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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…

Moderator: What is truly wrong with Nigerian football?

Ezeugo: The players we have today are a big problem. Their orientation is outdated. A little boy dreams of playing for Manchester United instead of starting from the local level. Players’ recruitment is fraught with foul means, coaches are taking money. People in the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, force players on coaches, they have become agents.

Most coaches have no business being in the field again. How many of them have gone for refresher courses in the last four years. The custodians of the game are bringing sentiments into it. How can you have progress? When you have people who have no business being there, making decisions, how can you make progress? Politicians have taken over our football. The problem starts up there and trickles down. Administrators only think of the money to be made, forgetting that no money can be made without the game.

Mitchell: We are still searching for an identity; we are still searching for the elements. What is wrong is what is wrong with Nigeria because we tend to forge; we are still struggling to use football as a vehicle for communicating the good things that are associated with this game of football.The problem of Nigeria is that of leadership, we look for heroes we cannot see.

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

The nation is like a gambler. The problem is all of us, all the elements of corruption, decay in infrastructure show in our football.  We need the total approach of our development of the sector because it is a young game. We are amateurish, we do not have management, we wobble and fumble, there is inept leadership, infrastructural decay, there is no road leading to anywhere. You cannot give what you do not have.

Okpalla: I agree that what is wrong with Nigeria football is what is wrong with Nigeria. Nigerian football is athletic and robust. Siasia’s team cannot achieve anything because it is not purposeful. The team lacks technical discipline. The only know how to move the ball. We have lost our identity. What we have are political footballers and coaches. We have refused to follow up; we do not have good playing pitches.

Take the case of my club, whose administrators, when we had our disagreement, it went to town calling me names, just to prove that it sacked me. Instead of saying we could not reach agreement again, we have decided not to continue with this contract, but it wanted to use the word sack.

In Nigeria, everybody says being sacked is not good for your image. Overseas, being sacked means nothing. Sack is no news to anybody over there. Mourinho was sacked in Chelsea and he went to Inter Milan. When they sacked him, he was still had two more years left in his contract and they had to pay him for the one left and later negotiated for the other ones.After I was sacked in Rangers, I was told that they would only pay me half of my due after playing 28 matches. I went to the man’s office to ask for my money and he later told the world that I came there to fight him.

Even the half payment has not been paid. It is a very big problem in the sense that poor administration is deep-rooted even in the clubs. I would like us to start from the grassroots so that we can be able to teach some of these boys some useful things. There is a lot that is wrong with Nigerian football.

Emeka: In Nigerian football we have some referees who are corrupt but I believe that if we have 1,000 referees in the league, 800 in most cases, because I cover the league, are influenced by very corrupt club owners or chairmen and we have taken this culture to the national teams.

When we play a game in most cases, we solicit the assistance of the referees, we expect them to help us. Some football officials even claim that they send people to the countries of the match officials, to try to influence the game. In most cases, the referee are very good but a referee who earns N17,000 with four children and a wife  can hardly resist a club official paying him about N350,000 to influence a match. If he accepts the money, there is no way that the man will not be partial while officiating in the said match.

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 left; Chief Oyuki J. Obaseki Vice President NFF, Mr Ikeddy Isiguzo Vanguard Editorial Board Chairman and Mr Ezeugo Emeka at the Conference Hall Meeting. Photo: Nwankpa Chijioke

Most club chairmen do not get good players. The only thing they do is to get money from government and begin to influence referees. Oga Mitchell said something about leadership, which should start from the NFF. If we begin to look for solutions, it is going to be a gradual process. We cannot solve this problem in the next 10 years.There was a time NFF wanted to regulate the way academies, but I am sure that the man who made that statement just said something without a clear direction.

When Jose Mourinho was in the country, I went to Ilorin and saw the team that the Kwara Football Academy used to play the team from Holland and I asked for the age of this team and they said it was Under-19. I told them that they were turning the hand of the clock because some of those boys are too old and they played an Under-16 team from Holland.

Many things are happening but we are not telling ourselves the truth. Who says we cannot use genuine Under-14 team for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup that we are hosting this month? If we are knocked out because we would have established a new process of growth that will benefit us in future, no problem.

In most cases, we want to win every competition. I tell people you can hardly see a true 17-year-old boy that can kick the ball in a competitive atmosphere like in Aba or Kano, where they watch the league very well. I dare that person to give me a real 17-year-old boy who players in our league.

