It’s been over two months since Nigeria exited the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ with heads hung low. This period has afforded the Super Eagles the chance to undergo a sober assessment of their situation. After a painful experience, comes the necessary painstaking process of redemption.
Nigerian defensive midfielder Daniel Olusola Shittu believes that redemption lies in regaining credibility – a strange choice of words probably, but such a statement goes to the underbelly of the current situation in the Nigeria camp. They ought to be known as the football powerhouse again, Shittu argues rather passionately.
“A lot has been said about the Nigerian team recently and I don’t want to get too involved in the debate. However, I believe we need to get our credibility back, we need to get back to winning ways. We have to do that for our fans and our people back home. It’s not been easy for all of us in the team. We have to win games, get positive results and lift the morale. What is important is that the team should believe again,” the former Bolton Wanderer told FIFA.com.
The reality on the ground remains grim though. The Nigerian national team has been without a permanent head coach for a while. In the aftermath of South Africa 2010, stand-in coach Austin Eguavoen has made substantial changes in an attempt to breathe new life into the Super Eagles.
While it is difficult, even for someone with a trained eye and impeccable memory, to single out an event that led to the current situation, it is probably fair to trace it back to Nigeria's average 2010 CAF Africa Cup of Nations outing in Angola. Despite finishing third at the tournament, the Super Eagles appeared sluggish and unpolished and their performance led to the subsequent sacking of former coach, Shaibu Amodu.
There is urgency in Shittu’s voice as he speaks about the need for Nigeria to reclaim their place at the head of Africa's football dynasty and, although he doesn’t want to be drawn into any discussion of the complexities surrounding the Super Eagles, he is rather forthright on his assertion.
Shittu suggests that the team has been, at times, caught operating in a relaxed mode. “I’m not really sure where things went wrong, but maybe at times, we relied too much on our history. The standard of football in Africa has improved a lot; we no longer have small teams. I guess the gap narrowed a lot,” he said.
Shittu has been left out of the Nigeria team that will face Guinea in an upcoming 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier. The absence is meant to afford him time to find a new team, following his exit from Bolton Wanderers. Despite this, he remains part of the nucleus for the Nigeria squad moving forward. The former Charlton Athletic player started his international career eight years ago against Paraguay and has represented Nigeria close to 30 times.
“What we need right now is to get some stability. And, yes, it’s important for us to have a permanent coach, although I don’t want to talk about that. I’m a football player, not a politician. My job is to play for my country and represent it with pride. Although, I must admit that judging by what happened in South Africa, things didn’t go that well. I think we let ourselves and our country down during that tournament.”
Since Lars Lagerback vacated the Nigeria coaching job, Eguavoen has been the interim leader, although it seems unlikely that he will be given the reins on a permanent basis. Nigerian football legend Samson Siasia is believed to be the front runner and a favourite to take over.
“For me, it doesn’t matter (who the Nigeria coach is). We will work with whoever is given the job. I think everyone in our team is professional enough. What is important is that the new coach should come in and assist the team in getting back to winnings ways. That might take time, but it has to happen,” Shittu added.