Keshi’s Selection Headache

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Super Eagles Team

Stephen Keshi, Super Eagles chief coach, may have problems in selecting a squad he wants to take to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, as the technical committee of the Nigerian Football Federation insists that players who make the list must be regulars in their clubs

By Anayo Ezugwu  |  May 12, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

AS various football leagues in Europe are gradually coming to an end, the attention of football loving Nigerians will shift to Brazil where the world’s biggest sporting event will be taking place. Preparations are underway as various participating teams to the 2014 FIFA World Cup are strategising on how to take the world of football by surprise. But the fear of most Nigerian fans remains that most Nigerian players that won the 2013 African Cup of Nations in South Africa have become benches in their  respective clubs in Europe.

Since the Super Eagles led by Stephen Keshi took the continent by surprise, most of the players that won the tournament are struggling to make the first team list in their respective clubs. The list of Super Eagles players that are bench warmers is endless and includes John Mikel Obi and Victor Moses as well as other unused Nigerian players at the AFCON 2013. Mikel is unarguably the best and the most experienced player in the Super Eagles presently having featured in four AFCON tournaments and other top competitions for both club and country. Sadly, the nation’s best has been warming the bench of his London club, Chelsea.

Keshi
Keshi

Though Mikel seems to have returned to the starting line-up for Chelsea in the last two matches, some other Nigerian players are still warming the bench in their various clubs. The match against Liverpool on April 27 was the tenth time the midfielder would start-up any Premier League for his club since the return of Jose Mourinho as manager. It was also a consecutive start-up for Mikel as he also featured fully in the UEFA Champions League match against Athletico Madrid on April 22. His current run with the Stanford Bridge team is a plus for Nigeria’s build up to the 2014 World Cup kicking off in Brazil on June 12.

At Liverpool, Moses is presently warming the bench for coach Brendan Rodgers. The summer loan transfer of Moses from  Chelsea to Liverpool was praised by sports analysts and enthusiasts, who believed that with his move to Liverpool, he would secure more playing time which will put him in a good shape for the World Cup. But that dream soon became an illusion. After making two starts for The Reds (as Liverpool Football Club is called), he has virtually been frozen out at Liverpool, and was relegated to the bench following his unimpressive performances when he was given an opportunity.

Elderson Echiejile, a Super Eagles defender, is yet to find his bearing after moving from SC Braga, a Portugese club, to AS Monaco in France, during the January transfer window. Since he joined Monaco, Echiejile is yet to establish himself in the starting line-up. He has been a regular on the bench. Godfrey Oboabona, another Super Eagles defender, has consistently been frozen out of the starting line-up of Rizespor, a Turkish league outfit. He has made only five appearances for his club since joining it at the beginning of the season.

Other key Super Eagles players who are warming bench in Europe include, Ahmed Musa, Ogenyi Onazi, Shola Ameobi, Brown Ideye, Obinna Nsofor, John Ogu, Juwon Oshaniwa, Nosa Igiebor, Nnamdi Oduamadi,  among others have been relegated to the bench by their respective clubs.

As a result of this development, the technical committee of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, has said it would go the extra mile to ensure Keshi selects only players that are active in their clubs for the World Cup. Paul Bassey, a member, NFF technical committee, said that the committee was satisfied with the pool of players available for selection ahead of the Mundial, adding that it would help the coach to pick the best legs for the World Cup.

Bassey, however, said he was concerned with the qualities Keshi expect from a player before he earns a place in the World Cup squad, saying the fact that some key players in the team are benchwarmers in their clubs does not bode well for the country. He said the committee would strictly scrutinise the list of players for the World Cup, adding that some established stars like Victor Moses, Mikel Obi and others may be excluded from the squad if they don’t start playing active roles in their clubs.

“The Technical Committee doesn’t have any problem with Keshi in terms of the Eagles 35-man list. You should understand that the Eagles’ boss doesn’t have a team yet. Picking this number of players would afford him the chance to discover the best legs for the World Cup. But one issue that we wouldn’t allow is the selection of players who don’t play regularly for their clubs for the World Cup. A coach that is serious to fly in the Mundial must build his team around players who are in top form. We cannot allow players that are bench warmers in their clubs to be fielded in the Eagles team where there are enough Nigerian players commanding first team shirts in their clubs,” he said.

According to Bassey, big players in top clubs in Europe change clubs because they want to get more playing time so that they can make it to the World Cup. “I am afraid to let you know that some notable figures in the Eagles squad may fail to play in Brazil if Keshi does not justify their inclusion. Any player playing active role in his club is 100 percent qualified to be in Brazil. Joseph Yobo moved from Turkey to England because he wants to have more playing time. What the committee stands for is the reality on the ground.”

But Keshi is optimistic that the bench roles suffered by most of his key players will not affect their form when the World Cup commences. He said there is nothing he can do about the lack of time spent on the pitch by his players, but that he has been assured by the players that they are fit and will be ready. “It’s unfortunate that Mikel Obi and Victor Moses are not regular at their clubs, but these kids are good football players. You don’t need to teach them football. I just need to get the chemistry right with the team inclusive of the unity and understanding among the group. I would love them to be regular at their clubs, to play every game but unfortunately I can’t control that. I think they’re in good shape because when I saw Mikel in the friendly against Mexico, he looked sharp,” he said.

In support of Keshi, Jonathan Akpoborie, former Nigerian international, has said that Super Eagles will perform well in the World Cup despite the inclusion of bench warmers. He described the bench-warming role of some of the Super Eagles players as a blessing in disguise, saying that Nigeria can still do well at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

“The players selected by Keshi will be the major factor to determine how well we’ll perform. I’m just hoping we’ll get the players that will do the job well for us. The selection should be based on players’ active roles in their clubs. Most of the players that qualified us for the World Cup have been sitting on the bench. But the bench roles some of these players play at their clubs may not work against the Super Eagles if the coach has a strategy that can bring the best out of them. A lot of people can argue about it but Greece won the 2004 European Championship with majority of the players as bench warmers at the various clubs. It depends on the programmes the coach has for them and I’m expecting a good outing for Nigeria in Brazil,” he said.

With the delay in the release of the World Cup provisional list, it is obvious that the NFF technical committee is bent on excluding bench warmers from the list. According to sport analysts, if the NFF fails to give Keshi a free hand to select players he would work with, that might affect the performance of the team at the Mundial.

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