Monday, July 31, 2017

Forwards: Nigeria's G.O.A.T. Players (Vol. 3)

We now arrive at an evaluation of forwards in order to complete the Nigerian G.O.A.T players. If you read the first two volumes, you would note that the team consists of the following (see below), prior to naming the forwards. After naming the forwards, we would have the final volume (Vol. 4) that names the G.O.A.T Coach with an Assistant Coach.
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Starters
GK:  Vincent Enyeama

D:    Uche Okechukwu
D:    Christian Chukwu
D:    Stephen Keshi

MF:  Sunday Oliseh
MF:  Mikel Obi
MF:  Muda Lawal
MF:  Augustine Okocha

Honorable Mentions
My choice, admittedly subjective, are Emmanuel Okala, Yisa Sofoluwe, Taribo West, Haruna Ilerika, and Henry Nwosu.
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The G.O.A.T Forwards
This is an area where it could become sentimental coming up with a list of G.O.A.T. players. But in the end, one has to stick to the criteria which you can find here. It is not easy to select three starters from a pool of players who have given their all playing for Nigeria. It is important, at this point, to stress again that the G.O.A.T is based on what you have done while wearing a senior national team shirt. This simply ignores whatever a player may have done for their clubs, local or foreign.

The initial pool from which finalists were selected includes the following players: Elkanah Onyeali, Thunder Balogun, Albert Onyeanwuna, Thompson Usiyen, Sunday Oyarekhua, Dejo Fayemi, Segun Odegbami, Daniel Amokachi, Rashidi Yekini, Finidi George, Emmanuel Amuneke, Nwankwo Kanu, Obafemi Martins, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Julius Aghahowa, Ikechukwu Uche, and Victor Moses. That is a total of 17 players for just three spots! Note that one of the few Nigerians to win the African Footballer of the Year (AFOY), Victor Ikpeba, does not even make the list of 17! Why? Well, he won the AFOY without being a regular in the Nigerian national team. The award was based on his exploits for Monaco in France.

How about the 17? We eliminated the following: Thunder Balogun, Elkanah Onyeali, Albert Onyeanwuna, Emmanuel Amuneke, and Dejo Fayemi. This leaves us with 12 finalists. So why did we eliminate those five players? Balogun was Nigeria's top player at club level but he was already on a decline when the national team was established in 1949. Balogun ended up playing 8 games for Nigeria, scoring two goals in one game against Ghana in 1954. Onyeali remains Nigeria's top scorer on per game basis (11 in 14 games) but he played just a few games compared to his peers because he left for England early in his career after just three years on the national team. That short career accounts for his failure to make the G.O.A.T team. Onyeanwuna played as a second striker but scored few goals in over 30 appearances. Therefore, in spite of being a household name in his era, the stats mean he has not done enough for the G.O.A.T. team. Amuneke, in the main, was not an automatic starter in two AFCONs that he played and at the 1994 World Cup he was not a key player even though he, like Ikpeba, won the AFOY. Faye had a three-year career but was not consistently spectacular. Thus, none of them made it to the final list.

The Finalists
Rashidi Yekini, without doubt, would be unanimous choice at the most advanced forward position in most G.O.A.T. selections for Nigerian soccer. His goal scoring record is 13 goals ahead of second-placed Segun Odegbami. There is little doubt that Yekini belongs and that he has to be the first selection.

Other choices at the two remaining forward positions are Segun Odegbami and Sunday Usiyan. Before I explain these selections, let me address the non-selection of Nwankwo Kanu because of the controversy that may follow this decision. To many, Nwankwo is perhaps Nigeria's best known player in a global sense following his exploits at Ajax Amsterdam and Arsenal and the fact that he was the most significant player for Nigeria's gold winning 1996 Olympics team. But then sit back and think about the exploits that I just mentioned. None of those include an achievement with Nigeria's national team, which is the central criterion for picking the G.O.A.T. In reality, Kanu did little at the senior national team level for Nigeria even though he was captain for some period. He usually failed to finish a game with his career average minutes at only 56.3 minutes and he failed to score a goal in finals of three World Cups and six AFCONs. That certainly stands out, adversely, for any player to be considered in the Nigerian G.O.A.T. team! As I said earlier, the sentimental and emotional criteria should take a back seat. The stats matter!

