A hunger to win, and the great new Nigeria

“My hunger is always there!”

-  Usain Bolt


ON Sunday, February 10, 2013, Nigeria played in the finals of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) and won the Cup!

Nigeria has had a long wait of 13 years to qualify for the finals of the AFCON. And an even much longer wait to lift the trophy to glory! The year 1994 was the last time the Super Eagles lifted the trophy. What could be responsible for the victory of the Super Eagles at the just concluded AFCON? What did they bring to bear that gave them the edge over other African teams?  What did they do right?

How can you explain that a Super Eagles team with quite a number of unknown names and faces won the cup? How can you explain that a team that wasn’t given a chance in this year’s tournament ended up lifting the coveted AFCON trophy? What was the secret of their victory?

To enable us answer the above questions let’s take a quick look at the Ghana versus Burkina Faso semi final match. I believe we will find the clue in that match. Anybody that watched that match will definitely appreciate the following observations.

What was amazing about the Ghana versus Burkina Faso semi final match was that everything that could go wrong for Burkina Faso started going wrong right after the starting whistle was blown with the controversial penalty given to Ghana by the referee. Burkina Faso soon realised that they were playing their semi final match against “12 men” instead of the regular 11 men. They knew that with the odds stacked against them it would almost be impossible to win the match against Ghana.

Ghana was one of the tournament’s favourite teams. Ghana also seemed to be the referee’s favourite team. Ghana was probably one of the organisers and sponsors favourite team — a team that they would have loved to see in the finals of the competition.

Burkina Faso came out on that pitch to play and win the game. They were more determined to win the game than Ghana was. They played hard to win the game! They played their hearts out passionately to the very end even into extra time. And they won their semi final match against Ghana in spite of it all!

Why were they able to win with the odds stacked against them? What kept them going in spite of the 12th player in the other team? What propelled them to keep going even after a goal was disallowed in the dying second of the first half of extra time? Why were they not discouraged? Why were they not disenchanted when one of their players Jonathan, Pitroipa, got sent off and they were left with 10 men playing against “12 men”? Why did they have staying power? Why did they have more staying power than the Ghanians had? What did they have that the Ghanaian did not quite have in the same measure or degree?

This is what a motivational speaker Les Brown has to say and it will help to put the Ghana versus Burkina Faso semi-final match in proper perspective. Les Brown says, “Wanting something is not enough. You must hunger for it. Your motivation must be absolutely compelling in order to overcome the obstacles that will invariably come your way.”

Ghana came to the semi final match “wanting to win”. Meanwhile, Burkina Faso came to the match with a “hunger to WIN”. Therein lies the difference! Hunger takes people where “want” cannot! Hunger takes people further than “want” can! Hunger gives people the winning edge where “want” can’t! Hunger gives the victory to those that are hungry enough for the victory!

Unfortunately, for Burkina Faso (but fortunately for Nigeria) they did not come to the finals against Nigeria with the same hunger they displayed in their semi-final match against Ghana.

Now back to Nigeria and how we won the cup. It was hunger displayed on several levels that enabled the Super Eagles to win.

After all the criticisms Stephen Keshi got for choosing some Nigerian based players over the well known foreign based players amongst countless other things, he had many points to make and prove on several levels. The points he needed to make and prove were:

• That he knew what he was doing;

• That the Nigerian based players had a hunger he needed in them to win the cup;

• That he needed to build a team that he could grow;

• That Nigeria doesn’t need a foreign coach to raise the Super Eagles to victory;

• That a former Super Eagles star player can successfully coach the Super Eagles and get results;

• That a Nigerian coach has what it takes to motivate the Super Eagles to win the AFCON and bring the trophy back home;

• That an African coach can coach an African team and deliver the victory.

Meanwhile, on another level the unknown and untested names in the Super Eagles team had a hunger to prove themselves and gain recognition.

After the Super Eagles beat Cote d’Ivoire in the quarter finals all of a sudden on a national level we Nigerians developed a hunger to bring the trophy home after almost two decades of its absence in Nigeria.

As the Les Brown quotation above says, “Wanting something is not enough. You must hunger for it. Your motivation must be absolutely compelling in order to overcome the obstacles that will invariably come your way.”  It was hunger that helped Keshi and the Super Eagles to win the AFCON cup! Hunger took them where “want” couldn’t! Hunger took them further than “want” could! Hunger gave Keshi, the Super Eagles and Nigeria the victory that “want” couldn’t give! Therein lies the secret of our victory on Sunday, February 10, 2013!

Atlanta Olypmic’96 football gold medallist, Taribo West also agrees that hunger played a great part in helping the Super Eagles.     He said, “They are hungry for success, and they learn fast. They keep improving with each game at competition because they want to make names for themselves.”

The recognizable faces that Keshi left out of the Super Eagles team didn’t have that hunger Keshi needed to win the AFCON cup. That’s why they were left out. That is why it was an unknown name Sunday Mba who scored our winning goal in our quarter finals and in the finals.  Sunday Mba was hungry, very hungry! He had the hunger!    He had the hunger to win! He had the hunger to become a recognisable face. He had the hunger to make Nigerians proud. He had the hunger and that’s why Keshi put him and the other unknown names in the team. It was hunger that creatively put the ball in the net in the Super Eagles final match. Hunger personified itself in Sunday Mba on Sunday, February 10, 2013.

Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan once said, “I like to feel the butterflies in the stomach, I like to go home and have a restless night and wonder how I’m going to be able to accomplish this feat, get jittery. That hunger and those butterflies in the stomach are very essential for all creative people.” I am sure Mba knows exactly what Bachchan is talking about!

This is what two fellow sports men had to say about hunger as it pertains to them and their game. Sachin Tewndulkar says, “I hate losing and cricket being my first love, once I enter the ground it’s a different zone altogether and that hunger for winning is always there.”  Professional golfer Arnold Palmer adds, “Concentration comes out of a combination of confidence and hunger.”

It is interesting to note that what works for sports and the entertainment industry in the realm of hunger also works for nation building!

How many of us Nigerians hunger for a Great New Nigeria?  How many of us hunger so much for a Great New Nigeria that we are ready to take the necessary steps needed to build it? How many of us are ready to pay the price for a Great New Nigeria? How many? How many of us have a whatever-it-takes attitude to take Nigeria to the promised land of greatness?

In spite of the fact that they were not the tournaments favourite, in spite of the fact that there were as many as six Nigerian based players, in spite of the fact that Nigerians didn’t give them a fighting chance, Keshi and the Super Eagles had a hunger and they believed they could win the AFCON trophy. And they did!

As Nigerian citizens, we must hunger for a Great New Nigeria! We must believe we can do it! We must have a whatever-it-takes attitude! We must get to work creating a new nation irrespective of the naysayers and the doubting Thomases! We must give ourselves a fighting chance even if nobody else will!

“If you take responsibility for yourself you will develop a hunger to accomplish your dreams.” That is another message from Les Brown that we must use to build the Great New Nigeria! If we take responsibility for ourselves, we will develop a hunger to accomplish our dreams as a nation!

One of my dreams for Nigeria is for the Super Eagles to win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as an extraordinary centenary gift to Nigerians as we celebrate 100 years of Nigeria’s amalgamation. Is it possible? Ask Hunger. Only Hunger can tell!

Author of this article is Olaboludele Simoyan and it was initially published as part of the YouthSpeak series in ngrguardiannews.com