When Rangers signed Nduka Ozokwo, the son of popular Nollywood actress, Patience, the boy had just finished secondary school. He joined Rangers feeder team. When Rangers did not have money to sign-on new players and Owumi and Akpokona decided to draft some boys from the feeder team into the senior team and a week after the boy was signed, someone said Rangers signed a 17-year-old boy, I was shocked. Those in authority are not telling themselves the truth and as long that remains, we cannot get solutions to these problems.

Before the Flying Eagles first game against Venezuela at the Under-20 World Cup, we were told that four got injured, when they got to Egypt, they could not play again. So out of 22 players, four were out, which is so because the decay has eaten deep into us. Our youths are only thinking of foreign clubs, rather than our home teams. Our orientation has been taken over by the English Premiership and it is only God that can save us.

Only recently, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Sports, Heineken Lokpobiri said that sports editors were the ones who ratified the appointment of Amodu as Eagles coach and inferred that they were the cause of the current flop. The media also has a role to play. It is all encompassing. If we do not tell ourselves the truth, we would remain stagnant.

Okpalla: On academies, the best ones are those clubs run.
Obaseki: If I had known that I am coming to give a lecture, I would have been prepared like my son, Mitchell Obi, who spoke like a lecturer. I have known some of you for over 20 years of sports reporting and business, and I am surprised that we are still asking what is wrong with Nigerian football. It is so shameful, very shameful. I have been in football administration since 1972, I was chairman of Bendel Insurance, winning the league, being double champions, beating Enugu Rangers, when my brother Jim Nwobodo was chairman.

I want to say that we are the things that are wrong with Nigerian football; it is like asking what is wrong with Nigerians. Brazil has a culture of football because it follows up but we have never followed any pattern of football in Nigeria and that is very painful. Nigerians all over are very passionate about football but the development is minus zero. So the first person I am accusing is the government.

Sylva Okpala
Sylva Okpala

What is the policy thrust of football? Do we have a policy? How are we implementing those policies? I am happy that Patrick Ekeji is at the National Sports Commission as Director-General but I am hearing that he is retiring in December, which is another disaster, because he has played and managed football and maybe, he could have been able to chart a programme to develop football and other sports.We have never developed football or other sports. All we have been doing is to organise competitions. We organise to fail, to win at all cost.

There is no continuity of programmes.The current NFF board which came  in two or three years ago is trying to put up some things, but it is trial by error, it may fail or succeed. My personal view is that it has done well because if you talk of the Super Eagles, the NFF have given the team the opportunities to do well.When we talk about coaches, like I told my younger one, Austin Eguavoen, if Enyimba cannot give you four or six months to go and study to improve your technical competence, resign and go and improve yourself, which he did.

How many coaches in the country can do that? Do we have a focus? Most of our administrators do not have the passion for football. What they are looking for is the money. How many people have used their money to develop football in this country? I challenge them because I have always done that. I used my N30m to start the Nigeria Premier League.
I have not got one kobo from the government. I have had to work hard to look for sponsorship.

Everything should not be about money. We often grandstand without following up an issue raised. We do not implement what we have said. Do we gather our term papers and send the resolutions to the Minister of Sports and NFF, for implementation? Or do we keep on walking in the dark? We are good at talking and making noise. We should focus on implementations. Can we return here in three months to see how far we have gone? We have talked about passion for foreign clubs like Chelsea and Manchester United, and it is unfortunate because we have never looked at the cause of this.

I have always said that clubs chairmen and managers caused the dearth of spectators at league matches in the country and I am saying it on good authority because I was a club chairman for years. Club chairmen are the ones who organise thugs because they want to win at all costs. They harass officials at pre-match meetings. They threaten that if they do not win today hell would be let loose.

I am talking from experience and that is why, each time I do things, I know what I am doing. We have brought out many laws that have reduced thuggery to the barest minimum.On referees, when I came in as NPL chairman in 2005, NFA was paying referees N5,000 match. I put down my hard-earned money and started paying referees N20,000 per match, with my money. We have 10 matches per week. We have 10 match commissioners, 10 centre referees, 10 assistant referees one, 10 assistant referees two, 10 reserved referees, then 10 assessors.

Today, I pay match commissioners, N45,000 per match. I pay referees N40,000 per match, assistant referees N35,000 per match, reserved referees N15,000 per match and I give all of them hotel accommodations, including breakfast.

