Thursday, January 2, 2014

Assessing the Home-Based Project....

As is always the case with Super Eagles' fans, there has to be a binary view on every issue. The most recent binary view is support or non-support for the way Nigeria has used home-based players in the national team. In this piece, we intend to deeply review the use of home-based players, particularly in light of the upcoming African Championships for Nations (CHAN), to determine how the project has been implemented and its results. In the mid-1990s and into the early 2000s, the use of foreign-based players became a Nigerian credo. It was not just the Super Eagles. There were moves to stack all male national teams, including U-17, with foreign-based players. However, for this piece we compare the current use of home-based players to previous attempts to use home-based players post-2000 Nations Cup. You may ask, why post-2000 Nations Cup? We have used that baseline because it was in 2000 that the then Coach Johaness Bonfrere claimed that locally based players were not good enough to play for Nigeria.

The Strategic Comparisons
Post-2000, with a significant number of Nigerian players employed overseas, the national team coaches relied on foreign-based players to shape the national team - Super Eagles. Under Coach Bonfrere there was no attempt to use local players in the Super Eagles. Bonfrere claimed that no Nigerian home-based player was good enough to play for Nigeria. However, when he faltered on the road to the 2002 World Cup, his replacement promptly added three home based players to the national team and the team went unbeaten to miraclously reach the World Cup finals. After that, some home based players have had opportunities to at least train with the full national team under Shuaibu Amodu, Christian Chukwu, Augustine Eguavoen, Samson Siasia, and Berti Vogts. However, while the coaches listed above invited home based players, they each used them differently. Eguavoen, and Amodu in his second stint (2008-10), had a few of them train with the national team but did not use them in competitive games while the others used a few in critical games.

The current national team coach - Stephen Keshi - has employed a different tactic. He became the first national team coach with an added responsibility to develop a home based team and take them to the CHAN finals which had previously eluded Nigeria. Thus, this added responsibility may have affected his tactic.  He has periodically camped a home based team and blooded the good ones by having them train with the full national team. The result has been that some of the home based have forced their way into the full national team based on performance and importantly the confidence built in those players were critical to Nigeria's first qualification for the CHAN finals. But there are also problems with several players who started as home based eventually migrating overseas and forcing the coaches to constantly seek replacements. Take a look at the lineups below. The first shows Keshi's  most preferred lineup when he began building the home based team and the second shows the lineup he is likely going to use at the CHAN based on player migrations and preferred migrations.

Chigozie Agim - Godfrey Oboabona, Azubike Egwuekwe, Papa Idris, Juwon Oshaniwa - Uche Kalu, Gabriel Reuben, Henry Uche, Ejike Uzoenyi - Sunday Mba, Izu Azuka.
Red - now foreign-based/Blue - Returned to home-based status from foreign-based.

Chigozie Agbim - Solomon Kwambe, Azubike Egwuekwe, Kunle Odunlami, Benjamin Francis - Barnabas Inienger Jr, Rabiu Ali, Christian Pyagbara, Ejike Uzoenyi- Aliyu Abubakar, Gbolahan Salami.

The Data Comparisons
Below we provide coach comparison data on the use of home based players. The comparison is based on how many were used in tournament squads? How many were used in games under supervision of selected coaches? How many times did a coach include at least one home based player in his starting line up?Total number of home based players debuted in full internationals? See the data below.

The four tables above show that of the selected managers, Keshi placed more confidence in the home based lads naming six of them in the Cup of Nations (CAN) tournament in 2013, the largest such number in over two decades! Not only that, he used two of them regularly in the tournament which Nigeria went on to win.

However, as the other tables demonstrate, Keshi is not the only Nigerian manager to have faith in the ability of Nigerian-based players. Amodu, Chukwu, and Eguavoen have all used these players in internationals and both Amodu and Chukwu used them regularly in competitive games.

The "truest test" of a manager's confidence in the ability of a home based player is not just to name such a player in a tournament squad but to use him as a starter in a competitive game. The third table shows that both Keshi and Chukwu did this regularly and Amodu, also, at times, used these players in competitive games during his first stint as national team manager.

The fourth and final table provides data of a more difficult test i.e. debuting a home based player in a competitive game! Ordinarily, few managers debut a player, foreign or home based, in a competitive game. It is a huge risk to debut a player in such a important game. Most debuts occur in intrnational friendlies where the stakes are less important. However, as the fourth table demonstrates, Amodu took this risk remarkably far more than any manager! Chukwu and Bonfrere also took the risk but in far less occasions. The Bonfrere case is stunning because he is on record as loathing home based Nigerian players but he took the gamble on one by debuting Julius Aghahowa (then at Benin Insurance) in the midst of the 2000 Cup of African Nations in Lagos. Aghahowa delivered amply. You will note that the current Manager, Stephen Keshi, has not taken this risk in spite of his clear belief in the use of home based players.

**To learn more about Nigerian soccer statistics checkout CHUKASTATS at books.