Nigeria miss 2022 World Cup: Who’s to blame and what’s next after crashing out vs. Ghana

The dust has settled, and the reality has kicked in. Nigeria are going to miss their first World Cup since 2006. It’s their second missed World Cup since 1994, when they reached the knockout stage. In actuality, it should not shock anyone that Nigeria are missing out on the 2022 World Cup. The signs were there, the cracks were papered over and now Nigeria has slipped, hard.

On Sept. 30, 2014 Amaju Pinnick took over as president of the Nigerian Football Federation. He oversaw the disaster that was not qualifying for the 2015 (two years after Nigeria won AFCON) and 2017 AFCON tournaments. He went on to hire Gernot Rohr, who saw a successful period of Nigerian football. Rohr, however was disrespected and eventually fired.

So who’s to blame? And what’s next for Nigeria after a disappointing stretch. Let’s sort it out.

Playing the blame game

Who is to blame for Nigeria not qualifying for the 2022 World Cup? It’s a large pie, everyone can get fed. Let’s start with the obvious: it was horrible goalkeeping for the Thomas Partey goal in their 1-1 draw against Ghana on Tuesday. The players looked like they were waiting for a third and fourth leg. Victor Osimhen was trying things he should not have. You get the point — the players did not hold their weight.

The coaching. Manager Augustine Eguavoen was the assistant coach when Nigeria did not qualify for the 2006 World Cup, he is a legend on the pitch, but off of it, he has failed to replicate what Aliou Cisse and now Rigobert Song have done for their country. The tactics, player selections, the substitutions or lack thereof were not up to par. Eguavoen and his staff need to take a long look in the mirror.

The football federation. There are way too many egos and not enough humility within the NFF and the sporting authorities in Nigeria. From Amaju Pinnick to the rest, there seems to be no plan, just vibes and a lot of talking. Cameroon has Samuel Eto’o, arguably is the greatest African football player ever, in charge. Eto’o so far has taken no prisoners and has revived a Cameroonian side that was looking lethargic. Nigeria need a game plan from the men’s side to the women’s to the youth, even down to how the stadiums are managed.

Finally, the media in Nigeria. They hunted Rohr and he was fired. There are a lot of egos within Nigerian football, everyone seemingly wants the best but in reality it seems the other way. A lot of Nigerian media members advocate for local-based players and coaches, but when it comes down to it, there are not that many players or coaches who can take Nigeria to that level. Rohr should have been allowed to see out of the AFCON tournament in January. If he failed, fire him. That’s how Cameroon, Tunisia and Ghana did it (you know, countries who qualified). The influential Nigerian media members need to ask themselves what exactly do they want? Do they want to continue driving agendas for their own gain  or do they want to be genuine?

A head-scratching decision

Before we get started let’s be real. Outside of 1994, Nigeria have not won much. In 1996 there was an Olympic gold medal, and in 2013 an AFCON title. It was not a pretty sight after the AFCON win. Pinnick took over Nigeria in 2014. What has been done since then? There have been two missed AFCON’s, the loss of an Adidas sponsorship, court cases and corruption allegations. It is not all bad, though. 

Nigeria have very gorgeous Nike kits and gear, they finished third in AFCON 2019, qualified for the 2018 World Cup in a group that had Zambia, Algeria and Cameroon. They ushered in a generation that is one of the most gifted on the continent, and brought in some diaspora talents. This was done mostly under the tutelage of Rohr (you know, the manager who Nigerian media and football heads ended up getting fired).

While football wasn’t the most attractive under Rohr, Nigeria had their most successful period under Pinnick’s reign with Rohr in charge. Should he have been fired? Maybe. But there was no plan to find anyone after he was gone, which is why firing him was a very unserious and now costly decision.

What is next?

Egos and pride need to be checked immediately. Some people need to quit, get fired, leave, whatever it is. There needs to be people who are doing what is best for the footballing of the country. That means not calling up eight wingers and four midfielders. That means hiring the best coaches, fixing the stadiums, paying the coaches and players on time, recruiting and calling up the best players, whether that is domestic or foreign-born.

Nigeria is a very tough country to live in and people want some sort of escape, pride and joy. When the national team does well, people connect to it. When they are not playing well, it adds to the pent-up frustration. Being Nigerian, there’s a sense of pride and joy, the “giants of Africa” need to figure out who they want to be on the football pitch. Do they want to be Beautiful Gowns FC, or an actual football powerhouse?

The talent is there. The core is young, some players need to be moved on and some will retire (possibly Leon Balogun, Odion Ighalo, Ahmed Musa and maybe William Troost Ekong). For the most part this core will stay together, but the players need coaches who are sharp, witty and know how the modern game is played. You cannot rely on the ghosts of yesteryear to fuel players who were born after your glory days. Eguavoen has tried for years, but it is time to move on. Move on from the 1994 era, they had their chance. It is time to usher in a new generation of Nigerian football. If they want to be great, people like Pinnick need to put their hands up and say they have tried.

Eight years in charge, one third-place finish, a ton of scandals and mismanagement of talent and funds is not a good legacy to have. Nigeria should be back at the 2026 World Cup, 32 years after winning hearts in the USA, they will be back in the United States, Mexico and Canada. Can the powers that be develop a squad, coaching staff, and stadiums fit enough to make 200+ million people proud? All we can do is hope and believe. 

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