So why Odegbami and Usiyan? The first name should not be a surprise. Odegbami was clearly a dominant player during his career for Nigeria and it was not just a subjective conclusion but one confirmed by statistics (see Table 1). The team scoring rate was only second to Usiyan's whenever he was on the field and his personal scoring is the second highest ever behind Rashidi Yekini. Yes, Odegbami's team efficiency is low because towards the end he played in a poor Nigerian team. Often people argue, was Finidi George not better than Odegbami? George was a very good but apart from early in his Nigerian career he could best be described as an in-betweener, not quite a forward nor a midfielder and it hurts his selection in a G.O.A.T. because his performance as a forward pales in comparison to several others, including Odegbami, and as a midfielder there are also doubts.

Thompson Usiyan, as the second forward selected on the G.O.A.T should not be a surprise? Some may even argue that Usiyan should be Nigeria's best ever forward ahead of Yekini. Usiyan's stats scream QUALITY. Before he left for America, Usiyan's rate of personal scoring was 15 goals in 19 games (0.79)! He finished at 0.58 (see Table 1) which is Nigeria's best among the finalist (second historically to Elkanah Onyeali's rate). Usiyan was not just a finisher, like Yekini, he was also technically gifted on the ball.



Two players are then selected among the honorable mentions. I have Sunday Oyarekhua and Obafemi Martins for honorable mention. Oyarekhua's statistics are spectacular (see Table 1) but he was largely underrated. Not only was Nigeria's team efficiency high when he was on the field, but the team scoring was very good at 1.62. His personal scoring was also good. Oyarekhua was prolific, scoring at the same rate as Odegbami, and was critical to Nigeria's first continental championship (the 2nd All Africa Games in 1973). Oyarekhua was a classic finisher inside the box and had no frills to his game.

Obafemi Martins may not have won a continental championship with Nigeria but he was, perhaps, Nigeria's fastest player who also scored on consistent basis. His stats are impressive and he passes the eye test ahead of Ikechukwu Uche and Yakubu Aiyegbeni who were also prolific and his contemporaries.

Starting XI G.O.A.T. Nigerian Players (3-4-3)
GK:  Vincent Enyeama

DF:  Uche Okechukwu
DF:  Christian Chukwu
DF:  Stephen Keshi

MF:  Sunday Oliseh
MF:  Mikel Obi
MF:  Muda Lawal
MF:  Augustine Okocha

FW:  Rashidi Yekini
FW:  SegĂșn Odegbami
FW:  Thompson Usiyan

Honorable Mentions
Emmanuel Okala, Yisa Sofoluwe, Taribo West, Haruna Ilerika, Henry Nwosu, Sunday Oyarekhua, and Obafemi Martins.


Upcoming is Vol. 4 the G.O.A.T. Coaches.






Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Midfield: Nigeria's G.O.A.T. Players (Vol. 2)

This is the second volume of selecting the greatest of all time (G.O.A.T) of Nigerian players. On July 18, I came up with the G.O.A.T. that included the goalkeepers and defenders. Below are players who made that list (Details can be found here):
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Selected Starters

GK:  Vincent Enyeama

D:    Uche Okechukwu
D:    Christian Chukwu
D:    Stephen Keshi

Honorable Mentions
My choice, admittedly subjective, are Emmanuel Okala, Yisa Sofoluwe, and Taribo West.
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This is now the time to select the midfielders, using the indices that were used for the July 18 selections. Our task is to select the four best midfielders of all time. The players that we considered are the following: Muda Lawal, Jide Johnson, Mikel Obi, Augustine Okocha, Sunday Oliseh, Henry Nwosu, Daniel Anyiam, Sam Garba, Haruna Ilerika, Chibuzor Ehilegbu, Sylvanus Okpala, Etim Esin, and Sam Okwaraji. All are names that frequently come up in debates about Nigeria's G.O.A.T. players. I left out Nwankwo Kanu, Finidi George, and Emmanuel Amuneke primarily because they will be evaluated as forwards in Volume 3 of this exercise. 

