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Of Pillars, Heartland, Bayelsa, and our football

By Paul Bassey
What a relief that I do not have to write about the Super Eagles today. Although I am under pressure by readers who want me to comment on the “no friendly match” decision by the team handlers, I have decided to shrug off the desire.
I am also not going to write anymore on the Confederations Cup and the lessons there from.

I believe I treated that extensively last week to the point of admitting that though there were no superstars in the USA and South African teams, the collective resolve, determination, patriotism and technical inputs raised their game to giant killer status.

Ogbonaya Okezie said I did not mention that South Africa and Egypt went to the Confederations Cup without Presidential Task Forces! Ok. Now, I have.

Before I go any further, I have decided to take up the challenge thrown by Chinyere Paul (not my daughter) who wants me to confirm that while the champion of the  women football league in Nigeria will go home with 200,000 naira (less than $1,500), a player in the beach soccer team currently in South Africa will earn up to $7,000 (over one million naira) if they go on to triumph in the final.

Her text: “sir, I heard this morning that a winning bonus for the beach eagles has been fixed at  $1,000 US EACH, whereas the winning TEAM of the female league in Nigeria will get 200,000 naira to be shared by 18 players, coaches, etc not to talk about their transportation and feeding.”

She went further, “In the past whenever I raised this issue, colleagues will say “don’t  compare Falcons with Super Eagles.” Now can you help me to explain this injustice and bias to that football that has given us the best results as a country at continental and world stage?”

My dear Chinyere, at times like this I mourn the late Bassey Koma who fought the women football battle to his grave. Call it lack of standards, call it whatever and you will be right. I pray for the day a policy will come into play treating gold as gold, no matter the sport. Must we repeat the fact that the neglect of other sports has cost us a lot, especially where such sports possess tangible potentials for national glory?

I am sure the national teams of basketball, hockey etc will  relish an opportunity of earning just $2,500 dollars at continental assignments. What baffles me further is that even the Football Federation we all seem to envy, does not possess the administrative wherewithal needed to raise the game to another level. A classic example is the ongoing Federation Cup which is at the semi-final stage, in July.

When, two seasons ago the Nigeria  Premier League moved to harmonise the domestic game with the European league, we all agreed it was a brilliant idea because Nigerian players could not just disappear anymore mid season with the excuse of going for trials abroad. This meant that when Europe, which invariably rules our game, was on recess, we will also be on recess and could organize friendlies, promotional visits and the like.

Today, an NFF that Samson Siasia will accuse of over concentration on the Super Eagles has thrown that lofty plan overboard by not aligning the Confederations Cup with the domestic league calendar.

Often, when people talk about the quality of the domestic league, they do not spare a thought for the off the field components that helps to enhance the required quality. As you are reading this, four top Nigerian clubs are still locked in cup battle, denied the much needed off season breather. Tell me, when will the clubs  go on recess, when will the tired  players rest their bones, what about transfers and administration……

When the English League (our model) came to an end, we managed to follow suit. Today, the English league is at rest, players too. The transfer market is active, just as the league fixtures for the next season have been released. Back home, nobody has said anything about transfer, no off season friendlies, no election of officers and the restructuring of clubs. Nothing. Meanwhile, the new season is expected to kick off next  month?

Worst hit are those clubs that will represent us in Africa. Do you imagine a situation where Pillars and Heartland will play decisive African ties by july 19? Pillars and Heartland should thank their stars for getting knocked out of the competition hoping it had afforded them a three-week window to train specifically for the African expedition. What about Bayelsa United? They may have to hire a plane and fly out of  the stadium should they qualify for the final, whenever it is played.

The rules and regulations of CAF competitions affords teams additional player registration window, that which allows you to bring in extra players by the time you qualify for the league stage. Enyimba used it effectively to strengthen their squad even with players within the country.

I am yet to hear of similar efforts by this year’s representatives.
Al Ahly  of Egypt had Angolans in their ranks, the Sudanese clubs are noted for their Nigerian strike forces, while two Ivorians ply their trade in Egypt with Zamalek. One or two foreign stars can lift our game to no end.

But with the way we operate, what time do we have to plan  ahead? Maybe Nigerians have not heard the story of the club that made reservations, bought tickets and landed in Congo Brazzaville when their match was in Congo Kinshasha. Don’t tell me “Congo na Congo”. Because we are talking of two different countries here, just as Guinea Bissau is not Equatorial Guinea, is not Guinea.

“Simple” things like travelling arrangements have affected the chances of most Nigerian club-sides who oftentimes arrive their destination too close to kick off. You can imagine the dilemma of a team that arrives Lagos on a Friday for a Saturday match that is billed for Sokoto!

By the time they  struggle to reach match venue (hopefully with luggage intact) to discover that their long sleeve jerseys will be unsuitable for the hot weather and the boots not suitable for artificial surface, they would have been disorganized akin to being a goal down.

Nigerian clubs knew their opponents over two months ago, yet I do not know how many of them have done some research on their opponents, up to the point of the climate, the field on which they play, players to watch, food and so on. Five days ago, the names of referees were released.

If you have North African referees, then you play safe. If you have a referee from Cameroun and Central Africa, then you can expect him to appreciate some robust tacklings and so on……

The Nigerian Premier League, must start NOW to study the fixtures of those clubs in Africa with a view to eliminating unnecessary postponements. Clubs that play in Africa SHOULD be mandated to play their outstanding matches mid-week, latest the following mid-week in case of force majeure….

Can we not borrow a leaf from the Premiership where they have started off the fixtures with mid-week matches? I wonder the pandemonium that would have happened here if we had to accommodate international games in our fixture like the English by playing World Cup qualifiers, the Premiership, Carling and FA Cup matches simultaneously.

Add to that, those leaders of delegation who add no value to the contingent they are supposed to lead out, who are not conversant with the rules of the competition and sit dumb at pre-match meetings.

After ousting Al Ahly and Cotton Sport, Africa expects a lot from the Nigerians. Pillars, Heartland and Bayelsa  should know that there is more to winning a match in Africa than throwing out eleven boys to the field and expecting them to roast the opposition by as many as nine or thirteen goals!

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