Tuesday, December 19, 2017

2017 Annual Report for Nigeria's Football

This is the second The Fan's Annual Report for Nigerian Football (The inaugural version can be found here). Similar to the previous report, this one will grade five units (see below) and the cumulative grades will inform the total grade for Nigeria's football:

1. Youth Football
2. Women Football
3. Local Professional Football.
4. Football Administration.
5. The Super Eagles.

Additionally, the 2017 individual and team data for Nigerian football is presented along with recognition of selected individual accomplishments.

2017 has been a barren year for Nigerian youth football, at least at the international level. The failures, at the qualifying stages, in the previous years meant Nigeria was absent from both African and World phases of the age grade tournaments. Locally, the NPFL organized an exciting youth tournament for club academies and there were other youth tournaments. Overall, however, it was an unusually down year.
Grade: D based largely on sustained and new local tournaments alone. This could easily have been an F grade based on absences at the international level.

Women football mirrored youth football in the same year. Nigeria was absent in international tournaments throughout 2017. Furthermore, the U17 national team did not kick a ball in international competition until December against Ethiopia. Even then, they beat a lowly-placed Ethiopia on away goals with 0-0 at home and 1-1 away. Not exactly what is usually expected from a Nigerian women team. The senior national team "Falcons" has been inactive since winning the African Championship in 2016 in Cameroon. The U20 team beat both Tanzania and Morocco in the African qualifying phase for the U20 Women's World Cup. Locally, women football has been stagnant with a largely absent sponsorship, lukewarm national competitions, and poor financial support. Nigeria's women teams may be at the cusp of a major decline.
Grade: C- based on international qualifying performance by the U17 and U20 teams. It is a down year, no doubt.

Local elite football is clearly on the upswing in terms of media attention, sponsorship, among others. This year, a goal in the league was celebrated among the world's best by the American sports conglomerate ESPN. However, the issue of always win at home and lose away among the 20 teams continue to plague the league. Fans are re-embracing the league, in the main. However, performance at the continental level by the league's elite team has been abysmal at best. For the second year running, only one of four representatives reached the league phase of African competitions.

Grade: B- based on poorer than expected performance for the year. The continued weak continental results is a significant consideration here.

Nigerian football administration claims World Cup qualification for its flagship team -- Super Eagles. That is indeed laudable but administration grade is based on more factors than just performance of the national teams. Fortunately, football administration had a good year in acquiring a major sponsorship with AITEO to pay coaches. Then it reached a World Cup bonus agreement with the national team long before the start of competition in Russia. Importantly, the administration also provided great results in political muscling by securing significant clout at the continental level where its President won elections to CAF Executive Committee and became a key player in ending the Issa Hayatou era.  All the above indicated at least an A- grade in spite of failures at the women and youth competition levels. However, all that was soured with the administrative bungling that led to FIFA sanctioning the country for using an ineligible player in a competitive game.

Grade: B+ is, therefore, the grade based on progress with sponsorship and accruing important political leverage at the continental level but also recognizing problems noted above.

Super Eagles qualified for the 2018 World Cup with a game to spare. The team was strong throughout the qualifiers and soundly thrashed its erstwhile nemesis Cameroon 4-0 in a critical game and it went unbeaten in the World Cup qualifiers. In addition, the team humiliated highly rated Argentina 4-2 in an international friendly. However, 2017 was not all rosy. The opening game of the AFCON qualifiers ended in a shock home loss to South Africa. That was a blemish that stained the national team in 2017.

Grade: A- based on great run in the World Cup qualifiers and the beat down of Argentina. But those accomplishments are tempered by a shock home loss in the AFCON qualifier.

Below are grades for specific units of the national team:

Goalkeeping: This was the problematic position for much of 2017. Ikeme's unavailability on account of sickness was problematic as Daniel Akpeyi's performance was well below par. Additionally, Ezenwa replacing Akpeyi provided early succor before a horrendous display in Algeria. Grade is C.

Defense: This was a particularly vexing unit in 2016 but was greatly stabilized much of 2017. The central defenders Ekong and Balogun grew into a stable and reliable unit. Abdullah Shehu on the right was consistent. However, Echiejile on the left still has shaky moments especially against pacy opponents. Indeed, it is a unit that has grown. Grade is B.

Midfield: This is, perhaps, the most stable unit for the team. Ndidi and Onazi at the base have been solid and largely disciplined, while skipper Mikel Obi is still able to play at an elite level. At the wide midfield are Simon and Victor Moses who provide the guile and pace. This is the unit that often decides whether Nigeria wins or loses a game. Grade is A-.

Forward: Here, the idea is to evaluate players that often join the attack whether or not they are largely designated as midfielders. The most advanced player is Odion Ighlo and at times Kelechi Iheanacho. The unit has scored regularly and continues to position players for goal scoring opportunities. Grade is B. This grade is a step back from 2016. 

Bench: The bench has been built up slowly with Etebo, Ahmed Musa, and Kelechi Iheanacho now considered options on the bench. These are players who could easily start on this team. This level of bench strength is a major consideration in the Grade of B+

Coaching: Gernot Rohr, beyond the stunning home loss to South Africa, has been impressive. The dismantling of Cameroon with a virtuoso performance both in Uyo and Yaounde was telling. The quick counter attacking of the team and disciplined performance defensively bodes well for the team's future. The zenith of the coaching team's performance was the changing of formation against Argentina and still winning 4-2. This is certainly a A- grade. It could well have been a higher grade if South Africa did not happen.


The over all grade for Nigerian football in 2017 is B. This is based on unit grades that were A-, B+, B-, C-, and D. In 2016, Nigerian football received an over all grade of B- and thus this year is an improvement. That improvement is, however, uneven. The Super Eagles received A- grade compared to last year when none of the units received better than a B+ grade. However, youth and women football declined and that is reflected in this year's grades.

The data include results of the home-based national team that played in the WAFU Cup in Ghana. This may explain the drop in efficiency from 0.67 in 2016 to 0.58 this year. The 'A' national team lost one game all year, at home to South Africa, but had a very good year qualifying for the World Cup and raising hopes of an excellent 2018 at the World Cup in Russia. Table is included below:

Goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa led in both minutes and number of appearances, courtesy of appearing for both the 'A' national team and the home-based team (see table below). Iheanacho scored another four goals in 2017, as he did the previous year. It is an amazing total for him in 2017, considering that he started most games from the bench. His two assists tied Alex Iwobi for the lead in the national team.

There is no surprise that Victor Moses leads as the best player ahead of Mikel Obi and Leon Balogun who also played excellently. Moses was instrumental in leading the national team to World Cup qualification. The BEST NEW PLAYER was a toss up between Ola Aina and Hafeez Aremu. Aina, by virtue of appearing for the 'A' national team, gets the nod but Aremu definitely showed quality with his performance at the WAFU Cup. Leon Balogun has been a feature in the national team but he is named the EMERGING STAR because in 2017 he took the next step of not just being a starter on the team but becoming one of the best players of the team. See the table below.