As the Flying Eagles of Nigeria prepare to lock horns against their Ghanaian Under-20 counterparts in today's WAFU B group match, controversial coach Ladan Bosso is in a buoyant mood.
In what has become a staple under this NFF administration, Nigeria left it characteristically late to prepare for this tournament. Whereas other teams had been camped for over 12 months ahead of this tournament, Bosso was only re- appointed less than 12 weeks ago to gather a team and then prepare them for this tournament.
I noticed that this same shortsighted, short term and disjointed preparations contributed to Bosso's failure in the same tournament 2 years ago.
However, Bosso appears to have an air of positivity around this campaign as he expects his team to go far in the Niger Republic.
"We will strive to give our best to win our first match and the subsequent ones in order to progress. I think the team is improving every day. We plan to have more blending and bonding in Niamey, as the tournament is fast approaching." Said Bosso.
Already in Niger, Bosso's boys have played 3 tune up matches, winning 2 and drawing 1. Bosso said despite the late preparations, his team was improving tactically with each friendly match played.
But many fans remain unconvinced. Late preparations is one thing, Bosso's competence is quite another - many fans simply believe that Ladan Bosso is the wrong man for the Flying Eagles job because he is a serial failure (despite NFF's late planning and preparations).
But I am not too sure about that.
To be a failure, a coach has to have failed in key milestones. Bosso's milestones with the Flying Eagles are as follows:
1: Qualifying a team for the World Cup.
2: Navigating the group stage of the World Cup.
3: Going beyond the second round of the World Cup.
The NFF has always shot itself in the foot. In 2009, Ladan Bosso qualified the Flying Eagles for the Under-20 World Cup by coming 3rd in the Under-20 Afcon. However, he was sacked and replaced with Samson Siasia because "Bosso's brand of football was neither entertaining nor compelling".
Does that sound familiar? The NFF will always sack a coach perilously close to a major tournament only to get their fingers badly burnt.
All the hard work Bosso did to mould the team in 2 years went to waste as Samson Siasia rejigged the team and took them to the world cup in Egypt. They unsurprisingly crashed out in the round of 16 (which was worse than 2 years before when Bosso actually guided the team to the quarter final).
In 2007, a very young 35 year old Bosso led the Under-20 to the Canada world cup quarter final against Alexis Sanchez' Chile. Though Chile was better drilled with quality strikers, Bosso's boys were resolute, disciplined, focused and sturdy in holding them to 0:0 in 90 minutes.
Goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa had the game of his life.
When Chile scored 1 goal in the first half of extra time, the Flying Eagles still maintained their composure. However, as the second half of extra time began, the huge weight of expectations on the young shoulders of coach Bosso caused him to buckle.
With thoughts like being labelled a failure, disappointing his NFF employers, proving doubters right and feeding critics with justification, all over-flowing in his mind, Bosso gestured to his team to carelessly pour forward in search of an equaliser.
What a monumental mistake!
The same Flying Eagles team that held the brilliant Chile to 0:0 in 90 minutes conceded 3 goals in just 15 minutes to end the match 4:0.
For me, that match ended 1:0 as that was a fair result. Desperation, fear of failure and apprehension about his critics led Bosso to become desperate with degraded mental capacity thereby issuing careless instructions to his team in the last 15 minutes that compounded his misery and even enhanced the perception of him that he was desperately trying to avoid.
That was 15 years ago; Bosso was young and naive, he will only get better.
Yes he fell short in the last Under-20 WAFU B tournament, but there were contributory factors which include: 1) NFF's late preparations, 2) Nigeria's group having only 3 teams, 3) poor pitch, and 4) poor officiating.
Bosso's boys actually played well.
This time around, some of those factors are already also playing out here. But Bosso somehow believes that he can surmount them this time around.
Will he actually be able to do that? We will soon find out.