I eliminated Jide Johnson and Daniel Anyiam early. Jide was a steady player during his relatively short career of five years but there were better players on his team. Anyiam was a very good player over the 12 years that he played, but he was not always the outstanding player on the teams that he played. Ehilegbu, though outstanding, played a mere 10 games. That is not enough to be considered among G.O.A.T. players. Same goes for Etim Esin and Sam Okwaraji who both played in about the same number of games. That left the rest that I compared below in Table 1. Note that because midfield players are two-way players I do not only look at goals conceded by the team but also goals scored by the team in order to measure their relative effect on their teams. Exceptions are players who were solely defensive midfielders in their national team careers (left out scoring stats) or solely attacking midfielders (left out defensive stats). I then added personal scoring stats for each player.

The final 8 players (see Table 1) were evaluated on both subjective and objective criteria as specified here. It was not an easy decision but I strongly believe that Muda Lawal, Sunday Oliseh, Augustine Okocha, and Obi Mikel are the G.O.A.T players in Nigeria's midfield. The surprise selection for me is Sunday Oliseh. Subjectively, I would not have included him among the top players in midfield even though he had a strong career but his numbers won me over. Though, numbers, we must be aware, are team statistics but we assume the player considered for G.O.A.T. is often (not in all cases) largely responsible for generating that number. 












Ilerika, whom I put under Honorable mention, also had strong numbers (see Table 1 & Figure 1), but I could not put him under the starting squad because he had one great tournament (All Africa Games in 1973) but had become secondary in the midfield thereafter during an era that Muda Lawal was widely regarded as Nigeria's midfield star. That Muda's efficiency is lower than Ilerika's is as a result of playing in several era and his stats are adversely affected by playing with the poor national teams of the mid to late 1980s. Moreover, I have just one opening for an attacking midfielder and Okocha takes that position ahead of Ilerika.




















Obi Mikel is the second currently active player that I have picked as a G.O.A.T. and I believe he is deserving. Subjectively, I do not believe Nigeria has ever had a greater passer of the ball. The closest is perhaps Muda Lawal but even Muda was not as good as Mikel in keeping possession. 

So here are the updated selections of Nigeria's G.O.A.T players:


Selected Starters

GK:  Vincent Enyeama

D:    Uche Okechukwu
D:    Christian Chukwu
D:    Stephen Keshi

MF:  Sunday Oliseh
MF:  Mikel Obi
MF:  Muda Lawal
MF:  Augustine Okocha

Honorable Mentions
My choice, admittedly subjective, are Emmanuel Okala, Yisa Sofoluwe, Taribo West, Haruna Ilerika, and Henry Nwosu.

Volume 3 comes up next on the three forwards who made the G.O.A.T. team.





Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Applying Some Measurables: Nigeria's G.O.A.T Players (Vol. I)

From time to time, the media select the Greatest Of All Time (G.O.A.T) players of Nigeria but often this selection is based on recollections and subjectivities. Frankly, it is difficult to select such teams without relying on subjective factors and I do not deny such reliance, on my part, to select the team. To be sure, I have been privileged to watch most Nigerian national team players in action. The only set of players that I have not watched were the set that wore Nigerian colors prior to the explosion of multiple international games in the 1960s but even then I have researched the national team from its inception in 1949 till date. This reality, I believe, puts me in an important position to pass subjective judgments beyond the statistics.

However, for this particular exercise, I will do something unique in the sense that I do not solely rely on subjectivities but also use available statistics in selecting the G.O.A.T. 

