Super Eagles coach Austin Eguavoen has said he needs a Mutiu Adepoju or late Thompson Oliha-esque player in the Super Eagles midfield in an interview held with Elegbete TV.
Both midfielders were part of Nigeria’s golden generation of footballers, as they are known. Adepoju and Oliha were known for their box-to-box abilities when they played. They are some of the most dynamic midfielders in the history of Nigerian football.
While desiring players in the mould of Adepoju or Oliha isn’t an issue, Eguavoen has to stop living in the fantasies of the 1994 Super Eagles squad. It was a brilliant team, with its own identity, but the current Super Eagles has to be moulded to strength with its best qualities identified and made to work.
“It’s quite unfortunate. That’s why I went round the league, here and abroad. The system I’ll like to play is to look for a player – two offensive midfield players who can draw box-to-box. We used to have late Oliha and Mutiu Adepoju. If I can find those type of two players as we speak today, our formation will change.
”You have to plan your team around what you have – your strength. That’s how we are going to plan how to prosecute the games. If I could find a player like late Oliha and Mutiu Adepoju, our system will definitely change. However, what we have right now, we’ll see how we can modify and try to see how we can prosecute these games,” he said.
Nigeria spent five years with Gernot Rohr without playing with a recognisable identity but to a large extent, there were good results until a downturn in quality.
The NFF gave Eguavoen a permanent job because the Super Eagles for the first time in a long time played what could be dubbed beautiful football. However, the weaknesses of the team later became its undoing, as the Nigerian midfield was caught and cut out, shorn of creativity and exposed. On that occasion, it was simply down to what the coach could make of what he had and he struggled.
Nigeria at the moment isn’t blessed with great creative players but is also filled with many decent midfielders who can do a job if rightly deployed. At the 2021 AFCON in Cameroon, Nigeria showed what could become of the midfield if deployment is gotten.
Joe Aribo was a steady, disciplined and efficient partner to Wilfred Ndidi who did his job very simply and effectively. What Nigeria seemed to lack was that important third man in the midfield.
Nigeria has long struggled with that third man conundrum and has used many players in the past. Under late Stephen Keshi, he tried Nosa Igiebor with no success before those moments of brilliance saw Sunday Mba shine at the tournament. At the 2014 World Cup, Babatunde Michael also played the role and impressed but that was the last seen of the third man in the Super Eagles.
Eguavoen and other members of the coaching crew have inherited a problem and are tasked with the responsibility of working out a model good enough for the growth of the national team. It’s twenty-eight years since 1994 and a lot of changes have occurred in football since then. Midfield players are modeled in different ways and are deployed to operate in different manners.
In Europe, Nigeria has young midfielders looking to make a good impression with the national team. Alhassan Yusuf in Belgium is a midfielder that can go all the way if he continues with his development.
Raphael Onyedika is proving to be a decent presence in Midtjylland’s midfield. Frank Onyeka has proven to be a player that can do a decent job as a box-to-box player. While Eguavoen has such a short time to eke out a working team, and one that’ll be difficult to play, he must also realise he has to work with what he has at the moment.
It’s 2022, and looking for players of pastime isn’t a way to improve a team. Let’s see the work. Enough of the fantasies.