These are not the best of times for Nigerian football and for those in the business in Nigeria.
Since the end of the last World Cup in Brazil the football industry has been in famine. The reason is simple – the fledgling Nigerian sports industry is driven by the success of the Super Eagles, Nigeria’s most successful international brand.
Everything was fine and promising until the team lost disastrously at home to South Africa a few weeks ago and the future has turned uncertain.
Nigeria cannot afford to not be at both the African Cup of Nations in 2019 and the World Cup in 2018.
Every time the Super Eagles qualify for either championship, the Nigerian economy receives a boost of financial stimulant from the unprecedented followership and patronage of the two events.
It is still unclear what the financial losses from not going to a World Cup or an African Cup of Nations in a particular year are, but a conservative estimate to the Nigerian economy is between 4 to 5 Billion Naira, for an industry that is still in its infancy. It is simply mindboggling.
That’s why, for Nigerians, the two next matches within the space of one week, against Cameroon, are a matter of do-or-die, putting at risk the survival of an entire industry that sustains millions among the largest number and concentration of black people on earth, across the spectra of hospitality, travel, media, endorsements, marketing, advertising, television, sponsorships and more.
You can start to imagine, therefore, what not qualifying for the next African Cup of Nations and the World Cup would mean.
That’s why everyone can understand the ‘silence’ that has enveloped preparations for the two critical matches against the Indomitable Lions. There is apprehension in the air. Discussions on the matches have been muted… by fear.
That totally unexpected defeat of the Super Eagles by South Africa is a humbler. The news of Carl Ikeme’s unavailability due to health reasons is another heartbreaker. The uncertainty about the spirit and physical condition of most of the players, including the team’s more experienced and ageing players that are not getting enough match time in the countries and clubs where they are playing, is worrisome.
The Nigerian national team has never been this vulnerable, physically and psychologically.
For the first time in a long while, Nigerians are not so sure what to make, or expect, of their national team when they line up against the Indomitable Lions in a few weeks’ time. The two matches follow each other in quick succession and that is bad news for either team that fails at the first hurdle in Uyo.
Nigeria needs the oxygen of a victory over Cameroon.
The good news is that in the recent past, the Super Eagles appear to have found the code to unlock the Indomitable Lions. Check the result of the last few matches between them. Nigeria has won their last three meetings. That is what is giving Nigerians some faint hope.