It’s not strange to see a committee of ex-internationals gather in Nigeria today, for sporting or political reasons, and with the tag ‘Super Eagles legends’.
The definition of a player’s legendary status is different with nations, a history of greatness in the nation and the level of competition for places and achievement. Astonishingly, every country has its legends, even when there’s no achievement to point at.
Nigeria’s USA 1994 squad are dubbed legends almost in every sense, and this status and tag includes even the fringe players on the squad. It’s an adulation and recognition of being part of the lots, than the main. And history is kind to many players in the squad, so much so that their names still ring with clear resonance amongst those that saw them play.
The frank question, however is, will every member of that team be tagged a legend?
There have been players of squads who suffered near misses in the country’s history. Only a few remember the stars of this team with aplomb. Some of them died before their stars even managed to rise.
Scoring vital goals at key moments is also often seen to confer the legendary status on players, and in some situations, being available.
There are also unfair and rather cocky comparisons or assertions that players of certain generations would have strolled into the teams of the generations that succeeded them. This, in every sense has no iota of fact behind it, as several factors determine who and what makes a team.
Nigerians famously remember Kanu Nwankwo for his Atlanta 96’ heroics and the beautiful goals he scored in the competition. Nigeria’s defeat of almighty and star-studded Brazil isn’t one to easily forget, hence the resonance that comes with Kanu’s name.
As a Super Eagles player, same can’t be said. His game play was good and he helped the team in dire situations with his excellent technical attributes but not once did he score a goal at the African Cup of Nations in six attempts or register one in three World Cup appearances. Many will argue these doesn’t readily justify who a legend is, especially in a modern age where statistics lead every debate. Statistics can be pretty ballads. They hide bastard truths.
To say Kanu is not a Nigerian football legend will be blasphemous. He is the only Nigerian to have won the African Player of the Year twice and was the last to have tasted it. He also reigned in a period of many firsts for Nigerian football and ushered in many to the spectacle that could could come out of the country.
Many other retired players of the USA 94 and Atlanta 96 ton had rather average European football careers but memories of their sparkling presence in Nigerian colours were much available and are interesting to the majority.
Nostalgia, recency and other biases that may be sampled more often than not help to determine the public perception of a legend.
Ahmed Musa will someday quit as a Super Eagles player and he has the highest number of goals at the World Cup, of any Nigerian. He also has the highest caps of any player in Nigeria’s football history, and made it as far as any Nigerian player at the World Cup.
Musa also won the African Cup of Nations, a feat which is the highest team feat of any Nigerian senior national team, but not many will readily accept Musa now as a Super Eagles legend.
Same could be said of John Obi Mikel who won virtually everything at club level, racked more than 80 national team caps, won the African Cup of Nations and went as far as any Nigerian at the World Cup.
At the moment, to add legend to his name will raise an eyebrow but the coming years will bring this feats and status to the feet of these players and they’d have done more than many who are called legends today just because they’re retired and spark a pleasant childhood, heart-filling memory.
There are no definite terms to the status of a legend. They come with different generations, and some of the current will be remembered to have brought good memories also when they retire.
The clear determinant is held in opinions charged by emotions more often than performance.