Saturday, March 17, 2018

What March Friendlies May Decide.......

Two games in March for Nigeria provides an opportunity to separate players currently vying for positions in the team. Two of those positions -- goalkeeping and left back -- are the most hotly contested. In each of those positions, three players compete not only for the starting spot but also for a place in the squad to the World Cup. While the final decisions on this issue may not come until the summer camp, it is quite likely that the international friendlies on March 23 and 27 would go a long way to assist the coaches in making decisions.It is possible that players may begin to separate themselves from the competition based on performance in one or both international friendlies. 

In this piece, we take a preliminary look at each player contesting for those positions and evaluate their current chances. Of course, the view shared here is simply my subjective view. However, such a view is based on watching them perform for the national team  and for those players who have barely played an international, their club performance assists in this evaluation.

This is one position where none of the contestants have particularly given the Nigerian fans a dose of confidence. In the past, except at the 1998 World Cup, the goalkeeping position had always been one of Nigeria's strongest. That is far from the case this time. Nevertheless, it is possible that one of the three contestants may begin to win the confidence of Nigerian fans with an impressive performance in the coming days. Of the three, Francis Uzoho has barely played. However, in 45 minutes of action against Argentina he earned praises but when those 45 minutes are put into context then Francis still has a lot more minutes to play in order to affirm his status as worthy of being the starter at the World Cup.

The other two players -- Akpeyi and Ezenwa -- have played enough games to give Nigerians an idea of what they are capable of doing. Ezenwa appears to be the front runner between the two. He concedes a goal after 171 minutes on average compared to Akpeyi who concedes a goal every 65 minutes (see Table 1). That is a world of difference! In fact, Ezenwa's average could even be much better if one took away the four conceded in one game when Nigeria was overrun by Ghana at the WAFU Cup. His rate of conceding a goal is quite good at the international level.

Ezenwa's biggest drawback is his tendency to lounge, with both feet, at a breakaway attacker. On the plus side, he oozes confidence and has sharp reflexes, at least sharper than his competition for the position. His real competition for the starting spot is Uzoho. Uzoho has a magnificent physique and his biggest advantage is his ability to control aerial balls which is a huge plus against international opposition. However, he is not exactly astute in timing his move off the goal area to confront oncoming breakaways nor is he quick to get down at balls.

Left Back
After 60 appearances, veteran left back Elderson Echiejile faces fierce competition for his position (see Table 2). His years of experience will not afford him any protection because it is clear that he has slowed down over the years. However, the fact remains that the performances by his competition -- Ola Aina and Brian Idowu -- have not exactly assured Echiejile's relegation to the bench. That might change after the two internationals this month. In a sense, this is a watershed moment for Echiejile as a Nigerian international.

But in the dark clouds and dark moments, a light still shines through for Echiejile. For one, he remains the most competent of the three defenders when it comes to winning aerial duels. That remains a strong aspect of Echiejile's game. Unfortunately, that isn't the only thing that Coach Rohr will expect from his left back. Both Aina and Idowu are better in one-and-one duels and better in joining the attack at critical moments.  As for pace, Echiejile is again trailing both Idowu and Aina.

The goalkeeping and left back positions remain the most vexing for Nigeria going into the March international friendlies. However, those internationals may provide answers and induce confidence in the two areas if a clear starter begins to emerge. That may be the most valuable outcome from the two upcoming internationals.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

COUNTDOWN: Players Seeking Russia (February)

Each month, I offer my view of the 23 players that Nigeria is likely to select for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. As you can imagine, this is likely to change from month to month based on player form, injuries, and other considerations. 

This piece is the first of the Countdown to Russia. Player chances will be categorized as Highly Probable++ (80-100% likelihood), Possible+ (50-79%), Questionable?  (40-59%) and Doubtful?? (39% or less). Comments will follow each category.

