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Challenges to Nigeria’s 2014 World Cup hopes

NIGERIA is jocularly referred to as a country of 150 million people, with everyone deeming himself qualified to coach the national football team, the Eagles, who have fallen on hard times, in the same manner that other layers of the game that many Nigerians follow with passion are suffering.

The suffuse of ideas, the contention for space in the affairs of Nigerian football and the challenging times that have seen the Nigeria heading towards global irrelevance are among the issues our panelists treated. When these eminent Nigerians gathered to discuss Nigerian football, the consensus was that the future was already on its way to further blight unless something was done urgently. They were as blunt as the issues demanded, and unforgiving in their admonitions…

Continues from yesterday…

Onochie: Let me come in here because it is a technical matter and     I am very comfortable with the issue. I think the players did not play well. If you watch the team under Amodu, you will discover that there are so many things they lack. They lack aggression, they do not mark well. It is no longer enough to tell the players that you must mark man to man, you must be aggressive.

There are things you do in training and it is for the coach to tell the boys why you are doing these things, this is how the opponents play and this is the way to respond to such a play. The way Jay Jay Okocha was idolised has now made everybody to want to play like Okocha. Apart from the players, the coaching of that team was wrong. In a game that he wanted to be very offensive, and he played two midfielders, in Mikel Obi and Seyi Olofinjana and you expect to win, it would be tough. After 15 minutes, Mikel Obi was holding his waist.

Obaseki: Do you also remember they only trained for one week for that match?

Onochie: No, it does not matter sir.

Obaseki: They all have various clubs engagements.

 Emeka Nwani,  Emeka Ezeogu and Chief Obaseki
Emeka Nwani, Emeka Ezeugo and Chief Obaseki

Onochie: We had FIFA free days and we did not use them. Shuaibu Amodu did not want to play friendly matches because he did not want criticisms. The last time he played, the criticisms were so much that he got so confused. You had a federation that got wind of this and still kept quiet, defending his position.  The coaching has problems. The NFF has a Technical Department and Technical Committee that are not working together. Some of them do not even know what they are supposed to do. They do n0t know what they are talking about.

Mitchell: Onochie, you are stretching this issue, because what the High Chief has talked about is the truth. Nigerians do not want to say the truth, the players did not play well. All of us acknowledged that if they played well, we would have won the game but they did not play well. There is a simple logic to who plays well and who does not play well. The end to a game determines what was put into that game and the person who selected the players who did not play well is the coach, so he is the one who bears the responsibility.

Obaseki: So why did you not criticise the team?

Mitchell: I will give you the simple logic of football. Once players do not play well and you acknowledge that they are not playing well, it is not so much because the coach is not doing his work, the issue is that somebody selected those boys.

It is like your board sir, if the Nigerian league, today, is not good, it is not the referees or the match commissioners that would be held responsible, it is your board that is managing Nigerian league and High Chief Oyuiki Obaseki is the one managing it and you have failed.

Even in football, they tell you that it is not so much what you tell your players at half time in the dressing room but it is what they really remember because the moment they get to the pitch, sometimes what they remember is not even what you told them in the dressing room. They could remember what one of the boot carriers said, forgetting what the coach said at half time.

So it is so much of what the players remember of what the coach said and as Onochie said, what you do not do in training, you cannot do in the pitch that is where the simple expression of practice makes perfect comes in. Practice dictates that you perfect your strategies, you must train to perfection.

Moderator: It will be perfect depending on what you are practising.

Mitchell: Let us stop all this logic of they did not stay together. The Tunisians had the same conditions that we also face.
Okpalla: Some of the Tunisians are also home-based.

Mitchell: Who picks the home-based players for the Tunisian team?

Obaseki: I have been shouting about the need the use our home-based players

Mitchell: Five of those players in the Tunisian team had played a game against Heartland, a Nigerian team, in the Champions League. Why is the coach unwilling to use home-based?
Obaseki: It is the coach who picks the home-based players.

Mitchell: So you are agreeing with us. Now that is the problem. What is wrong with Nigerian football is that we try to protect our own persons.

