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.
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.
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?
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.”
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.