Highly Probable++
Victor Moses
Mikel Obi
Kelechi Iheanacho
Shehu Abdullahi
William Ekong
Wilfred Ndidi

Presently, the above six players are highly probable of being at the World Cup in Russia. You may wonder why Kelechi Iheanacho is highly probable when several current starters are not in this category. However, this listing is about selecting the 23 squad players and not just the first 11 players. In spite of opportunities to invite new players to the squad, Iheanacho is a solid shoo-in because no other Nigerian striker has been remotely close to being clinical in front of goal . That includes the current starter Odion Ighalo. Thus, while I view Ighalo as replaceable, I currently do not see Iheanacho as easily replaceable in the squad. Iheanacho is a goal poacher for whom there is no Nigerian substitute.

Alex Iwobi
Moses Simon
Leon Balogun
Odion Ighalo
Onazi Ogenyi

All five players, listed above, will possibly make it to Russia but they must all work hard or else they can become surprise cuts on decision day in June. Balogun is a surprise inclusion here given that he is the heart of Nigeria's defense at this time. However, I have put him in this second tier given his history of injuries which may yet decide whether he gets to Russia or not. The rest may be considered starters now but any major entrance of a big star in the coming months may question their ability to make the 23-man squad.

Tyronne Ebuehi
Brian Idowu
Ola Aina
Chiedozie Awaziem
Francis Uzoho
Ikechukwu Ezenwa
Oghenekaro Etebo

All these guys are on the bubble at this time. If they make it, it will be close. While the two goalkeepers here may end up being in the squad, not one of them is a sure thing for Russia. Etebo's star has dimmed since the World Cup qualifiers began, Awaziem has a slight edge over Omeruo, Aina and Idowu are fighting for a starting position but yet not assured of making the final 23. The same applies to Tyrone Ebuehi who may be challenged by a new call up in the coming weeks and months.

Elderson Echiejile
Ahmed Musa
Mikel Agu
Kenneth Omeruo
Dele Ajiboye
Daniel Akpeyi
John Ogu
Kayode Olanrewaju
Uche Agbo
Chidiebere Nwakali
Henry Onyekuru
Anthony Nwakaeme
Alhassan Ibrahim

A player listed here is currently facing a cut from the World Cup squad. More than likely, a great number of players from this group will not get to Russia in the summer. For each of them, the upcoming friendly internationals serve as last life lines to the World Cup. Do well, you may yet make the squad, an average or weak play is a definite assurance of staying home.

Monday, February 5, 2018

DISCIPLINARY RECORDS: Nigeria's National Team and Players

This is another story line providing insight to the often muted records of the Nigerian national team. Recently, Nigeria finished two critical games at the African Nations Championship (CHAN) with a man less than the opponent due to disqualifications. Thus, these insights are designed to make accessible the unvoiced, ignored, and often erased records that affect Nigeria's games. This disciplinary record of the Nigerian national team and its players is gleaned from match records. We focus attention on assessed cautions and disqualifications from international games since 1949.

Of course, as you may have guessed, this is drawn from a huge number of games played by the national team and, thus, assessed record of cautions and disqualifications are plentiful.  To simplify matters, I focus solely on the top incidents as defined by the volume of incidents per game in case of the team and volume per career in case of individual players. Further, cautions are separated from disqualifications at both individual and team levels, except in the case of match specific disqualifications where additional incidences of cautions are used to rank the severity of the disciplinary issue. Below is data and discussion.

Team Data
For disqualifications, severity is calculated by volume of disqualification as well as accompanying cautions in particular games. Based on this, the most severe cases are two games, both played away from home, that led to two disqualifications and one caution each. In essence, Nigeria finished both games playing with nine men. The most recent of those is in an AFCON semi-final game in 2002 when Nigeria lost 1-2 to Senegal after extra time. The other is a 1979 game in Freetown when Nigeria tied 0-0 with Sierra Leone. Other identified games can be found on Table 1 below.

On cautions, the game that has the record is five cautions issued in an international friendly against Cape Verde in Algarve, Portugal in 2013. No other Nigerian team has received that many cautions in a single game. However, there are numerous other games where three or four cautions were issued to the team. For details see Table 2 below.