Ezeugo: The media is a massive part of this football industry because of the role of informing and educating the public and some of the journalists are not doing that. They cover up for their friends who are in the NFF. They cover up for their friends who are part of the football teams in the country. I am appealing to journalists to come together and tell each other the truth. How many of the national team coaches are supposed to be there on merit? The national team of any country is the highest institution of learning of that country as far as football is concerned.  The place must be equipped with sound technical minds to take care of these teams.

This is the country that a nobody from nowhere, with no pedigree is made a coach of a national team and nobody says a word. Can you teach what you do not know, it is not possible. I tell journalists that my grandmother can coach any of the national teams and get us to the World Cup but what can she do when we get to the world stage. That is the crux of the matter.

Mitchell: It is not the crux, the crux is for us to get to the World Cup first.

Ezeugo: We are getting there, to the global stage with the national team, which is our only global brand.

Mitchell: Where are we heading?Moderator: Are you suggesting that we are qualifying for the 2010 World Cup?

Ezeugo: I am not suggesting that. I have already said it is over now, that we should think about the 2014 World Cup.
Mitchell: We have been postponing this thing a long time now. After Kano (in 2005), when we played against Angola, we postponed till 2010 and did not prepare, thinking that we would just qualify.

Ezeugo: Why I am saying that we should think about 2014 is that we are very deficient. Do we think seriously that if Tunisia slips up,  we can take this technically deficient team  represent us at the 2010 World Cup? The answer is no.

*Paul Bassey
*Paul Bassey

Okpalla: Football is a 90-minute game, so you do not give up until the referee ends the match. I am not talking about slipping or not. Slipping up, we have to get to the conclusion of the games. We have two matches left and we need to win these games and when we must have won those matches, we access our positions because even if we do not go to the World Cup, we need to qualify for the World Cup because it would be a disaster if we do not go to the World Cup and Nations Cup. I have seen where a player will go for screening, the coaches have marked him as good and they allow him to train and at the end, he makes the team. I have seen where a team is losing 2-0, with five minutes left, the opposition equalises and scores to make it 3-2. We have seen that. Do we see that with our team?

Moderator: Are you saying this in relation to the 2010 World Cup?

Okpalla: We have two matches left and we cannot go home and sleep. We win the matches first, then you go back. Let me talk on technical issues. Where I have disagreed with Amodu is that he came out publicly to criticise his players. It has never been done. He should have assembled them to tell them his annoyance and what they must do to change things. Even Maradona has been disappointed but he never came out to criticise his players in the open.

Mitchell: That brings up an issue, the issue of your coaching association. What it shows is that your association is in decadent form and we talked about the decay in Nigerian football and that decay also stretches. Just like you put the media under the cross, that decay also stretches to the coaches because the coaches do not even have a thrust of where they are going, we do not even know who is in leadership, what they want to do, where they are going. I am saying today that Nigerian coaches have betrayed the mandate given to them and the final mandate depends on what happens after the outcome of the final two matches of the World Cup qualifying series.

That is when we would shift, there will be a radical shift as we will go back to where and what we used to do. Some of us have been in the forefront of advocating for a Nigerian to lead Nigeria to the World Cup because we want to measure the true state of Nigerian football. Nigerian coaches have refused to even give us the chance to show the true strength of Nigerian football, meaning that they have constituted a consistent link in the weakness that is the game in this country and we have decided that their time is up. We will shift focus.

Ezeugo: I agree with Mitchell because the share of the blame goes to the entire football family of Nigeria that is what I said at the beginning. All of us have contributed to wherever we are right now and that includes the coaches. Many of those coaching teams in the country do not have it. When I watch our league matches, I do not see any game plan and that includes our last World Cup game against Tunisia. Our coach had no game plan at all.

Okpalla: I disagree with Mitchell. When he says if Shuaibu fails, all of us have failed. If he fails, he fails alone.
Mitchell: I did not mention Shuaibu. I said some of us in the past 20 years have given the mandate to Nigerian coaches.
Ezeugo: In over two decades, and for almost a year since I have been in this country, I have seen about three coaches in this short period, who have gone from a national team to about three clubs, within eight months. They are sacked and they move to other clubs and none of these institutions are thinking why was this coach was sacked! When he was in this position, why was he sacked but as I thought of this, I discovered that there are different agents within the football clubs and national teams who are peddling these coaches around from one team to the other and this cannot help football to grow in anyway.I will give you an example.

