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Politics has killed Nigeria’s football, Amuneke

By Richard Animam & Kate Obodo
Former Super Eagles wing wizard Emmanuel Amuneke needs no introduction.
His exploits in the Super Eagles of 1994, 98 and the golden feat in Atlanta 96 where his goal secured the gold medal for Nigeria is still fresh in the memories of most football buffs.

A successful career which started in Concord FC and later Julius Berger FC propelled Amuneke to lofty heights which saw him lace boots for Spanish giants, FC Barcelona, Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon just to mention a few.

Amuneke has since retired and he’s now a certified football coach working with Bayelsa government, but the burning desire to develop talents has seen him team up with a female footballer Kikelomo Ajayi. Both believe that with their pet project-Future Seeds Nigeria Soccer Talent Quest, they can discover and imbibe in young players the rudiments of the game in a way that it would be beneficial to the players and the country.

The former African Footballer of the Year also revealed why football in Nigeria is in the doldrums and proffered solutions. He shares Daniel Amokachi’s view but was quick to add that those in power would not allow such laudable idea to see the light of the day.
Here are excerpts

What is the problem with administering football in Nigeria?
Football administration is not my line or focus, reason being that it takes much training to know how to truly administer the game. It is not for every body or every player.

In our case, whether the administrative set up is wrong or not, we have to embrace it and look out for the way forward. We need to think on the way out of the wood. My joy is to see Nigeria smile again in sports especially in football. When we played, the interest was there.

Our exploits at the World Cup and Olympics further paved the way for football to develop in the country but it is unfortunate that politics has seen the game drop and some people are happy with this development. It is sad.

In our days, people come out to watch the domestic league, the way they now watch the English Premiership. Most especially seeing people want to watch Nigeria football with keen interest. But all these can only be, if we  embrace the challenges that surround our football.

Outsourcing the management of our football English FA… I think it is a  good idea but those that are there, are they ready for change? What Amokachi said is right and I believe it will work. If we can welcome them and they are willing to accept, then it is a welcome development .

It is not as simple as it seems, we have to challenge ourselves, just as the South Africans did and today they are enjoying it, but we have been here for years, still troubled.

Here in Nigeria they do not want the truth to prevail but I am not the type who will see the truth and say otherwise.  Our problem started in 2002. I have been saying it for long now and to be candid I am tired of talking about it because our people do not want the truth. I think what we need to  do is to embrace the circumstances surrounding our football and work towards success, after which we can hand it over to God.

In your days there were the likes of Finidi George, yourself and others but now it appears we are looking for talents where we used to have abundance, what is the problem?
(Laughs) It is not that we do not have talents anymore, the issue  is  that the game has changed and the competitiveness is not there any more.

So it is either you are a player who want to win or an ordinary player.  So you can see that the game is changing and that is why we are having this kind of programme to transform the game, to help the youth and prepare them for future challenges. I think with solid programme like this the game will change for the better.
What do you think about the involvement of ex-players in the NFA?

It is okay, when you look at other countries that is what they are doing, involving ex-players in the administration of the game. For instance the president of UEFA is Michel  Platino.

Heiro, an ex-player, is the Director of Spanish Football Federation to mention but a few. I think it is good and I encourage ex internationals who have the flair for football administration to give it their best. It is time we start to do the right things. Enough of people who do not know what obtains in global football running the affairs of the game in Nigeria.

Talking about your pet project, Future Seeds, how did this idea come about?
Well the idea is not just from one person. I think it’s team work and it has been there for years, things do not spring out immediately. We have had this idea, so what we did was to observe, analyse, build then  implement. If you look at Nigeria’s football, a lot of talent hunt programme has been done but our objective is not about hunting talent alone but to also help the youth.

Especially make them responsible and respectable. Let them know  about the game and impact better things in them. Also make them understand that the game is changing.

Where would these children be camped for the programme?
We have an academy located in Ikorodu.  It started in 2007and by God’s grace is still functioning. That is where we will nurture players who would be taking part in this programme. So in this regard, we intend to continue with  players and put them in the academy.

That is our focus, not just to organize the programme. We are affiliated to  Sporting Lisbon of Portugal. We tend to take them and make them better.  We want to impact in them good morals and at the same time unveil the talent in them. The whole idea is to catch them young from the grassroots level as it is done in Europe.

For instance, Lionel Messi started from Barcelona feeders team and got to where he is today. That is what I want to achieve. It’s not about an individual, it is a collective effort, the media is not exempted.

You intend to reward 30 finalists, that is 15 boys and 15 girls with N1million each, take them to a training tour in Europe and dole out other incentives. Would the millions of naira not hinder the true objectives of this project?
The monetary reward is to serve as an incentive to the players who will make the final list. We are not looking at the money. Our focus is to imbibe in these players the qualities that will make them great footballers.

Having picked 15 boys and 15 girls, we will be heading to Sporting Lisbon and as you know, Lisbon has one of the best youth training programme in the world and they have agreed to work with us. So the future is bright for the players who will eventually make the final list.


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