proportionately in every part of his body, as well as mentally but painfully n quite disappointingly, the said player only started having his head getting fatter n fatter, a true n give away indication of an underfed older man now getting good diet. What happened to him? Football career came to an abrupt end n only God knows where he is today.

  • Patrick 5 years ago

    God bless you great odegbami f or this article. Nigeria is a nation where nepotism has unfortunately become part of our value system. Corruption has equally eroded our value system. Until we carry out serious reforms in our political structure the current decadence in every aspect of our nation will definitely affect our performance in sport competitions.

  • Mczmus 5 years ago

    When a team failed like this Flying Eagles, it is a shame on the Nation. Because questions will be asked in the nearest future about the players that represented Nigeria in Poland 2019. Very sad that Nigerians can hardly remember the name of a player among the Flying eagles with exceptional quality. ARE WE THIS BAD???

  • Saint Paul Edeh 5 years ago

    Odegbami’s absence from the authorities that run Nigerian football is another example of our deliberate willingness to move backwards.
    Since retiring from football he has positioned himself through his writings in ways that clearly demonstrates his deep knowledge of the game both from tactical and management levels.
    Please can we get him into the mainstream of our football authority and get the positive changes we deserve.

  • mmasi 5 years ago

    The malians had players who look u-20 but naija and senegal just came with grandfathers.

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