Saturday, January 2, 2016

Nigeria and the CHAN Effect.......

This month Nigeria will again participate in the African Nations Championship (CHAN) that will be hosted in Rwanda. This second tier championship for African states is restricted to locally-based players only. In Nigeria's group will be Tunisia, Guinea, and Niger Republic. 

The competition was not initially designed for countries like Nigeria. Instead, it was designed for the weaker footballing countries that often are eliminated early in continental competition and, therefore, spend months of football inactivity. This is, particularly, a reason why qualification is regionally-based to provide opportunities for regions with weaker footballing countries to play at the final stages of the competition. 

It is based on the above that many question the value of the competition for a country like Nigeria. In fact, several writers suggest that the competition has no value to Nigeria's football.

The question is how true is the statement: "has no value to Nigeria's football"? Is this statement supported by data? In order to assess this, we develop a measure for "value to Nigeria's football."

Nigerian football officials argue that the CHAN not only prepares local footballers for a reasonable level of competition against "A teams" of some African countries (i.e. countries with no or few foreign-based players) but in doing so prepares Nigerian local players to compete for places in Nigeria's own "A team."

We argue that "value" can be measured by percentage of minutes that local-based footballers earn in Nigeria's "A team" (The main national team - Super Eagles) in a competitive environment.

The widely held view is that Nigeria's best footballers are foreign-based and, thus, the expectation should be that minutes expended on the field for the "A team" by local players should be minimal. Therefore, a value of 20% of such minutes is logically significant considering the above assumption. Below, we describe our method for calculating percentage (%) of game minutes.

For each game, there are 990 minutes available in ordinary circumstance i.e. 11 players x 90 minutes each. The total number of minutes will increase in an extra time game to 120 minutes. To arrive at the % of minutes played by a local player, we take the sum of minutes played by all players attached to a local Nigerian club at the time of the match. A player like Godfrey Oboabona who was a local player when he played for Nigeria will not have any of his minutes counted after he joined Rizespor in Turkey. Thus, this measure may not fully capture the long term impact of the CHAN. In any case, the sum of percentage of minutes is annualized and then divided by the annualized total minutes in games played by Nigeria to arrive at the percentage (%) of minutes for the local player. 

The inaugural CHAN tournament took place in 2009 and, thus, we collected our data seven years prior (2002-2008) and seven years post (2009-2015) for comparison purposes.

The general result is shown in the table. Percentages are calculated for all games and then for the international friendlies and for the competitive games. The line graph shows the trend of percentage of minutes played by the local player in a competitive game. This graph is important as it captures the trend in using local players for games which count towards Nigeria's success or failure in a major competition.

We note that the percentage of minutes has increased since 2010 (one year after the first CHAN finals) and reached great heights in 2012 with Nigeria's first qualification for the CHAN finals. Of course, during this period of increase Nigeria went on to win the Cup for African Nations (CAN) and qualify for the Round of 16 in the World Cup.

But it is important to note that there was also  a high percentage of minutes in 2003 and 2004 when the CHAN did not exist! So what accounts for this 'anomaly'? This is important considering our earlier argument that foreign-based players are better and that the CHAN is the appropriate environment that prepares local players to compete with "A team" players? Well, this 'anomaly' is explained because the 2003-2004 period coincides with a dark period in Nigeria's football when local players were used, not by design, but by necessity. At the time, invited foreign-based players repeatedly and in the late minutes declined invitations to play and left the national team coach (Christian Chukwu) to scramble around for local replacements not minding the quality of those local replacements. This is very different from the careful plan to integrate local players with the "A Team" that has existed in recent time. Further, though Nigeria began participating in the CHAN since 2008, there was no plans to integrate local players to the "A team" and, thus, the low number of minutes for locally-based players in that period until 2011 when Nigeria began to significantly integrate local players in training with foreign-based players to appropriately assess competitive quality.

It is obvious that the perception that Nigeria's home-based players are significantly worse than foreign-based players cannot be supported, at least by statistics nor can it be fully supported by match result-logics. For instance, our data shows that the period of increasing use of local-based players coincides with important achievements for the national team as mentioned earlier. We look at three critical games where a significant number of home-based players were used by Nigeria without embarrassing results as may have been anticipated -- Italy (360 minutes), Ivory Coast (990) and Peru (857). All those surpassed the value of 20% (198 minutes), which we set as a threshold for value determination. Contrast that with meagre presence by local-based players in poor home results against Congo Rep (17), Guinea (0), and South Africa (90). Additionally, examine their presence in the draw against Swaziland (0) versus the win against the same team (273). Of course, there are different circumstances that may explain the results above but one thing is clear, while one may not argue that home-based players are better than foreign-based counterparts, the fact is that several home-based players are comparatively good and cannot and should not be ignored.

Second, the purposeful camping of home-based players for the CHAN has certainly provided opportunity to positively impact the "A Team" of Nigeria as shown by percentage of minutes increasingly allocated to home-based players in competitive games during a period that the Nigerian national team has done well in two critical competitions -- the 2013 CAN and the 2014 World Cup. Conversely, the poor results at home that doomed the "A Team" in critical qualifying games for the 2012 CAN and 2015 CAN saw the absence of these locally-based players. While the poor results may not be solely based on this absence (see Effects of International Friendlies), it may well have helped with their presence since their long-term camping provides "team chemistry," particularly in the absence of preparatory games.