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Will Finidi George Usher in a New Era for Nigeria’s Super Eagles?

Will Finidi George Usher in a New Era for Nigeria’s Super Eagles?

Will Finidi George Usher in a New Era for Nigeria’s Super Eagles? | Afrocritik

Now under the helm of the former Super Eagles winger, the charge is clear: restore the Eagles to their perch as continental football royalty.

By Tuka Letura 

On Monday, May 13, 2024, the Nigerian Football Federation unveiled Finidi George, former Ajax forward and Enyimba Football Club manager, as the new head coach of the country’s senior national team, the Super Eagles.

The 53-year-old becomes the latest coach for the Eagles to both have played for the team and manage the side, following in the footsteps of other Nigerian football legends from the Class of ’94 like Samson Siasia, who won the African Cup of Nations that year.

Until his appointment, Finidi was the head coach of the league title holders, Enyimba Football Club, in the Nigeria Premier Football League. Under his guidance, they secured their ninth league title in 2023, the first since 2019. On the continent, his Enyimba side didn’t achieve nearly as much, getting knocked out of both the African Super League and the CAF Champions League in the early stages. 

Regardless, coaching the Super Eagles will be a completely different ball game. As Roberto Martínez said during his time as coach of the Belgian national team, “International football is the opposite of club football.”

Finidi was part of Nigeria’s 1994 Nations Cup winning side, the first Nigerian side to make it past the group stages of the World Cup. He is the fifth player from that set to coach Nigeria’s senior national team. 

Will Finidi George Usher in a New Era for Nigeria’s Super Eagles? | Afrocritik
Finidi George

As a coach on the international stage, he was part of his predecessor José Peserio’s backroom staff as Nigeria finished in second place in January 2024 at the Africa Cup of Nations. With that, he is fully aware of the gravity of leading the nation, and what it means to achieve success, to be close to it,  and equally have it elude him. He also knows how high the esteem football is for Nigerians and how much succeeding will mean to Africa’s most populous nation.

Awareness is, however, not enough, as work needs to be done, and it starts as early as June 2024 when Nigeria is up against South Africa in the qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup. Nigeria hasn’t made a World Cup appearance since 2018 when a matchday three loss to Argentina marked their third-ever exit at the group stages from the competition.

To whom the Eagle is given, a flight is expected. For Finidi, the task with this group of players is to find balance and take them at least one step further than his predecessor did on the continent: by qualifying and winning the Nations Cup, and secondly, guiding them into the World Cup in 2026.

This may be easier said than done because, despite the team being star-studded up top and in defence, it has lacked soul and numbers in midfield to complement the options elsewhere. Only recently did it look like assurance has arrived in the Super Eagles look, with former Enyimba goalkeeper, Stanley Nwabali, who now plies his trade with South African club side, Chippa United, having a sensational tournament in the Ivory Coast.

Nwabali was also in goal in two friendly games Finidi took charge of in March before his official confirmation this month. Nigeria secured a 2-1 win over Ghana, with Cyril Dessers and Ademola Lookman scoring the goals for Nigeria before Jordan Ayew smashed home a late penalty. However, Nigeria suffered a subsequent 2-0 loss to Mali in the following game.

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Victor Osimhen, Victor Boniface, Calvin Bassey, Alex Iwobi Kelechi Iheanacho, Frank Onyeka, Wilfred Ndidi, Ademola Lookman, Ola Aina; the list of stars in the Nigerian set-up is almost endless. But stars don’t win trophies alone, teams do. 

super Eagles training scaled
The Super Eagles teammembers training

If Finidi’s setup in both games is anything to go by, it shows that he can build a cohesive unit that maximises the individual talents of players. He creates a system where players complement each other’s strengths and work together to become fluid, irrespective of individual absences. Who starts and who doesn’t becomes secondary situations he can easily handle. Calls for the inclusion of more players who play professionally in Nigeria have also been addressed by Finidi, who says he will assemble the best team regardless of where they play. 

His Enyimba side took different shapes to match opponents and it’s expected to be the same situation with the Super Eagles. He’s already trialled a 3-5-2 and 3-4-3 formation in the two friendly games he managed. At the end of the day, Nigerians won’t mind how he does it, provided he restores the Eagles to where they belong. 

Finidi’s contract is for one year, with a possible extension based on performances, and after the 2025 Africa Cup of Nations. 

Tuka Letura is an experienced sports writer with over five years of experience in the craft. He uses data and statistics to provide analysis and commentary. From regional to worldwide competitions, he has covered a wide range of sports-related events and topics. He is devoted to sharing his enthusiasm for sports with his audience and engaging them with interesting anecdotes and viewpoints.

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