Mike Emenalo is currently the chief scout of Chelsea and he is a Nigerian. Would any club in this country ever think of bringing in any of us who played in Europe to be part of the club? Emenalo played for Auran Grant in Israel and when Grant became the chief coach of Chelsea, he remembered that he had African players who were doing well and thought of who would help him to manage these players and other potentials, and that was how he brought in Emenalo.

Moderator: what are the processes or criteria for players to make the national teams? Should NFF board members impose players on the coaches? Who should be on the NFF board? Who should coach our national teams? We have hired a foreign coach who came in with credentials stretching longer than this table, did that help us? Do we need a foreign coach or a good coach?

*Onochie Anibeze
*Onochie Anibeze

Mitchell: The issues can be tackled from the different sectorial needs of the game. On administration, the problem is not the statutes, some people talk of policies and I am tired of repeating what you have on the ground. If you implement 15 percent of documents on Nigerian sports or Nigerian football, we would attain great heights.When we started the professional league in 1990, we had two documents, Decree 10 and Decree 11.

Decree 10 was the document that gave Nigerian football its autonomy and instituted professional football. Decree 11 was the one that gave professional clubs the right to become limited liability companies, to be businesses and if you look at that document and see the number of clauses that were in it, giving clubs the room to find their limits professionally, you would be marvelled. One-quarter of what is there has not been touched today.

We talked about clubs having their own stadia, they were given a seven-year tax moratorium. When I made Nigerdock the first professional club to have its own stadium, I virtually cajoled the Managing Director of Nigerdock, we had our stadium then.

I know how I decided to go about getting the approval of the NFA then to approve our stadium in the island because they said that they could not cross water and yet they watch Italian league and how people pass through the water to see these games on islands.

On administration, with elections coming up, what is the make-up of the kind of structure we have because in a situation where a man holds a congress and after tells you he will not operate the way they used to operate because they have an agenda of trying to stay in office.

If you cannot do the job well, expect that you are ready to lose the job because any time you want to stay in that job, you spend so many time and energy, trying to think about staying in the job, then doing the job. So we must have a philosophy of operation, a philosophy that guides us to say let us go and give service and see what we have done and you leave it for other individuals to continue because this game is a continuum because the way the game was played in 1980 is not the way the game is played in 2009.

Somebody said even these footballers, what would they get if they win the cup, that when they won it in the past what did they get. I said in 1980, when they gave the players houses and television, they were the best gifts you could get in this country. In fact they were of the elite class. When you use the eyes of 2009 to view what they gave them in 1980, the houses and the television, you may not see the beauty of the prizes but when those prizes were out of this world.

They were knockout prizes. We have to put into perspective what we want. I instituted a debate for the election of the present executive of this current NFF board we had a debate. Nigerians saw the debate. Another election is coming we know what some of them said during that debate. We have the recording of the debate and at the appropriate time, we would ask whether they have delivered or not.

From right; Chief Oyuki J. Obaseki vice President NFF, Paul Bassey, and Sports Analyst Mitchell Obi at the Vanguard's  Sports Conference Hall Meeting. Photo: Nwankpa Chijioke
From right; Chief Oyuki J. Obaseki vice President NFF, Paul Bassey, and Sports Analyst Mitchell Obi at the Vanguard's Sports Conference Hall Meeting. Photo: Nwankpa Chijioke

We are waiting for the appropriate time. The issue is that let them not shift the goal post because the previous problem we had with Galadima, apart from the fact that he did not take us to the World Cup, as chairman of the FA, was that he was beginning to shift the goal post when it was time for the election. Nobody has raised that issue that is the issue because I stood up and told him that I know you, you are my friend but you were beginning to shift the goal post. So let them not try to shift the goal post, let them not change the rules.

Onochie: They are already doing that.

Mitchell: I do not want to believe that because we know what the rules are. Some of us would never be interested in elective offices but we have a responsibility to make the public understand that this game belongs to the people and the moment you want to cheat the people by cheating the game, then the people will react.

Moderator: What goal posts are they attempting to shift?

Onochie: For election into the NFF.