The Subjectivities
Before I commence, I state below some key points to explain additional measures:

1. The fact that a player plays in Europe does not immediately make the player better than one that did not play outside Nigeria. For instance, it is laughable for someone to claim that Azubike Egwuekwe and Godwin Savior are better players than Christian Chukwu and Segun Odegbami respectively, simply because both Egwuekwe and Savior are playing in Europe and Chukwu and Odegbami did not. Playing in Europe can be largely explained by opportunities provided in a different era. Those opportunities should not blind nor distract from selecting a truly G.O.A.T. team.

2. Playing a few national team games can be explained by the era in which a player played. For instance, Nigeria did not begin to play multitude of international games until the 1960s and that should not deny a player who played before then a consideration as part of the G.O.A.T. However, if a player featured in an era when his colleagues played far more games, then such a player cannot be considered part of the G.O.A.T.

3. The G.O.A.T requires that the player was indeed considered one of the best among his colleagues during the era that he played. Thus, a player considered one of the best of his era is to be selected over a player that is not considered among the best of another era, in spite of the statistics.

4. The G.O.A.T is restricted considerably to those players who featured prominently for the senior national team. A player's overall accomplishment for his club, Nigerian or foreign, does not override that factor. After all, this is the G.O.A.T. of Nigerian players which essentially requires eligibility based on playing for a Nigerian national team.

The Statistics
Here we use the only available statistics drawn from a database of national team appearances. We believe that a player considered for G.O.A.T. is one who significantly affects the team statistics of that period. This assumption allows us, therefore, to use some team statistics to gain insight on these players. There are three major calculations that we undertake as follows: (1) we look at team performance in the games played by the player and use that to calculate the team efficiency to which the player is considered a primary contributor, (2) we look at the goals conceded, a key measure of the effectiveness of a team's defense (including goalkeeping), and (3) we look at how many games (and percentage of games) in which the defense/goalkeeping is able to prevent a goal (clean sheet).

The G.O.A.T. Selection
Given the above, the first of four volumes of this exercise focuses on selecting the goalkeeper and the defense along with those who failed to make the all-time starting team but are deserving of honorable mention. The other three volumes will focus on midfielders, forwards, and then the coaching position.

Goalkeeper
There are five goalkeepers that were considered -- Sam Ibiam, Inuwa 'Rigogo' Lawal, Emmanuel Okala, Peter Rufai, and Vincent Enyeama. Each is considered a dominant player in the era that he played. Okala was for long considered the all time best until the arrival of Vincent Enyeama and Peter Rufai. However, his major glory was at the All Africa Games in 1973 but was a reserve when Nigeria won its first Nations cup in 1980. For me, the starter on the G.O.A.T. goes to Vincent Enyeama who was a key at the 2013 Nations Cup won by Nigeria and had three great performances at the World Cups of 2002, 2010, and 2014. Rufai had a good World Cup in 1994 after winning the Nations Cup the same year but his performance at the 1998 World Cup was forgettable. Importantly, on the three statistics, Enyeama is first in rate of conceding goals at the lowest of 0.73 per game and second in the other two categories. Rufai had the best percentage in clean sheets but his efficiency is low. Okala is first on efficiency but third on the other two categories.




















Defenders
Nigeria has not produced very strong right backs historically. At least not the ones that were considered top defenders of the team during their era. There was one exception, Anthony "World 2" Igwe. Igwe was barely out of school in the mid-1960s when he began playing for Nigeria on the back of tremendous play for the Nigerian Academicals. For the senior team, he started as a right half back but was switched further back where he excelled in both defending and joining the attack for over a decade. I considered Patrick Ekeji who was in the same mold but he played far fewer games than his contemporaries. At the left back, I considered Augustine Ofoukwu and Yisa Sofoluwe. My preference is Yisa who was solid throughout his career for Nigeria and was one of the best of his era. But Yisa's efficiency is quite low (0.50) and four others edge him out on clean sheets. Ofoukwu captained Nigeria to the 1968 Olympics but was on top for a shorter period of time.

