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Agali, Babayaro, Yakubu: was Christian Chukwu right to eject them from Afcon 2004?

Former Super Eagles head coach Christian Chukwu has been making headlines recently in his recollections of events leading to the expulsion of 3 players from the national team camp in the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations tournament (in which Nigeria eventually came 3rd).

Strikers Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Victor Agali and left full back Celestine Babayaro were all expelled from the Super Eagles camp after the first match against Morocco for allegedly entertaining women in their hotel rooms in violation of camp rules.

"We got report from the security people of the hotel who confirmed they (Agali, Aiyegbeni, Babayaro) came in with women into the hotel," recalled Coach Chukwu in a recent radio programme monitored by Afrofooty.

“The three of them didn’t deny it and it got their teammates really angry," he said, which ultimately led to the decision to expel the 3 players.

From all indications, the actions of the 3 errant players riled up not just the coaching crew but in fact their own fellow players too, who were looking at the coach for a reaction that would demonstrate direction, decisiveness and discipline.

As a fan, it was a blow to lose Yakubu, Agali and Babayaro in such a high profile tournament - one which I wholly expected us to at least reach the final based on the calibre of players at our disposal and the pedigree of the coach.

It will almost be like throwing Ighalo, Ndidi and Ekong out of the last Afcon. Well if that had happened, at least Osimhen would have had to be thrown in the deep end (and perhaps his star may have started shining earlier).

Let's be in no doubt: the actions of Yakubu (Everton), Agali (Shalka 04) and Babayaro (Chelsea) were hugely reprehensible which warranted a huge response from the coach. However with their profile being that huge, what response would have been proportional?

If they had been given a 'slap on the wrist', other players might have been aggrieved by their actions and equally aggrieved with Christian Chukwu for such a lame response.

A Fine or exclusion from maybe 2 games might have been an adequate response from me (speaking solely as a fan).

But in truth, the indiscipline actions of the 3 meant-to-be professional players left Coach Chukwu with a decision to make and he elected for the severest option open to him by chucking the players out of the tournament.

A fully loaded Nigeria had inexplicably lost the first match of the tournament 1:0 to Morocco with the 3 errant players in the squad. Once ejected, clarity appeared to have opened up in the thought-process of coach Chukwu as he was then able to rearrange and set up the players he had at his disposal in a manner that brought out the best in the team.

Arguably, one of Nigeria's most memorable Afcon encounter was the 2:1 victory against Cameroon in the quarter-finals. If the terrible-trio were still available, no one will ever know how trying to accommodate them will help or hinder in the encounter against Cameroon.

Additionally, John Utaka and Odemwingie came alive with the expulsion of Agali and Yakubu whilst the conundrum of accommodating Udeze and Babayaro wast effectively extinguished.

All in all, as a fan, I was devastated that such high profile players were ejected from the squad. At the time, I think Coach Chukwu actually regretted it as local newspapers reported that he tried to recall them.

On another note, I think it sends a strong positive message that regardless of a player's pedigree of whatever club or league they play, there is a code of conduct that they have to abide by when in camp for a major assignment.

If they fall foul of this, whether they play for Real Madrid or Barcelona, they will face the music!

Christian Chukwu showed decisiveness in the matter: I think he deserves credit for that.

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