Individual Data
Disqualifications received by a player during his playing career for Nigeria is often one caution over the career length. However, some players have received more than one disqualification including former left back Ifeanyi Udeze who's disciplinary record is infamous (see Gazing At Onazi's. . .). Udeze, nevertheless, does not lead among players with disqualifications because the calculation is based on propensity for disqualifications per game during a career span. Based on that calculation, Dahiru Sadi, with less career games, leads the pack. See Table 3 and Figure 1 for details.

The last time, I did a calculation based on individual cautions received over career span, Ogenyi Onazi and Ifeanyi Udeze led the pack. However, since then, Onazi has improved his record. Though he still appears in the Top 10, he has moved down the infamous ladder. Instead, the likes of Ifeanyi Ifeanyi, John Ogu, and Orji Kalu Okogbue have taken over with record of accumulation of match cautions calculated on propensity to generate such cautions (see Table 3 and Figure 2).

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Popular Last Names Used by Super Eagles' Players?

Do you think you will get the answer correct if you are asked "What is the most common last name ever used by players of the Nigerian national team?" This was the question that I set out to answer by examining last names (Surnames) of players that have played for Nigeria since the first game in 1949. Note, however, that these last names are assumed accurate based on their frequent usage in the media. However, there are possibilities of errors. For instance, one of Nigeria's players goes by the names Kalu Orji and then Kalu Orji Okagbue. In this case, we have entered his last name as "Orji."

In any case, there are numerous last names that came up multiple times.  Because of this and lack of space, I decided to ditch last names shared by only two players and consider only those that had at least three entries.

Ultimately, the name with most multiple entries is not surprising if you think about it. The most common last name used is Mohammed (Table 1). It appears in 11 entries! The closest other last names were distant second at six entries each. Those last names are Ibrahim, Lawal, and Nwosu.

However, how many times players using those last names played for Nigeria is also insightful (Figure 1). Of the three, players with the last name "Lawal" have played a combined 208 times, "Nwosu" for 80 times and 'Ibrahim' for only 20 times. Players with the last name "Lawal" have been quite productive with only Dimeji playing less than 5 times for the country. Players with "Lawal" as last name have been the most productive (combined) as their 208 appearances outstrip the total of 111 appearances for players bearing the last name "Mohammed."

The next most common last name is Okoro with five entries each. Three other last names had four entries each -- Musa, Obi, and Uche. The number of last names that had three entries? 18 is the answer. See the table below for the entries and then the first names associated with each entry and the national team career span for each player. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

World Cup Year: Status of Nigeria's Roster Depth

This is World Cup Year 2018 and Russia is quickly beckoning. Nigeria has reached the last 16 at three of five World Cup appearances but what does 2018 promise? While many believe that Nigeria is destined for a final 8 appearance, that will depend (at least in part) in Nigeria's ability to build substantive depth with quality players that can be easily called up into play without diminishing the on-field productivity of the team. Nigeria has not always demonstrated that depth and the question is whether the 2018 team is going to be different. 

I proceed to address the issue of depth in two major ways. The first is to qualitatively grade the team's unit in terms of individual players and the unit as a whole. Then go beyond assessing quality to assess experience playing for the team. I strongly believe that these types of assessments help in evaluating how good the team is and its prospects in Russia.

The Quality Factor

On quality, the key assessment is performance of players during games played so far by the team.

Goalkeeping: The quality at this position is thin and in spite of the technical team's efforts not much improvement has been demonstrated in this unit. Two of the current three top players in this unit -- Daniel Akpeyi and Ikpechukwu Ezenwa -- have not demonstrate quality on a consistent basis. Akpeyi, who started brilliantly in his international debut against South Africa in 2015, has turned remarkably into a panicky goalkeeper with penchant for errors. Ezenwa did brilliantly in two World Cup qualifiers against Cameroon but was shockingly poor in his last two "A" internationals. The third option, Francis Uzoho, is largely unknown with barely 45 minutes of play for the national team. His quality is a wild guess as he was barely tested in those 45 minutes. This crew of three goalkeepers will receive a grade of C going into the World Cup as none of them is convincing at the moment. However, if Nigeria returns veteran goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama and Uzoho shows exemplary quality in the upcoming friendlies the grade should be improved. 

