Friday, September 18, 2015

The State of Nigeria's Super Eagles: Grading the talent....

The new national team coach, Sunday Oliseh, has his hands full as he attempts to craft a new national team capable of re-occupying the champion position in Africa's football. It won't be an easy challenge. Oliseh, however, is quite capable at least going by his leadership traits, his knowledge, and perhaps his publicly stated commitment.

For most Nigerians, there is of course the tendency to overstate the quality of talent available to the national team. The reality is the quality is not at a high level. When a country cites as its best players the players on the bench of Europe's powerful teams or average players on Europe's middle level teams or those in Nigeria's youth team, it ought to be a sign of how deprived the talent pool really is. In any case, in order not to despair, it is not always that teams must have the best talents to become champion. There are several examples of this. But there must be realization that talent is indeed a critical starting point.

Below, I look at each  broad unit of the Nigerian Super Eagles to assess the players and assign a grade to the unit. The good news is that such assessments are always opinions but the bad news is that there are perhaps many others who share that opinion.

GOALKEEPER: Nigeria currently has Vincent Enyeama who is, perhaps, its best ever goalkeeper. Hopefully, he remains on top of his game for few more years to come. There is no real challenger that exists. The current performance of Carl Ikeme in goal is exciting and assures that there is a capable deputy. Indeed, there are other deputies including  Daniel Akpeyi whose not-too-distant performance was memorable. But where are the truly young understudies?  Grade = A-.

DEFENSE: This is where most problems exist. In 2013, it appeared that Nigeria had solved its long-lasting defensive problems particularly at the heart of the defense. Omeruo and Oboabona appeared to be long term solutions but just two years later neither of those two appear to be an effective solution. Oboabona's form has fallen precipitously. Omeruo's form has not been better. In reality, there were always questions about Omeruo's pace and his comfort in playing the ball to feet out of his defense when the opposing team is pressing. Troost-Ekong's trial in the center of defense has not particularly impressed. The fact that Leon Balogun is considered as a solution on a wide back position points to serious problems. Balogun is not international class and appears awkward going forward. But who else? Kwambe has not exactly impressed in spite of several opportunities. On the other wide back position, the problem has been there for years and no solution appears certain in spite of the cameo form shown by Chibuzor Madu against Chad. How would he perform against major teams with the pace in wide positions? Grade = C.

MIDFIELD: It became clear that Nigeria's midfield is dependent on Mikel Obi's form. He was on top of his game in 2013 and so also was the team's midfield. In 2014, he spent time on his club's pine and it showed in his games for Nigeria. Fact is that in spite of those performances, he remains sadly Nigeria's gateway to success. No other Nigerian midfielder comes close. Onazi Ogenyi does well winning balls but his distribution is poor to state the least. Yet, both Onazi and Mikel lead Nigeria's midfield. The rest of the midfield talent is sparse and unconvincing. Grade = C.

FORWARD: Here, I include the wide players who at times may be considered wide midfielders depending on the team's structure on a particular day and moments. The only real shining light here is  Ahmed Musa who has the pace to create problems. Musa has also increased his scoring rate for the team. However, he remains inconsistent. The emerging Moses Simon, at times, plays like Musa both in the good times and the inconsistency. Victor Moses is good when the coach can channel his immense talent to the service of the TEAM and not the individual. Centrally, the team production has been poor for the most part. What Nigeria has among its forwards is potential particularly when one considers the likely promotion of youth players. But nothing more can be stated about this unit. Grade = C+.

Of course, the above assessment would sound harsh but the reality is Nigeria's Super Eagles may not be exactly what most of us think about the team. The reality is that far more work is before Sunday Oliseh to change the fortunes of the team. That work is certainly evident in the talents before him today.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Nigeria in Combat against Africa's Top 10 and Others......

Over the years, critics of Nigeria's performance have increasingly argued that the Super Eagles have done poorly against Africa's top teams while feasting on lower rated African teams. In this piece, we intend to investigate this claim relying on match result data. First, we look at Africa's Top 10 teams in each year since 2006 (i.e. last 10 years) and then calculate Nigeria's performance against those teams in that calendar year. This process enables us to address the following questions: (1) How has Nigeria done annually against Africa's Top 10 in the last decade? (2) Second, we also look at results against African teams that rank outside the Top 10. How has Nigeria done against these lower ranked teams?

To determine Africa's Top 10 teams in the last year we rely on FIFA's ranking data. We were able to locate FIFA rankings for each year since 2006 but from different months of each year. Thus, instead of comparing ranks for June in each year, we simply used any month ranking that we could find in each year of interest (see Table on list of Top 10 Teams). This, obviously, means that we could have missed some teams since the ranking is dynamic, changing monthly. However, we are confident that at least six of the ten teams in each year would have stayed in the Top 10 for a good part of the given year.

To measure performance, we depend on calculating the team's efficiency against its opponents. Efficiency scores are calculated by dividing actual points obtained (3 for a win and 1 for a draw) by the maximum available points (i.e. 3 for each game). Theoretically, a score of 0.33 efficiency is average (a draw in a game or 1 divided by 3). The efficiency scores are provided in the second table tagged "Performance Tables."

Performance Against Top 10 Teams

Surprisingly, Nigeria has not done significantly well against Africa's Top 10 teams in the last decade in spite of becoming African champion team in 2013. Its best results against the top teams came in the 2013 championship year and in 2006. The rest of the years witnessed mediocre results. A particularly poor year came in 2008 when Nigeria failed to win in three games against a Top 10 team. However, one must note that Nigeria rarely played against the Top 10 teams apart from years 2006 and 2013. 

Performance Against Non-Top 10 Teams
As is expected, Nigeria overwhelmed teams that were not Top 10 in the last 10 years. The weakest performance against such teams has been in the current year (2015) where the efficiency score is just 0.42. This includes the recent game against Tanzania. Nigeria has won just one of four games against teams outside the Top 10 this year! In previous years, Nigeria has routinely done well against such teams with efficiency scores above 0.60. In 2008, Nigeria won all eight games against teams outside the Top 10.