The central defense is where Nigeria has produced its best defenders historically except for a drought that began upon the retirement of Taribo West. Here, it was difficult to select a final group as many central defenders were among the best players in their era. Eventually, I went with Godwin Achebe, Segun Olumodeji, Christian Chukwu, Stephen Keshi, Uche Okechukwu, and Taribo West. I first eliminated Olumodeji despite his outstanding status at the 1968 Olympics. Reason? He was considered less a player to Achebe before 1968 and Achebe's absence was due to the war. Yet, after failing to play actively for three years of the war, Achebe returned to the team to take the starter position from Segun and was on the team that won Nigeria's first continental level competition in 1973. Further, his statistics (Table 2) are quite inferior to other players. Chukwu, Okechukwu, and Keshi won the Nations Cup and going by their stats on Table 2, I select them in a 3-person defense with Yisa Sofoluwe and Taribo West listed under honorable mention. 

Summary Selection
Starters
GK:  Vincent Enyeama
D:    Uche Okechukwu
D:    Christian Chukwu
D:    Stephen Keshi

Honorable Mentions
My choice, admittedly subjective, are Emmanuel Okala, Yisa Sofoluwe, and Taribo West.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Goalkeeper Challenge for Rohr......

Gernot Rohr may have Nigeria knocking on the door to the finals of the 2018 World Cup but he has not yet debuted an impressive talent in any critical position for the Super Eagles. For nearly 12 months and counting, he has depended on players previously debuted by previous coaches. Sure, he has debuted a few players but none has claimed a major starting or impactful role. That inability to unearth special talent in critical positions will now present a challenge for him in the upcoming and crucial games against Cameroon, barely a month away.

First team goalkeeper, Carl Ikeme, was diagnosed with Leukemia a few weeks back and the hope of all Nigerians is that he recovers from it, football aside. Ikeme has been very good for Nigeria and whether he is available in the future for the country is not the focus for him or well wishers. The focus is his recovery.

However, his absence remains a huge challenge for Rohr. It is a challenge that has always been there since Rohr took over as manager because Ikeme was often injured. Rohr has coped with makeshift substitute Akpeyi but Akpeyi's instability in goal has run the ire of the public and a new face is needed. Unfortunately, Rohr has not shown the ability to hurriedly find suitable replacement not just at the goalkeeping position but elsewhere. Table 1, below, shows that several previous coaches were able to debut an impactful player within one year of appointment but Rohr has not been able to do this in his 12 months stay on the job. Now, a replacement in goal is urgent.





































This is not to state that the absence of a suitable substitute for Ikeme means a loss to Cameroon. After all, Nigeria won an important qualifier against Algeria without Ikeme. Historically, the team has also done reasonably well when a starting goalkeeper has gone down. In 1998, Ike Shorunmu was the overwhelming choice as starter but he went down injured just before the World Cup. The international friendlies that followed exposed a big hole at the goalkeeping position (0-3 loss to Yugoslavia and 1-5 to Holland). That forced the recall of a barely-fit Peter Rufai. Rufai was at his worst at the World Cup and yet the team reached the last 16 where Rufai's problems became a major factor in the team's collapse. Table 2 shows that the team was conceding about two goals per game in the next 10 games,  after Shorunmu went out injured. Quite an atrocious statistic (see Table 2).






However, it was a different story in 2002 because of better preparation in the player substitution area. Coach Onigbinde benched Ike Shorunmu (Again, the overwhelming starter at the time) in the last group game at the World Cup. Behind Shorunmu were a bunch of inexperienced goalkeepers but one of them, Enyeama, was up to the task in the game against England and went on to, arguably, become Nigeria's best ever goalkeeper. Table 2 shows results of the national team's games after Shorunmu was benched. The stat shows that Nigeria found a capable substitute in Enyeama.  

So what does that history tell us as Cameroon looms? The absence of Ikeme does not mean the end of the road for Nigeria in the quest for World Cup qualification. However, it means that if Nigeria aspires to accomplish something much bigger, then Rohr must work harder in finding a reliable goalkeeper just as Enyeama emerged after Shorunmu was benched in 2002. The search for such a goalkeeper has been over due for some time now.