Saturday, September 20, 2014

Debutants in Competitive Internationals: A rarity but. . . .

When Christian Osagona appeared with 17 minutes left in the Cup of Nations qualifier against South Africa, he came closest to scoring for Nigeria but his presence in that game was a rarity for Nigeria. He had debuted in a competitive international, a feat matched by only 19 other players in the last decade which has featured as many as 170 debutants for Nigeria. Nigeria rarely debuts a player in a competitive international. On many occasions, the preference is to test a player in a friendly international before the big stage.

One may assume that a coach indicates confidence in a player's ability leads to a debut in a competitive international. After all, the risk in debuting a player in a competitive situation is high and thus it is reasonable to assume that players debuted in such an occasion is believed to be a can't miss prospect. But has that been the case?

The data will surprise you. We ran the stats on 19 players debuted in such situations since 2004, the last decade. Note that we did not include the CHAN because of complexity in determining which CHAN games were counted as "A" internationals. We constructed four tables from the data. In one we note that three of the 19 were started in a competitive game while the rest were used as substitutes averaging just 12.75 minutes. The next table is used to identify the average number of games and minutes played by these players subsequent to their debut. The averages give an idea on whether the coaches made the right call in debuting them in a competitive game. We compare players who played at least 10 games for Nigeria to those that did not. The players with 10 or more games were eight (8): Obinna Nwaneri, Yusuf Ayila, Obinna Nsofor, Onyekachi Okonkwo, Ahmed Musa, Victor Moses, Ogenyi Onazi, and John Ogu. Of those, only one -- Obinna Nwaneri -- actually started in his debut game! The result is baffling and calls to question the judgment of coaches. Those who ended up playing 10 or more games averaged 18.63 minutes on their debut and those who later averaged two games in their national team career averaged 26.82 minutes in their debut! The rest of the tables list data on all 19 players debuted in the last decade in competitive internationals.

Just a note of caution, besides Obinna Nwaneri there were two other players who were started in their debut in a competitive game. You may hardly remember the names but they were Mohammed Aliyu Datti who started in an CAN/WC qualifier v. Angola (June 20, 2004) and Sunday Stephen in a CAN qualifier v Guinea (October 10, 2010). Both have not played for Nigeria since!