Raja 3-1 Enyimba: Hard hard truths

So, it’s all over now. For the third year running, Enyimba will finish the season empty-handed. I know there are excuses which can be given, and which for some might be acceptable. After all, who would have guessed the league would end in the manner it did? Who would have imagined the Aiteo Cup would turn out as it did? Right?

But this is not the morning for excuses. This is the morning for hard truths. It may be unpleasant, but you can’t go forward without appraising yourself harshly in the cold light. So let us tell ourselves the truth.

1. We were never good enough to win the Confederation Cup

Everyone knows this, right? I mean, right?

We are proud of the team and what they were able to achieve. I hear that our run to the semi-final has restored some pride for Nigeria, and has given us back two slots for the 2020 Champions League campaign. That’s great, and very commendable. Nigeria owes us massively.

However, we were never going to win. We scraped through the easiest group in the competition thanks to a last-minute winner by candlelight against CARA Brazzaville. We only managed more than one goal in any game three times in our entire run, and two of those occasions were against Energie FC of Benin. We then casually poached their captain and best player; that tells you we are not their mates in any way.

We were very very fortunate to escape against Bidvest Wits. The South Africans outplayed us, both home and away. We had Dauda – who saved us a million and one times in one night – to thank for the draw away, and we were left to bank on our horrible pitch in Calabar to prevent them from beating us at home.

2. We never got our priorities right

What were we trying to achieve this season?

We can blame NFF all we want. They have gotten their two representatives for next year on the continent. They will flop, you say? So what? We still aren’t the ones going, are we?

Did NFF do the best they could have to help us? No. But did we make the best we could out of the bad situation? No, we did not. We went chasing many different things, and caught none.

3. We better learn to start fast

The reason why we will not be in the continent next year is that we did not start well enough in the league. Simple as.

We live and operate in a very funny country. Of course, no one could have known how things would turn out. But we have a tendency of relaxing a bit, believing that teams that start well will fizzle out.

Newsflash: this doesn’t happen anymore. Teams are wiser now, and the moment they get their noses in front, they will fight tooth and nail, by fair means or foul, to stay there. Sure, we’re all sneering at Lobi Stars, but what is to say they would still not have ended up champions? After all, didn’t we say the same thing about Plateau United as they went along grinding out results till it finally happened.

The complacency of “we’re the best, and our quality will eventually tell” has to stop. The league might be a marathon, but you don’t see anyone sleeping at the starting line, do you?

4. Our players are too old

Does this need explaining?

It is a league-wide problem, to be honest. However, if we are serious about competing, we need to overhaul our squad drastically. That might mean cutting some players who are dear to the fans. So be it. It’s a young man’s game now.

And I’m not talking only about age. There are players who have stayed too long while contributing too little. We know who they are. Get them out. Old players are, by that virtue, lacking in ambition. How do you motivate a player who does not have anywhere to go?

Mistakes come with youth, but so does coachability: you can tell a young player what to do and how you want it done. So does versatility: you can shape a young player to what you need. By all means, find a balance. But there are too many of ours whose legs are heavy less than halfway through the season.

Will we bite the bullet, and do what is necessary?

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