7 Minutes with China: Inside Finidi’s head

It was kind of an anti-climax as the squad list of the Super Eagles to face South Africa and Benin in the World Cup Qualifiers was announced days ago.

The usual banter, arguments and dragging on Social Media did not happen to the level we expect every time a Super Eagles coach makes his squad list public.

But what was Finidi George thinking when he drew up that list of players? What does he want to achieve? I tried to enter the head of the Super Eagles coach, Finidi George, to understand how the Eagles will shape up against South Africa and Benin and how they will play.

Stanley Nwabali needs some competition

Everyone who has watched the Nigerian Super Eagles in the past five years would agree that we had a goalkeeping problem. If you watched the Africa Cup of Nations and saw Stanley Nwabali, you would understand that we solved that problem. Stanley Nwabali is Nigeria’s number 1 goalkeeper, so why was Maduka Okoye invited?

If you watched or followed the Italian League you would understand Okoye’s influence on his team, Udinese.

Okoye, in both the League and Cup, played 22 games, conceded 27, kept 5 clean sheets and got 2 yellow cards. But these stats do not tell the full story of Okoye’s influence on the Udinese team. In their game against Leece, it was a Udinese win, and Maduka made at least four critical saves. When Udinese played against Inter Milan, it ended 1-2 to Inter, but Inter did not score more because of Maduka Okoye. This is how immense he has been to the club in the past couple of months. Does this then mean that Stanley Nwabali loses his shirt? It is all in the head of Finidi George. But one thing is more certain- every coach needs his players to be on their toes and not get complacent. Nwabali needs to look behind him and see a threat to his number-one jersey to be at the top of his game. Nwabali needs the competition that Okoye brings. What then happens to Francis Uzoho and some other goalkeepers in the Nigerian League?

I believe Finidi George sees Stanley Nwabali as his number one but needs a top-class number 2 in Maduka Okoye, while he rotates the 3rd goalkeeper depending on club form at the time of invitation. If you ask me, for the first time in a long time, Nigeria has two reliable goalkeepers between the sticks.

No Aina, no Ekong, No Omeruo

William Troost Ekong was massive at the AFCON and Ola Aina was his very best, taking us back to the 1984 AFCON where Yisa Sofoluwe wowed us with defensive and overlapping skills. The Eagles will be without both of them, but Finidi George called up Benjamin Taminu who plays in Tanzania, and Sadiq Ismail of Remo Stars in their stead.

Now, the thing about Sadiq is that he has for long been tipped to be invited to the Super Eagles following his goals and assists rate with his club in the Nigerian League. He is a good, going forward, and his crosses have created many goals. He is a very good player when the team is attacking and Finidi will need him for goals if the need arises. With Gabriel Osho, Kenneth Omeruo, Bruno Omyamaechi and Tyrone Ebuehi also injured, Finidi had to dig deep. A late withdrawal of Victor Osimhem ensured he brought in Kenneth Igboke from Enugu Rangers, a left back.

Finidi Ball? Anyone?

Finidi George changed the way Enyimba FC play their football. I remember chatting with him in preseason training at the Krisdera Hotel camp in Omoku at the start of his first season at Enyimba. I asked him about how he wanted his team to play. He said they will keep the ball down, play out the back and make football pleasing to the eyes. Two years on, he did exactly that with Enyimba, but can it work with the Super Eagles as the team has less time to train together?

For the twin games against South Africa and Benin, the coach called up Wilfred Ndidi, Raphael Onyedika, Alhassan Yusuf Abdullahi, Frank Onyeka, Alex Iwobi and Fisayo Dele-Bashiru.

Certainly, with the team he has named, he would want to pass out the back, knock the ball around, play the high press and all, but he needs to be careful how he deploys his tactics on the day. We already saw the work Frank Onyeka did at the AFCON, a Trojan in the Eagles’ midfield. Alhassan Yusuf did well in the first game before he got injured and the Eagles will welcome back Wilfred Ndidi in front of defence. It will also be good to see how he deploys Alex Iwobi. Would he be choked up in one corner of the pitch or does he get a free role? It’s all in Finidi’s head.

No Osimhem, no problem

Osimhem did so much running at the AFCON with little support from his mates. It would have been something to see how Finidi deploys his front line, a regular 4-3-3? 4-4-2? 3-4-2-1? It is all in his head.

It would have also been great to see if he plays Victor Osimhen as the lone man up front or deployed a twin strike formation of Osimhen and Victor Boniface, but again, it is all in the head of Finidi George, and Osimhen is out of the team.

I see him trying two formations in training. One team playing a twin striker formation and the other team playing with one striker. What happens in the few training sessions will determine how he shapes his team against South Africa as it will either be a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3.

Finidi looks like a coach who loves football to be played attractively. He also knows he should not take risks while at it.

But whatever he gives out to Nigerians on the day in terms of formation, performance and result is all in his head. And this will be just as Nigerians expect that the formation, performance and results that his head give us will be favourable, as nothing will be as good as a win against South Africa and Benin

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