Saturday, January 14, 2017

STATS: Cup for African Nations, Nigeria, and Coaching Changes....

Though it has become usual to associate administrative problems to Nigeria's failures to reach the finals of the Cup for African Nations (CAN), it is time to acknowledge other factors. Of course, this does not dismiss the importance of administrative bungling in the team's failures. Surely, there is no denying that such bungling was responsible for Nigeria's failure to reach the finals under Stephen Keshi in 2015. In that instance, Keshi and NFF battle for power was evident all through the qualifiers.

However, below we show that the use of a single coach throughout the qualifiers compared to use of multiple coaches may provide another clue to the failures.

The data below are best understood by breaking Nigeria's international football performance into two separate periods. These periods are delineated by the start of national league play in Nigeria in 1972, which improved the fitness of players invited to the national team and raised performance of the national team. Prior to the national league, Nigeria was not a footballing power in the continent and though Nigeria reached the finals of the Olympics in 1968 and the last stages of the qualifiers for the World Cup finals in 1970, that was largely attributed to the aberrant emergence of a crop of young influential players from the 1965/66 Academicals -- Peter O. Anieke, Sam Garba-Okoye,  Tony Igwe, Shamsideen Olowo-Oshodi, Clement Obojememe, Muyiwa Oshodi, and Tunde Disu.

Nigeria participated in just four qualifiers for the CAN. Each was under a single coach but the country reached just one final and the absence of a national league has to be taken into account when analyzing the failure (see Figure 1).

Here the expectation for qualification to the finals of the CAN increases because the impact of the national league is evident (see Figure 2) with remarkable improvement of Nigerian clubs in continental competition and the rise in profile of the national team. Nigeria road this improvement to reach 17 CAN finals.

However, Nigeria still failed to reach the CAN finals in 1986, 2012, 2015, and 2017. The task is to see whether the use of a single coach throughout the qualifiers has any appreciable association with qualification. We explore the association with the four failures listed above and then with successes in other years.

The Failures
In only one of the failures (2015) did Nigeria use a single coach in the qualifiers (see Figure 3). However, we have pointed out the possible impact of the repeated power struggle between coach Keshi and the federation during that failed qualifying series. For the other three, there were coaching changes in the middle of the qualifiers. In 2012 and 2017, the changes involved bringing in a coach that was not part of the previous qualifying games. Only in 1986 did a coaching change take place with the assistant taking over for one game that Nigeria failed to win against Zambia, a critical reason for non-qualification.

In 2012, Eguavoen began the qualifiers but was replaced by Siasia who was not part of Eguavoen's coaching crew. In 2017, there were three coaching changes! However, each of them involved the retention of assistant Salisu Yusuf across the period of the qualifiers. Notably,  Salisu was not the highest ranking assistant under each of the first two coaches during those qualifiers. This is a point to consider.

The Successes
Here, we have data across far more years -- 1974, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2013. That is a total of 17 competitions. Of the 17, Nigeria qualified automatically in 1980, 1982, and 2000. In 1980 and 2000 Nigeria qualified as host nation and in 1982 Nigeria qualified as defending champion.

Out of the other 14 competitions, Nigeria used multiple coaches in three (2002, 2006, and 2008) but still found success. This success rate is barely 50% considering failures in 1986, 2012, and 2017 when multiple coaches were also used (see Figure 3).

However, let us examine those three where success occurred. In each case, a member of the existing coaching crew assumed control of the team and, perhaps, neither playing philosophy nor player personnel changed significantly. In fact, in 2002 though Coach Bonfrere was sacked midway in the qualifiers, he had left management of the qualifying team to his assistants from the start of the qualifiers. Thus, it could be argued that the same coaches took charge of qualifiers from the start. In 2006, Chukwu was replaced by assistant Eguavoen. In 2008, Vogts took charge midway but retain Eguavoen who had coached the team from the start of the qualifiers.

First, it has to be acknowledged that the federation's management and support of the team is important in helping the Nigerian national team qualify for the CAN finals. What we find, additionally, is that the use of the same coaching team appears important to a team's chances of making it to the CAN finals. Adverse to team's chances of reaching the finals is replacing the head coach with a coach that is not part of the coaching crew or with an assistant that is not the most important under the replaced coach (see Figure 4). Such a change may be too disruptive in several critical areas of the team.