Defense: Currently, the starters are Shehu, Ekong, Balogun, and Echiejile. The depth includes Ebuehi, Awaziem, and Aina/Idowu. Though the starters are not exactly world class, by any means of measurement, they are solid and average. The good news is that the depth includes players who can seamlessly substitute for the starters without any significant loss of quality. In fact, it is likely that Echiejile is being challenged for starting position by both Aina and Idowu. Ebuehi was a pleasant surprise in his stint against Argentina. Overall, the depth here is solid and should be good going into the World Cup. On this basis, the depth deserves an "A".

Midfield: The starters are Onazi, Ndidi, Mikel, Simon, and Vic Moses. The depth includes Etebo, Ogu, Mikel Agu, Iwobi, and Musa. Of course, not all of them will eventually make the trip to Russia. Beyond projecting who makes or does not make the World Cup squad, lets discuss those that we have listed above. Simon is not a sure starter as his position is shared with Iwobi. The depth is not as good as the starting unit because while Iwobi and Etebo can seamlessly step into the midfield, one cannot confidently say the same for the other three. Musa's regression has been surprising, both at the club and national team levels. Pointedly, his confidence running at defenses has significantly slipped. Ogu's range of operation is limited and Mikel Agu has not exactly shown why he is called on as a substitute in critical games. The depth here is no better than a B grade.

Forwards: Nigeria usually plays one player in advanced position since the arrival of Rohr who rarely dresses two advanced forwards. Presently, Jude Ighalo is the preferred forward but his goal productivity has not been impressive although other aspects of his play are quite encouraging. The depth currently is Kelechi Iheanacho who's match fitness is doubtful, considering his lack of playing opportunities at his club. However, Iheanacho has rarely disappointed as he is certainly one of the most clinical forwards anywhere in the world. His problems are in other aspects of the game. Beyond Iheanacho, Nigeria is still groping. Kayode Olanrewaju tried but has not impressed, Nwakaeme was put to test in Algeria but failed, next up is veteran Obafemi Martins if rumors are to be believed. Ultimately, that third advanced forward is far from decided. Thus, the depth here is a B-.

The Experience Factor

Table 1 quantifies experience in terms of both number of appearances and minutes played. In this case, experience is focused on national team match play, which is critical because appropriate experience is playing with national team mates.

Goalkeeping: This unit is not only where the least quality exists but it is also where the least experience lies. Yet, it is a place where experience matters since it is arguably the most critical position where an error can be extremely punishing. Unfortunately, this unit has players who have spent less time with the rest of other players in the national team. Again, the experience grade here is a "C" with the only good outlook being the minutes played, on the average. 

Defense: Experience in this unit is reasonable with an average of over 15 games even though this may have been skewed by the large number of minutes credited to one player (Echiejile) who is likely battling to make the World Cup squad. Overall, the distribution of appearances is skewed with the starters playing a lot and the depth players playing a few. This differential means a grade of "B-" is not out of place. These depth players need more minutes in the run-up to the World Cup in order to accumulate match readiness.

Midfield: Experience here is quite impressive -- 30 games average and 70 minutes per game across  ten players. This is outstanding experience in depth. Of the ten players, only one has not played at least 10 games. Obviously, experience in this unit may be one of the best across any of the teams that will be at the World Cup in Russia. This surely is an "A" grade.

Forwards: Experience between the two players is strong and would even be better if a veteran like Obafemi Martins or Brown Ideye gets back into the squad. For now, the averages are based on just Ighalo and Iheanacho on the one hand and those two plus an entirely new addition like uncapped Sarenzen Bazee on the other hand. The grade is a more difficult decision because of increased uncertainty. However, one settles with a "B" grade.

So What Does It Mean?