I give each official N6,000 for food because they abused the privilege of eating in the hotel by bringing their friends to eat in the hotel. We give them money for food so team managers do not take them out. If we see you with a team manager, you are out.

Mitchell Obi
Mitchell Obi

We spend millions of Naira every week on football, all in a bid to ensure that referees do not compromise. We used to have about 300 referees but the number  has been reduced to 80 We have 20 centre referees, 20 assistant referees, 20 reserved referees, 60 match commissioners. We have 380 matches we organise every season, meaning one man can get about eight matches. None of the officials earns below N60,000 per match, except reserved referee, who is at home, who are at home.We are trying to reduce the level of corruption in our league. I am surprised that some referees are taking bribe because they sometimes get as much as N90,000 from us to officiate matches. If it is established, we would blacklist the person, publish his name in the newspapers. It is a shame on the family.

The N350,000 that is said to be given to referees is not small money to waste on match officials. I have told club chairmen that if you have that much to give match officials it is better to invest in the players by giving them incentives to reach for greatness. When I led the beach soccer team, I gave them N700,000 to win the cup and told hem that if they do not win the cup, they will return my money. They told me that they will win the cup and they won it because I gingered them. So is it wiser for clubs chairmen to motivate their players rather than bribe match officials.

The orientation of Nigerian football is wrong. I have been shouting. I accuse you pressmen. You are always supplying the wrong persons, supporting the wrong teams. I told you people that if it was Niger Republic that was adjudged to have the best league in Africa, that the whole media organisations in Nigeria would report it but you have yours adjudged the best in Africa and nobody reported it. My work would prove my worth. I accused them and nobody even wrote it.

It is a shame. If the English did not project and develop their league, it would not be the envy of the world.
Why am I in court with NTA? They could not pay for what they bid for, while they could afford to pay the English Premier League three million pounds a year to air one match a week and yet you have 380 matches in your home league which you would not air.

How many of you know any player in Heartland? See them fighting over Manchester United and Arsenal, while nobody is developing the game at home. All we do is to criticise, that is all. We should change our style, we should buy made in Nigeria goods. We have a league that is the best in Africa, 23rd in the world and yet it is not our league because it is in Nigeria. You do not have to like me to like the league. If the league is doing well, say it is doing well, forget about Oyuiki Obaseki.The league is only four years old and in those years, we are the best in Africa.

We have to praise what we have. I have challenged people to come out with constructive criticisms. I do not hate criticisms but do not abuse or insult me as a person because I have worked very hard. At my age, I do not sleep, I am thinking of what to do tomorrow, looking for sponsorship and how to make things better. We need changes.

Moderator: We are looking for change .
Obaseki: What do we want the coach or the NFF to do when players are not giving their best? We were all at the Abuja National Stadium when we played against Tunisia and saw the rubbish our players put up. I disagree with anybody that is praying for Tunisia to slip up. Woe unto that person. Unless that person wakes up in the morning and pray to God to fail, which He would not do.

Nobody kneels down to fail, we pray to succeed and if you cannot succeed, you should find out what is happening to you. Tunisia came here and we could not beat them and we are praying for Kenya to beat them, is it possible? It is not. Is there any sense there?You are praying for the wrong reasons, and you want to kill a coach, you want to kill the NFF. The boys did not play well, they did not do well and people are afraid to say it. Who are they by the way? Was Mikel Obi on the field? Let us say the truth.

Participants

Chief Oyuiki Obaseki, Chairman of the Nigeria Premier League, former Chairman Bendel Insurance FC, football administrator since 1972

Sylvanus Okpalla, former Super Eagles captain, Olympian, member of the 1980 Nations Cup winning team, coach, former Portuguese-based professional

Emeka Ezeugo, Olympian, member of the 1994 winning Nations Cup team, member of 1994 World Cup team, UEFA licensed coach, former professional player in India and USA

Mitchell Obi, Vice President, Association International of Sports Journalists, former Special Assistant to former Sports Minister Commodore Anthony Ikazoboh

Paul Bassey, first Nigerian member of CAF Media Committee, CAF Match Co-ordinator, FIFA Media Co-ordinator, NFL Match Commissioner, Publisher

Emeka Nwani, foremost journalist with abiding interest in the Nigerian Premier League

Onochie Anibeze, longest Nigeria’s serving Sports Editor since 1991, former Vasco da Gama player,

Ikeddy Isiguzo, Moderator


Disclaimer

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