AAG 2024 ouster: The continued decline of Flying Eagles

AAG 2024 ouster: The continued decline of Flying Eagles
Photo by Icon Sport

Fans of the Nigerian national teams received another sour medicine as the Flying Eagles crashed out of the All African Games (AAG) 2024 in the group stage.

The Flying Eagles, Nigeria's U20 national team, went for the AAG in Ghana with high hopes, but those dreams hit the rocks after a woeful performance that saw them pick just one win from three games.

They lost to Uganda in their opening game by a lone goal before labouring to a win against South Sudan.

The Ladan Bosso-led side then lost their last group game to Senegal 2-3 when they needed a draw to book a place in the next round.

There have been calls for the head of Bosso, who has somehow managed to find engagement with the Flying Eagles.

How Flying Eagles results have masked a downward spiral

Flying Eagles on a downward spiral
Photo by Icon Sport

The Nigerian U20 team, the Flying Eagles, was among the most revered on the continent and in the world.

They conquered the continent and kept serving performances, showing they were on the cusp of something truly spectacular.

Perhaps early success led to the downward spiral of the team. Like most things in Nigeria, everyone wants to be part of a success story, and as the saying goes – too many cooks spoil the broth.

The Flying Eagles participated in their first African U20 Nations Cup in 1977, with two back-to-back third-place finishes.

They went on to dominate the continent for four straight years. The seven-time African champions have seen other countries challenge their dominance.

They last won the tournament in 2015 and have only reached the semi-finals once. The Flying Eagles failed to qualify twice in the last four tournaments.

Failure at the FIFA U20 World Cup

Lionel Messi terrorising the Flying Eagles in 2005
Photo by Icon Sport

For all its glory in Africa, the Flying Eagles have reached the final of the FIFA U20 World Cup twice.

They finished Runners-up in 1989 and 2005, where a Lionel Messi-inspired side stopped Mikel Obi from lifting their first-ever trophy in that category.

Since that outing, the best the Flying Eagles have managed is reaching the quarter-finals in 2007, 2011 and 2023.

The results at the international level against countries from other continents are a testament to the decline of football in Nigeria.

The Flying Eagles should be a production line for the Super Eagles, but failure in that rank impacts the senior national team so much that the NFF is scouting for Nigerian-born players in Europe.

Is Ladan Bosso culpable for the latest Flying Eagles debacle?

Ladan Bosso in another failure in Ghana
Credit @oluwashina X

The Flying Eagles have never won gold at the All-Africa Games. Since the tournament was downgraded to U23 and then U20, Nigeria has only two silver and two bronze.

There is an evident struggle by the NFF to keep the production line running. It calls into question the management of the various national teams and their decision-making.

Ladan Bosso seems to have been in the corridors of the U20 team like forever.

He coached the team from 2007-09, where he led the team to the quarter-final stage of the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup. In 2009, the Bosso-led under-20 team finished runner-up in the WAFU U20 Nation Cup.

He got the boot in 2009 following a third-place finish by the Flying Eagles at the 2009 African Youth Championship.

Bosso was back in the saddle in 2020, but in the years that followed, he has not shown any signs of being the one to lead the team to the promised land.

He led the Flying Eagles to a third-place finish at AFCON U20, where they lost to Gambia.

The failure in Ghana lies squarely at the feet of the coach as much as the NFF that found him worthy of the job.

In his defence, Bosso says his talent is discovering talents. If true, why has the NFF handed him the coach position instead of bundling him to the scouting department?

The Flying Eagles played like a rudderless ship, which Bosso blamed on poor preparation. The defence falls flat on its face considering he claimed the team was well-prepared for the tournament.

Perhaps the expectations of Bosso were too much. The failure in Ghana makes a case for those who believe the Super Eagles should have a foreign coach.

There are calls for him to be relieved of his job. After three years at the helm with no progress, perhaps those calling for his head might be right.

This article was most recently revised and updated 1 month ago

Chooka Izuegbuna is a Sports Journalist with 20 years of experience in print, TV and Radio. He has worked with some of the top media houses in Nigeria, including NTA Network, Channels TV, TVC, Silverbird TV and MITV. Chooka broke his sports reporting teeth with The Game Football Weekly in 2003 as a cartoonist and reporter.