Overall, the team has built, already, substantive depth in the midfield and the same could be said about the forward position if a quality veteran is added to the team. The defense could also represent an area of strong depth if the upcoming international friendlies are used to provide match readiness for defenders that have appeared sparingly for the team. These appearances will be vital in World Cup play. The goalkeeper position is a serious problem but one that can be ameliorated with the return of Vincent Enyeama and the use of friendlies to strengthen Uzoho's experience and assure his quality. Ultimately, the status of the team's depth is encouraging but invitation of few quality veterans and strategic use of friendlies will provide great opportunities for this team.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Sizing Up Key Eagles in a World Cup Year

We are barely six months to the start of the 2018 World Cup with hopes that Nigeria will finally break pat the Round of 16 hurdle. Sure, you are perhaps left wondering why one is writing about breaking past the Round of 16 hurdle when the team isn't guaranteed of coming out of its group. But does it really matter? It might be the case that it isn't guaranteed but that should not stop Nigerians from dreaming and hoping. After all, the 2018 team is as good as any that Nigeria has produced in recent times. Its march through the World Cup qualifiers is a pointer to that. It was one of Nigeria's toughest World Cup qualifiers. The now revered 1994 team did not have as tough a schedule and needed all games to get to the World Cup finals in the USA. The 2018 team did not just impress with results but put out an exclamation point with the way the team dominated and before the last day it had already qualified.

Several of the players who led the 2018 team are expected to be present in Russia in June, barring injury. This piece is designed to evaluate players who played significant minutes during the qualifiers and compare them to help us review what they are good at and what their weaknesses are. This comparison is by no means a scientific exercise but it is one that is informed from deeply watching the team and observing the contribution of individual players. In a sense, it is subjective but yet informed. I leave out one critical player -- Victor Moses. Victor was, by far, better than any other player in his or similar position on the team. It provides little value to compare him with any other. Thus, I decline to do so. He gets a pass. Here are the comparisons of the other significant players on the team starting from the defensive side of the ball.

Leon Balogun v William Ekong
Both Leon and William appear interchangeable in the middle of the defense but if you look closely, there is at least one remarkable difference. Of course, each is comfortable in the air. Each prefers to kick the ball to the sixth row than take risks. For them it is safety first. They each do not seem entirely comfortable with the ball at their feet for any significant length of time but Balogun has shown more significant improvement distributing the ball from defense. On the other hand, I trust Ekong's pace more than I trust Balogun's.

Ola Aina v Elderson Echiejile
Ola Aina's arrival to the national team led to many singing requiem for Echiejile's starting spot. However, I do not believe Echiejile will give up that spot as easily as some may believe. After all, he is much better in the air and it isn't even close. The big problem for him, however, is multiple. The young Aina is equipped with pace, more attacking presence, and appears more comfortable in one v one confrontations. Will Echiejile's experience be a value? I am not so sure.

Mikel Obi v Wilfred Ndidi
Do not be deceived by preponderant check marks under Ndidi's name, Mikel is still the guy who makes Nigeria's midfield click. He is the master, the general, and the overseer. His game tempo and attitude decides whether Nigeria has a chance or not. However, Ndidi is rapidly improving and that is defined by his advantages in several aspects of midfield play. The most compelling part of his game is his range, his ability to cover a vast area of the field, his selflessness, and his effort.

Ogenyi Onazi v Wilfred Ndidi
Mindfully, it appears that Ndidi has passed Onazi on the Nigerian midfield hierarchy. The description of Ndidi's game above states it all. However, as the table shows, Onazi is no slouch. His range is similar to Ndidi's and his weakness - passing accuracy - also plagues Ndidi. They are quite similar but Ndidi gets the nod based on superior presence in the air and invention of scoring opportunities.

Moses Simon v Alex Iwobi
The contests at the two wide positions have been effectively reduced to one position with Victor Moses the automatic choice at one. The contest for the other is between the fan-favorite Alex Iwobi and Moses Simon. Simon is a set-piece guru and can easily go around any marker. Moreover, he is committed to ball recovery, an important aspect of what coach Rohr demands of his players. Iwobi, on his good day, can easily be one of the very best players on the team and his vision is only matched by Mikel Obi. Iwobi can visualize a play develop multiple steps before it actually occurs. That is a rare gift.