Obaseki: I am handing over in March as chairman of the NPL. We have changed the statutes. It used to be you need chairmen of club because when I came in as chairman, I discovered, chairmen of clubs cannot run the NPL in an effective manner. So we have changed it but you must be knowledgeable in football, so election is open. I am inviting everybody to come on board.

Mitchell: You do not even need to be a member of the board of the Nigeria Premier League for you to make a contribution to the league, because all over the world, the league is a big business and it is run like a company.

Obaseki: Yes, it is a company, a limited liability company and run like a company.

Mitchell: It should be run like a company in terms of its management. The board sits down to meet maybe once every three months and look at new rules and accept or reject and allows the man who has the league to run it.

Not here where if you are not a board member then you are not a chairman of a committee; if you are not a board member, you do not lead a delegation to an event; if you are not a board member, you are not a party to the league. It is the issue, which we would discuss when we get to the issue of management.

There are already existing statutes and they should not change the goal post. Individuals who want to be parties in the management of the game tomorrow can have access. The access is restricted. The access to Nigerian football management should be open. Just like it is in Nigeria politics, it is difficult to have access if you do not belong to the ruling party. We do not want that kind of thing to operate in Nigerian football. We do not want a one-party state in football.

Moderator: You can look at management, coaching, officiating, the media, the players, then  the election, which is also very important because at the election, even if they provide access, there are issues around the election.

Okpalla: We must have vision, then have focus to make that vision work because in Nigeria, people write a lot of things, they bring proposals. I would advise that we must force clubs to integrate our youths so that in the next 20 years, we must have something to look up to and they will come to rule the world.

Mitchell: The point to make there is not telling them to integrate the youths but to tell them to start having facilities because when they have these facilities, the next step is to start incorporating youth programmes and development. A club without facility cannot develop the youth. What are they developing? The NPL has money now but 80 percent of the money goes back to the NPL and not the clubs.

Okpalla: The next people are club officials. There must be tough punishments for erring ones. I know some officials who are being used to harass others. We need to have a home-based senior national team with good coaches. The players from the domestic league are packaged well, and they train, play international friendly matches regularly, while still playing for their clubs, they would improve.

Mitchell: CAF, the African body, has helped us by instituting a competition after every two years for home-based, so we need to follow the CAF calendar and have own home-based team for this CAF competition, it would be a good beginning.

Okpalla: Yes, that is what I am trying to say. They must have the right coach for these players. It is very important.
Mitchell: That is why we are talking of corruption at the level of football management in Nigeria. Without corruption at that level some of these issues can be easily decided.

Okpalla: Then next point I am making is that if we do not go to the World Cup but go to the Nations Cup, we need to pick young players. We have to pick many of them, groom them and know the ones who cannot help us in the next World Cup. We need go to the Nations Cup with young players and give them exposure. We should monitor that team and see those doing well, especially from our age-grade teams because we must some good players even from Under-17. So we have to monitor and pick the players for the future.

Onochie: I would like to talk about scouting. In 1998, I met Bobby Robson at the Nations Cup in Burkina Faso. He was the chief scouting officer of Barcelona. He had stopped coaching them then and had been made their chief scouting officer. I had written about this thing before but you know how we do things in Nigeria. I am happy that Ezeugo mentioned it.

Scouting of players is so important that clubs and even national teams engage people, former players or coaches to do that because there are coaches who have talents to watch a match and in 15 minutes, they can spot good talents and note them down for engagement and grooming. Why cannot we do that in Nigeria, from the club to the national teams. It is very important. We have never. I wrote that we should have it.

Moderator: That is why  how people become coaches is very important because we used to have so many team coaches and they went round to watch league matches.  They  invited  players from the national league, they played a couple of times together, they groomed, some of these players move to the national team

Mitchell: So you are talking of it as a policy.

Onochie: Yes, I am talking of scouting as a policy for our teams.

Mitchell: It cannot be an isolated policy.

Onochie: It cannot.

Mitchell: It has to be anchored on another policy. It must be stated that the league board should insist that clubs should do that. Independent of having trainers for the feeder teams, the clubs should also have scouts. That is how they can input it into that policy so it becomes part and parcel of the technical group policies.

Onochie: If we have a good scouting policy, our football would be better. The players the scouts look for the clubs play, it then follows that there should be national team scouts.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.