The importance of the incoming coach may well be based on the need for continuity in the team during a period where there is little time to successfully overhaul a team. In a sense the change may be one that is simply made to improve the working climate for the team which is affected, usually, by the personality of the head coach. This explains successes achieved in changes made in 2002, 2006, and 2008 and the failures of 2012 and 2017 (see Figure 4).

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Examining FIFA's 48-Team World Cup and Media Criticisms....

Predictably, the Western media have criticized the recent announcement that the 2026 World Cup would go to 48 teams. Why not? The chance that Asia and Africa will gain more teams is certainly unappealing in the West. Of course, the predictable reasons have resurrected. They are (a) the new structure will dilute the World Cup, (b) there will be too many games, and (c) No one will be watching some of the games.  

One has to be reminded that the West does not make up the world, there are other parts of the world deserving of having a say at the table if the World Cup is to be a truly world event. But let us examine those media complaints.

The World Cup certainly will be exciting for all the reasons that it has always been – the hope that David may triumph over Goliath as was the case in 1990 when Cameroon triumphed over Argentina, or in 1966 when the Koreans upstaged Italy. Those are some of the lores of the World Cup and that will not be hurt by this expansion. Instead, there could be more of those.

Moreover, assume that Africa gets nine representatives instead of the current five. How exactly would that represent dilution of quality when in fact there are possibly 12 African teams that produce approximately same quality of play? Think about this – South Africa, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Algeria who have all played in  World Cups and have each achieved victories, at the World Cup, over Western countries that were deemed World Cup quality. Would adding Egypt, Cameroon, Senegal, and Tunisia represent dilution? I think not.

Too many games? Really. I recall the same arguments were many when the tournament expanded to 24 teams and then to 32. Yet, the average attendance at games remains strong on the average through those changes. Going by that, it seems that this complaint reflects the blowing of hot air and a human reticent to change and nothing more. By 2028, few will remember that “too many games” was even an issue.

No one watching the games? Well, it at least provides choice of games to watch and nationals of teams at play will certainly watch. As mentioned above, average attendance at games or eyeballs watching the games remain strong.

Why Does it Make Sense
So why does this change make sense? For a lot of reasons although one has to reserve comments until the actual spot allocations to confederations are agreed on. Now, the sense making is based on the following factors: (a) Likely assurance that all confederations would have at least an automatic place at the event, (b) Possible opportunities and fairness for reasonably strong teams to get into the tournament, (c) A sense of the beginning of dilution of Eurocentricity of World football.

In the current 32-team World Cup, one of six FIFA confederations is not guaranteed a spot at the game’s biggest tournament. That should be a shame. In a tournament with that many teams, representativeness of each confederation should be guaranteed. Surely, Oceania cannot be justifiably denied a place in a 48-team event when another confederation provides almost half of the teams! The logic has to be bizarre.

The increase to 48 teams provides opportunities that reasonably strong teams, in all confederations, have a fair opportunity to get to the tournament. The World Cup has never been dominated by super teams like Argentina, Brazil, or Germany. They are in the minority. Instead, the vast numbers of World Cup teams are moderately strong teams like Nigeria, Sweden, Paraguay, and USA. Unfortunately, UEFA currently provides a swath of these moderately strong teams at the World Cup whereas Africa, for example, has teams of similar strength missing the tournament because of difficult qualifiers. That has to be fixed.

Fixing the above will help dismantle the Eurocentrity of the World Cup that has now spanned almost a century. To think that even today, Europe provides about 25% of FIFA’s membership but continues to provide about 50% of World Cup representatives. That has to be an outrage. It is a legacy that is due for closure. More equity is required and hopefully, the new structure can begin to move towards equity and a true representation of a World event.


For me, the announcement of a 48-team World Cup raises hope for justice and fairness but as the saying goes “the devil is in the details.” The allocation of actual spots will signal whether or not FIFA has made the move towards equity and a diverse World Cup or whether the rest of the world remains in an Eurocentric cocoon.