Kelechi Iheanacho v Odion Ighalo
Iheanacho is Nigeria's most prolific striker since all-time great, Rashidi Yekini. Yet, there is enough deficiencies in his game that deny him the starting spot. His counterpart, Odion Ighalo, does several things better. Though Odion is not as clinical in front of goal as Kelechi, he can hold off strong defensive challenges with his body and his runs behind the defense provide passing lanes for midfielders. Unfortunately, Nigeria has not been able to find in one player the good parts of Ighalo and Iheanacho.

While these are comparisons between players, it is not one that is designed to predict who may or may not make the World Cup squad. Instead, it is focused on comparing those in contention for particular positions and comparing others who play within the same team unit. Ultimately, it is about ascertaining the quality of those who will be representing Nigeria at the 2018 World Cup, barring injuries and surprise cuts.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

2017 Annual Report for Nigeria's Football

This is the second The Fan's Annual Report for Nigerian Football (The inaugural version can be found here). Similar to the previous report, this one will grade five units (see below) and the cumulative grades will inform the total grade for Nigeria's football:

1. Youth Football
2. Women Football
3. Local Professional Football.
4. Football Administration.
5. The Super Eagles.

Additionally, the 2017 individual and team data for Nigerian football is presented along with recognition of selected individual accomplishments.

2017 has been a barren year for Nigerian youth football, at least at the international level. The failures, at the qualifying stages, in the previous years meant Nigeria was absent from both African and World phases of the age grade tournaments. Locally, the NPFL organized an exciting youth tournament for club academies and there were other youth tournaments. Overall, however, it was an unusually down year.
Grade: D based largely on sustained and new local tournaments alone. This could easily have been an F grade based on absences at the international level.

Women football mirrored youth football in the same year. Nigeria was absent in international tournaments throughout 2017. Furthermore, the U17 national team did not kick a ball in international competition until December against Ethiopia. Even then, they beat a lowly-placed Ethiopia on away goals with 0-0 at home and 1-1 away. Not exactly what is usually expected from a Nigerian women team. The senior national team "Falcons" has been inactive since winning the African Championship in 2016 in Cameroon. The U20 team beat both Tanzania and Morocco in the African qualifying phase for the U20 Women's World Cup. Locally, women football has been stagnant with a largely absent sponsorship, lukewarm national competitions, and poor financial support. Nigeria's women teams may be at the cusp of a major decline.
Grade: C- based on international qualifying performance by the U17 and U20 teams. It is a down year, no doubt.

Local elite football is clearly on the upswing in terms of media attention, sponsorship, among others. This year, a goal in the league was celebrated among the world's best by the American sports conglomerate ESPN. However, the issue of always win at home and lose away among the 20 teams continue to plague the league. Fans are re-embracing the league, in the main. However, performance at the continental level by the league's elite team has been abysmal at best. For the second year running, only one of four representatives reached the league phase of African competitions.

Grade: B- based on poorer than expected performance for the year. The continued weak continental results is a significant consideration here.

Nigerian football administration claims World Cup qualification for its flagship team -- Super Eagles. That is indeed laudable but administration grade is based on more factors than just performance of the national teams. Fortunately, football administration had a good year in acquiring a major sponsorship with AITEO to pay coaches. Then it reached a World Cup bonus agreement with the national team long before the start of competition in Russia. Importantly, the administration also provided great results in political muscling by securing significant clout at the continental level where its President won elections to CAF Executive Committee and became a key player in ending the Issa Hayatou era.  All the above indicated at least an A- grade in spite of failures at the women and youth competition levels. However, all that was soured with the administrative bungling that led to FIFA sanctioning the country for using an ineligible player in a competitive game.

Grade: B+ is, therefore, the grade based on progress with sponsorship and accruing important political leverage at the continental level but also recognizing problems noted above.

