Monday, April 28, 2014

The Debate on Invited Players' List…….

The ongoing debate on the release of a list of invited players for the World Cup preparation plan has consumed the Nigerian football scene for the past month. Presumably, the NFF Technical Committee issued a query to Coach Stephen Keshi when the latter failed to come before the board to present and discuss a list of player invitees to the World Cup camp. Additionally, several media unable to contain themselves, have named several players claiming they are on the list of invitees in spite of the coach’s strident denials to such list has been provided.

The debate features several critical issues that may be listed as follows: whether or not the NFF Technical Committee has the authority to decide who invitees should be? Whether a list of invitees should be submitted at this time? Whether the national team coach can be trusted with inviting a strong squad of players? Whether more than 30 players need to be on the list? While there are perhaps additional issues pertaining to the list of invitees for the World Cup, it is important to address the few major ones identified above.

FIFA Regulation on Player List
To interrogate these points of debate we have to rely on a critical document – the FIFA Regulations for the 2014 World Cup. It is this document that is the official document that guides the World Cup list of invited players.

All that you want to know about the list can be found in Article 29 of that document.  Article 29.1 specifies that a list of no more than 30 players must be provided to FIFA no later than May 13, 2014. This list is called the “Release list.” Article 29.3 adds that the final list of 23 can only come from the Release list and must be provided to FIFA no later than June 2. Replacements on this list must be based on a serious injury verified by FIFA’s Medical Committee up until the team’s first World Cup match (Article 29.4 and 29.6) and the replacement player does not have to be part of the initial Release List.

Based on the regulations above, it is easy to understand why everyone wants the strongest list of players possible to be on the “Release list.” There is no question that the NFF Technical Committee has oversight in ensuring that the list of invitees pass that test of being among Nigeria’s strongest. However, that is where the authority of the NFF ends. The NFF cannot themselves replace players on that list. Naming players on the list, replacing them, or any modification must come from the national team coach.

Committee Oversight and Coach’s Responsibility
Based on the above, it is also clear that the list must get to FIFA on or before May 13. However, for the Technical Committee to effectively act on its oversight duties, it also means that such a list must be presented to the committee before the deadline and in good enough time for the coach to make any changes that may become necessary. However, one also understands that the list should not be presented too early to the committee in order to reduce the likelihood of having to inviting players that may become injured prior to May 13.

What is difficult to understand is the need to have more than 30 names on the list. FIFA does not require more than 30 names but would accept a list with less names. Thus, the focus on a list with over 30 invitees raises the question about selfish interests that may be driving the demand for more than 30 invitees. Your guess is as good as mine on what these interests may be. Just before the 2010 World Cup, Coach Lagerback was made to name 40 players that would ostensibly converge for training in England before the list would be pruned to 30 required by FIFA. Guess what? The camp did not materialize as soon as the list was announced and the Coach, with his tail between his legs, had to name 30 players without the benefit of training camp. Is that the procedure that the NFF want Keshi to go through? This is important as FIFA has mandated that training for the World Cup cannot start before May 26 (after submitting a 30-man list to FIFA!) following a regulated rest period from May 19 to 25! This explains why Keshi announced that training for the Scotland game will only be for one day! (see FIFA Regulations, Article 29.10 i-iii).

The above are just my thoughts on this issue.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Nigeria and World Cup Opponents…..

In a World Cup year, there is always an urge to size up your team against other teams that are also going to be at the World Cup. Thus, fans watch international friendlies with interest in order to imagine their team's World Cup performance. Already, Nigeria has begun its preparatory games for the World Cup and the opening game was early in March against Mexico which ended 0-0. Mexico, is a World Cup team, and, thus, the result goes a long way in measuring Nigeria's potential at the World Cup, at least in our collective imagination. Below we take a look back at Nigeria's historic performances against World Cup teams.

Keshi's Era: Nigeria's Record v The Rest

Under Manager Stephen "Big Boss" Keshi, Nigeria has played very few games against the teams that will be at the World Cup. The data below shows the outcomes in those games and Nigeria's efficiency score (i.e. Maximum possible points divided by actual points/This assumes, though unrealistically, that a win in a friendly game is a value of three points). Because the games have been few, it is difficult to project from those results to the team's performance at the World Cup. However, they give us a clue, an insight, and perhaps some talking points as the World Cup approaches.

Played   Won   Drew  Lost   Scored Conceded  Efficiency
6----------1--------3--------2-------7---------10-------- .33------

Though Nigeria has only won one game against teams that will be at the World Cup, it does not necessarily mean that Nigeria was completely outplayed. As the record shows, Nigeria has lost just two of those six games. Unfortunately, this leads to just 0.33 efficiency score from games against World Cup teams. They will add two of such games -- against Greece and the USA -- before the World Cup begins. One important note is that all the games have been played in neutral venues. Importantly, while we have used points to calculate efficiencies in international friendlies, it is arguable that the goal of friendlies are focused on winning them.

