ANALYSIS: Time for the Super Eagles to ‘Go Dutch’

Mazino Dickson

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The Super Eagles of Nigeria became a global brand in the year 1994.

Not only did they win the 1994 AFCON in Tunisia, but they also made a memorable debut at the FIFA World Cup a few months later in the United States.

Endlessly switching tactics from 4-4-2, 4-3-3, and in desperate circumstances 4-2-4; their slick passing, fast-paced wing-play coupled with deadly precision in front of goal marked them out as potential world football giants.

Then add the dazzling razzmatazz of a certain Austin ‘Jay-Jay’ Okocha and you get to understand why they were rated “the most entertaining team after Brazil.”

Brazilian legend Pele put his money on Nigeria being the most likely the first African nation to lift the World Cup.

The architect of this “football unusual” was Dutchman Clemens Westerhof.

Clemens Westerhof with left-full back Benedict Iroha (center), and winger Finidi George. Westerhof emphasised wing-play throughout his reign – the hallmark of Dutch football

 

Rashidi Yekini, became the first Nigerian to score a goal at the World Cup. This iconic celebration against Bulgaria stands out in football history
Daniel ‘the bull’ Amokachi celebrated the second goal against Bulgaria. His dance emphasized Nigerian passion, artistry and dominance. The Eagles went on to trounce Bulgaria 3-0
Having lost their second match 2-1 to Argentina, Nigeria needed only a win against a poor Greek side. This goal scored by Daniel Amokachi handed the Super Eagles a solid 2-0 to top Group D
Nigeria faced Italy in the second round. Despite leading 1-0 and playing with an extra-man, Italy dug deep and two goals from Roberto Baggio ended NIgeria’s World Cup quest. It also marked the last match for Clemens Westerhof.

 

New man, same approach

Westerhof’s football philosophy was carried on by his assistant – Bonfrere Jo – who led a large crop of the same players to win Africa’s first football gold medal at the 1996 Olympics.

Bonfrere Jo used a bulk of the 1994 World Cup squad to face the Olympics. His tactical acumen and match reading stood out clearly, particularly in the semi finals and finals
Despite going down 1-3 in the semi finals against Brazil, the Dream team fired on all cylinders and even went for broke – adopting a daring 4-2-4 formation to break the Brazilian backline. Daniel Amokachi played
Nigerian legend scored Nigeria’s equalizer against Brazil in the semi-finals, then proceeded to score the first golden goal winner to send the Dream team into the final

 

Dream team member mobbed defender Celestine Babayaro (centre) after he equalized for Nigeria against Argentina in the gold medal final match
Dream team left-back Celestine Babayaro (left) could not hide his excitement as Italian referee Pierluigi Collina (middle) blew the final whistle to confirm Nigeria had won the gold medal 3-2 against Argentina. Striker Victor Ikpeba (right) rushes to celebrate
Left to Right: Abiodun Obafemi, Daniel Amokachi and Kanu Nwankwo hold aloft their gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics
1996 Olympic Games, Atlanta, USA, Sanford Stadium, Georgia, Men’s Football, Gold Medal Match, Nigeria 3 v Argentina 2, Nigerian players and coach Jo Bonfrere celebrate their gold medal win

New realities

Since then, a lot has changed.

Gone are the days of death-defying-breath-taking football.

Too much caution – exemplified by current captain John Mikel Obi’s safety first approach – has stifled the natural verve football fans the world over have associated with Nigerian teams.

The 2013 AFCON triumph marked a false dawn.

That’s the last time Nigeria ever graced the grail of African football.

Nigeria had it’s Napolean/Hitler moment at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, going out with a whimper.

Nothing has happened.

What has gone wrong?

Going Dutch

One player that went through the “golden years of the golden generation” was defender Taribo West.

Like many Nigerian football fans, he has expressed worries over the ‘dour football culture‘ exhibited by national teams in recent years.

The very weak outing by a one-dimensional Eagles at this year’s World Cup has left many wondering: “What has come over the Eagles? Why can’t they fly?

Taribo West argues that the football culture, which made the duo of Westerhof and Bonfrere to succeed with the national team, is completely dead.

The ex-defender who played for Auxere, Inter Milan, AC Milan and Derby County says its time to resurrect Nigeria’s Dutch football.

Taribo, a member of the gold winning Atlanta ’96 Olympics squad, as well as member of the Super Eagles team to France ‘98 and Korea/Japan 2002 World Cup, also wants the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to play a role in this regard.

“In the days of Clemens Westerhof and Jo Bonfrere, there was a football culture that was so useful to the Nigerian football system,” Taribo said.

“That was why Nigerian football fans did not feel it so much when Stephen Keshi left the stage.

“It also helped us when Rashidi Yekini and our generation left the team because younger players had already been groomed to take over from us. We need to go back to that football culture.”

Rohr’s call

The NFF retained the services of coach Gernot Rohr, who is now expected to put the ghost of the ill-fated World Cup in Russia by qualifying the Super Eagles for the 2019 AFCON in Cameroun – and win it!

Taribo believes the German tactician may have just borrowed a thing or two from the Westerhof playbook.

“I see coach Gernot Rohr moving towards that direction. He was wise enough to prepare some young players for a crucial moment like this.

“The likes of Mikel Obi, Victor Moses and Alex Iwobi won’t be available for the Nations Cup qualifier against Seychelles this weekend, but I don’t see their absence affecting the Eagles because we have some young players who can deliver.

“In the next two or three years, Mikel, Ogeyi Onazi and some other members of the team would no longer be there, and that is why we must go back to that football culture adopted by Westerhof and Bonfrere,” he said.

The football fraternity is waiting to find out just how much has changed with the hitherto stale play of the Super Eagles, when they confront the Seychelles Islands this weekend.