Super Eagles qualified for the 2018 World Cup with a game to spare. The team was strong throughout the qualifiers and soundly thrashed its erstwhile nemesis Cameroon 4-0 in a critical game and it went unbeaten in the World Cup qualifiers. In addition, the team humiliated highly rated Argentina 4-2 in an international friendly. However, 2017 was not all rosy. The opening game of the AFCON qualifiers ended in a shock home loss to South Africa. That was a blemish that stained the national team in 2017.

Grade: A- based on great run in the World Cup qualifiers and the beat down of Argentina. But those accomplishments are tempered by a shock home loss in the AFCON qualifier.

Below are grades for specific units of the national team:

Goalkeeping: This was the problematic position for much of 2017. Ikeme's unavailability on account of sickness was problematic as Daniel Akpeyi's performance was well below par. Additionally, Ezenwa replacing Akpeyi provided early succor before a horrendous display in Algeria. Grade is C.

Defense: This was a particularly vexing unit in 2016 but was greatly stabilized much of 2017. The central defenders Ekong and Balogun grew into a stable and reliable unit. Abdullah Shehu on the right was consistent. However, Echiejile on the left still has shaky moments especially against pacy opponents. Indeed, it is a unit that has grown. Grade is B.

Midfield: This is, perhaps, the most stable unit for the team. Ndidi and Onazi at the base have been solid and largely disciplined, while skipper Mikel Obi is still able to play at an elite level. At the wide midfield are Simon and Victor Moses who provide the guile and pace. This is the unit that often decides whether Nigeria wins or loses a game. Grade is A-.

Forward: Here, the idea is to evaluate players that often join the attack whether or not they are largely designated as midfielders. The most advanced player is Odion Ighlo and at times Kelechi Iheanacho. The unit has scored regularly and continues to position players for goal scoring opportunities. Grade is B. This grade is a step back from 2016. 

Bench: The bench has been built up slowly with Etebo, Ahmed Musa, and Kelechi Iheanacho now considered options on the bench. These are players who could easily start on this team. This level of bench strength is a major consideration in the Grade of B+

Coaching: Gernot Rohr, beyond the stunning home loss to South Africa, has been impressive. The dismantling of Cameroon with a virtuoso performance both in Uyo and Yaounde was telling. The quick counter attacking of the team and disciplined performance defensively bodes well for the team's future. The zenith of the coaching team's performance was the changing of formation against Argentina and still winning 4-2. This is certainly a A- grade. It could well have been a higher grade if South Africa did not happen.


The over all grade for Nigerian football in 2017 is B. This is based on unit grades that were A-, B+, B-, C-, and D. In 2016, Nigerian football received an over all grade of B- and thus this year is an improvement. That improvement is, however, uneven. The Super Eagles received A- grade compared to last year when none of the units received better than a B+ grade. However, youth and women football declined and that is reflected in this year's grades.

The data include results of the home-based national team that played in the WAFU Cup in Ghana. This may explain the drop in efficiency from 0.67 in 2016 to 0.58 this year. The 'A' national team lost one game all year, at home to South Africa, but had a very good year qualifying for the World Cup and raising hopes of an excellent 2018 at the World Cup in Russia. Table is included below:

Goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa led in both minutes and number of appearances, courtesy of appearing for both the 'A' national team and the home-based team (see table below). Iheanacho scored another four goals in 2017, as he did the previous year. It is an amazing total for him in 2017, considering that he started most games from the bench. His two assists tied Alex Iwobi for the lead in the national team.

There is no surprise that Victor Moses leads as the best player ahead of Mikel Obi and Leon Balogun who also played excellently. Moses was instrumental in leading the national team to World Cup qualification. The BEST NEW PLAYER was a toss up between Ola Aina and Hafeez Aremu. Aina, by virtue of appearing for the 'A' national team, gets the nod but Aremu definitely showed quality with his performance at the WAFU Cup. Leon Balogun has been a feature in the national team but he is named the EMERGING STAR because in 2017 he took the next step of not just being a starter on the team but becoming one of the best players of the team. See the table below.