1. Youth Football
2. Women Football
3. Local Professional Football
4. Football Administration
5. The Super Eagles
The U23 team was the lone shining light in Nigeria's youth football for the 2016 year. The team had a rough preparation for the Olympic Games but played inspired football on its way to winning the only Olympic bronze medal for all of Nigeria's sporting contingent and saved the country from monumental embarrassment.
Both U17 and U20 teams were disappointing. Each failed to reach the African Championship with the U17 team losing to Niger Republic and the U20 eliminated by Sudan. Those were, indeed, shock outcomes considering that Nigeria was the defending World Champion at the U17 level and had been a dominant force in both U17 and U20 in Africa.
Grade: C largely based on achievement of the U23 team. Without that, this grade was headed for F.
Both the U17 and U20 teams did well to qualify from Africa but were eliminated at the group stage of the World Cups for each age grup. The Falcons did not qualify for the Olympics but won the African Women's Championship in Cameroon. It was a mixed bag of results for women teams.
Grade: B- based on performance of the Falcons and the youth teams getting to the World Cup stage.
LOCAL PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL
This was a major season for the NPFL as it increasingly built a positive image. Sponsorship has increased and the take home for all 20 clubs has risen steadily. The image of the league improved with a selected team playing a few matches against La Liga clubs in Spain. Importantly, fans are returning to the stands to watch local games and reports indicate that quality of play on the field has also improved. The downside, however, is that only one of Nigeria's representatives at the continental level reached the critical league stage of those competitions but ended up finishing last in its group (Enyimba).
Grade: B+ based on LMC administration and performance at the local league level. Grade reduced because of weak performance at continental level.
Grading football administration (NFF) based solely on performance of Nigeria's representatives at various competitions is only part of the factors here. On those basis, NFF did poorly and failures at competitions are linked to NFF's inability to financially support the teams at all levels. While it is true that football financial issues cannot be fully separated from the nation's financial problems, it is equally true that the NFF made little headway in securing private sponsorship in an environment where LMC administration secured similar funds. The NFF is certainly innovative in many ways, including bringing technological resources to globally-acceptable levels and becoming politically involved at continental and global levels.
Grade: C because of its innovative ventures but poorly evaluated on sponsorship and competitive support for teams.
THE NATIONAL TEAM "SUPER EAGLES"
The year 2016 was a tale of two national teams. The year started poorly with the national team collapsing at the African National Championships (CHAN) and then being eliminated at the qualification stage for the 2017 Cup for African Nations (CAN). However, appointment of new coach, Gernot Rohr, revived fortunes of the national team and it won its first two games of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. It was a remarkable turn around and the team is currently on a five game winning streak.
Grade: B largely based on the team's remarkable turn around. Grade was headed for a D until then.
Below are grades for specific units of the national team:
Goalkeeping: Nigeria has been adequate in the goalkeeping department this year even though it used several players in goal. The main team depended on Carl Ikeme as starter. However, he has been absent in two crucial games against Egypt and Algeria but his replacement on both occasions, Daniel Akpeyi, was adequate. Grade B.
Defense: The defense remains work in progress with constantly changing parts, especially at right back. Moreover, Nigeria concedes nearly a goal a game and no one can claim that the defense has been the team's strong point. Far more work is needed for this unit to be considered a strong asset for the team. Grade is C+
Midfield: This unit has grown by leaps. It still runs under the steady guidance of John Mikel Obi but there are many capable players coming through including Etebo Oghenekaro and Wilfred Ndidi. It is a unit that allows Nigeria to dominate possession in several games. However, there are still lapses when the team is in ball recovery phase. Grade B.
Forward: Another unit that has improved during the year, particularly under leadership of both Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses. Arguably, Moses is considered a wide midfielder under Coach Rohr's scheme but here we add his work to Nigeria's attack. Since Nigeria's loss to Egypt in Cairo, this unit has averaged two goals a game, a big chunk in international football. However, earlier in the year, the story was quite different. Grade B+.
Bench: Increasingly, the team's bench has been built up and substitute players have the ability to make a huge difference in games. Consider the use of Wilfred Ndidi, Abdullah Shehu, and Ahmed Musa as substitutes in recent games. Grade B+
Coaching: Earlier, I mentioned that the national team started poorly but experienced a remarkable turn around after the Egypt loss. That down and then up performance is reflected by the coaching influence on the team and, thus, leads to a B grade. This grade is inclining after simmering in C range before arrival of Gernot Rohr.
OVERALL GRADE FOR NIGERIAN FOOTBALL
With unit grades of B+, B, B-, C, and C we award an overall grade of B- to Nigeria's football for the 2016 calendar year. While it is clear that all units continue to need improvement, the administration of the game is in severe need for improvement. In truth, it is a critical unit that has affected all the others and without it Nigeria's football has a steep mountain to climb in the near future.