Compared to Previous World Cups

We also decided to compare the current games v World Cup teams under Keshi to those under previous Nigerian World Cup managers. However, we excluded both Onigbinde's 2002 and Lagerback's 2010 World Cup teams because they played fewer than four games against World Cup-bound teams. Here is how they compare:

Played   Won   Drew  Lost   Scored Conceded  Efficiency
6----------1--------3--------2-------7---------10-------- .33------(Keshi/2014)
(Mexico x 2, Italy, Ivory Coast, Uruguay, and Spain)

5----------1--------0--------4-------3---------8---------- .20-----(Westerhoff/1994)
(Cameroon x 2, Colombia, Sweden, and Romania)

4---------0--------1---------3------3---------11--------- .08-----(Bora/1998)
(Jamaica, Germany, Yugoslavia, and Netherlands)

The efficiency score of 0.33 for the current team is actually high for a Nigerian team against World Cup bound opponents. Surprised? The solace, however, is that these preparatory games often do not denote how the team would play at the World Cup. For instance, while both the 1994 and 1998 teams had lower efficiency scores, they went on to top their World Cup groups! While, we did not include data for the 2002 and 2010 teams because they both played fewer than four preparatory games against World Cup bound teams, the 2002 and 2010 teams could not get out of the World Cup group stage. What was their efficiency scores in preparatory games? Though we did not post them for reasons given above,  the 2010 team under Lagerback won its only game against a World Cup bound team -- 3-1 v North Korea (Efficiency of 1.00, a perfect score!). The Onigbinde 2002 team played just two games against World Cup bound teams and was unbeaten (Rep. of Ireland and Paraguay)!

Though the data do not show that the current team's performance is comparatively poor, the fact remains that the efficiency score is relatively poor against the best teams in the World. Perhaps, it is a wake up bell denoting the fact that Nigeria is clearly not among the best footballing nations in the world. Nigeria still has a bit to go before it is considered a strong footballing nation at football's pinnacle.

**To learn more about Nigerian soccer statistics checkout CHUKASTATS at books.

Monday, April 7, 2014

New Book on African Football and Identity

Identity and Nation in African Football: Fans, Community and Clubs edited by Onwumechili and Akindes was recently published by UK's Palgrave MacMillan as part of its group of books under the global culture and sport series. You may click below to learn more.

More on the book?

This 15-chapter and 288-page academic book features contributions from several key scholars on African football and covers several topics including history, politics, communications, war, rivalries, race, female football, football labor migration, and transnational media and their intersection with football and identity. Identity is the common thread that runs through each chapter. Below are brief descriptions of selected chapters.

Chapter 3 -- James Dorsey, a Senior Fellow at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and blogger on Middle East soccer writes an exciting piece on politics, identity, and ultras in North African soccer. He provides, for the first time, insight on how the ultras of AC Zamalek and Al Ahly assumed critical street leadership in the battle against state police that made the Egyptian revolution possible.

Chapter 5 -- This chapter provides a scintillating analysis of how Gor Mahia supporters use songs to perform Luo ethnic identity particularly during their classic derby with AFC Leopards. The songs not only link the clubs' hopes to history but also to ethnic heroes. It notes how Ohangla music is used in several of these renditions.Gor Mahia and Ohangla

Chapter 6 -- Michel Raspaud and Monia Lachheb focus on 100 years of rivalry between AC Zamalek and Al Ahly in Egyptian soccer. The authors establish the long history of political and ideological identities of the clubs with Zamalek's  aristocratic identity and Ahly's identity with nationalism and the masses.  In this piece, they review the intensity of the rivalry and how politicians and leaders have sought to take advantage of the teams' popularity and identity across ages.

Chapter 7 -- This chapter on Enugu Rangers of Nigeria describes how the ethnic Igbos who fought as part of Biafra against the Nigerian state in a civil war continued an imagination of the war long after it was over through identity with the club. It describes how the club was clandestinely named after a Biafran military regiment and how recruitment policies of the club helped maintain this imagination in games against non-Igbo rival clubs.

Chapter 11 -- Titled Oh Lord, You are the Lord Who Remembered John Mikel Obi, this chapter captures the hopes of young footballers in Nigeria who pray for a successful European career while still playing in the Nigerian streets. The chapter tracks three phases of football labor migration from Nigeria to foreign countries.

Chapter 13 -- Gerard Akindes provides a deep analysis of the impact of transnational media on African fan identity with football noting how this has shifted identity not only from support of local to foreign clubs but also shifted the football fan gaze from the stadium arena to the bars.

Chapter 14 -- This chapter analyzes online discourse on Zimbabwean football that enables a link among Zimbabweans in the diaspora with local Zimbabwean fans and enables the fans to maintain identity with several clubs and enduring ethnicism.

Chapter 15 -- Akindes and Peter Alegi (author of African Soccerscapes) report an interview of Paul Bonga Bonga, one of the first Africans to play top level professional soccer in Europe. Bonga Bonga provides an enthralling narrative of football for Standard Liege in Belgium and against Ferenc Puskas' and Alfredo di Stefano's Real Madrid. Of course, he also narrates his encounters with racism in European football.