With Russia 2018 around the corner, now is the time to start thinking about marketing Nigerian football as a premium product
Being a 57 year old nation, it is time for Nigeria to grow up and take her place at the country of mature countries. Nowhere is this more pertinent than on the football pitch where we have shown that we can compete with some of the best in the world.
Our national team the Super Eagles have been on the verge of achieving greatness for about two decades now but at no stage have they really shown that they are set to join the elite band of sides that have won the World Cup before. We may dazzle, flatter to deceive and now and again come up with brilliant results like our recent victory over Argentina but are nowhere near as good as the likes of Brazil, Germany, Italy, France, Holland, Argentina or Spain.
If we want to make this quantum leap, it is time among other things to work on our own unique brand of football and start selling it as a global brand. Brazil plays Samba Football, the Dutch gave us Total Football and Spain gave us Tika-Taka and I believe it is time for Palm Wine Football to make its way up there with them.
First of all, we have got to stop celebrating this win in a mere friendly and learn the lessons from the game. Argentina exposed a lot of flaws in our Eagles rear guard and we should be more interested in fixing before next June.
Nigerian football is based on pace, quick counter-attacks, physicality and athleticism and it is now time to turn this into a global brand. It is time the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) packages this Palm Wine Football into a global brand as Rinus Michels did with Total Football and let it sell like a premium product.
Can you just imagine how many jerseys, kits, and memorabilia the NFF would sell globally if it could attract neutrals to fall in love with Nigerian football? Back in the 1990s when the likes of Austin Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, George Finidi, Taribo West, Daniel Amokachi, Sunday Oliseh, et al wooed the world, it was common to see our green-white-green jerseys being worn by Europeans.
Today, that rarely happens but with the current crop of players at Gernot Rohr’s disposal, we may be on the cusp of something great. When I look at the likes of Mikel Obi, Victor Moses, Henry Onyekuru, Wilfred Ndidi, Kelechi Nwakali, Tyronne Ebuehi, William Ekong, Alex Iwobi, Francis Uzoho and Brian Idowu, I see a group of players who could become household names after Russia 2018.
Given the pace with which our Eagles launch counter-attacks and the devastating pace with which we can get the ball from box-to-box, we have a brand which appears unique to us.
When you add the physicality of Mikel Obi, Odion Ighalo and Leon Balogun into the mix, we can conjure a unique brand that will be as globally as popular as Samba or Total Football.
To make this work, however, a successful Eagles team is compulsory and I believe that at the very least, the team needs to get to the final of Russia 2018 to be taken seriously.
We are known for pace, strength and flair but we have got to add winning to the mix, which is why we simply have to make getting to the last four of next year’s World Cup a national objective.
I love the fact that we have some exciting young players full of flair coming through at the moment. Onyekuru, Nwakali, Iwobi, Ighalo and Ebuehi are players who can thrill audiences with clever one-twos on the edge of the area, dragbacks, Cruyff turns, nutmegs, back heels, etc, Add Mikel’s long rang passing to what they offer and we are in fact a very entertaining side.
All we need on top of wining is an appealing kit that fans will be happy to go out and purchase. No one wants to wear a kit that looks awful, so Nike need to be keyed into the agenda as well.
We maybe on the cusp of something historic here. Just imagine what good it would do for our national psyche if we could sell a brand of football to the international community. The feel good factor would almost certainly spread throughout every other aspect of our national life and serve as a catalyst for economic regeneration.
Ayo Akinfe writes from London in the UK