By Julius Ogunro
The loss of Nigeria’s Super Eagles to France hit me real hard.
For some unexplainable reasons I had been filled with the optimism that the team were going to beat France in the round of 16 and for the first time make the quarter-final cut at the World Cup.
There was no compelling reason to have this much faith. At no. 16 on the FIFA World ranking of national teams, Le bleus, the French team were 28 places better than our Eagles who were rated 44. Even more troubling was the fact that France topped their group.
I still had faith, nevertheless. I believed that the Eagles were capable of pulling a surprise and thus lift the spirit of our nation, which had probably never sunk as low as it has these days with bombs here and there. So the defeat was really distressing, momentarily sapping me of zest and joy.
Two cheeky goals and we were out of the most glamorous and most-loved sports competition in the world!
But really it took more than the two goals to knock us out of the World Cup. We lost the game before the match against France.
Our road to defeat began a few days to the match when our boys, really greedy old men, refused to get on the bus for training unless every dime allegedly owed them was paid by the FA. They were not going to train, they were not going to negotiate and they were not getting on the pitch against France unless they saw money, raw cash.
With this kind of attitude it is no surprise that they lost. It would have gone against the principles of management and the grains of history if they had gone ahead to beat France and qualify for the quarter-final. It is a common principle of management that money is not the best motivator.
As for history, the same scenario has repeated itself several times with the same disastrous results. Even at the current World Cup, African teams which had put money ahead of national honour and patriotism were all disgraced. Cameroun lost all three matches.
Ghana had bright chances until days to their last match when the players threw discipline out of the window, and insisted that they were not going to play unless they were paid all manner of allowances, including appearance fee! The Ghanaian government, knowing how important football is to the collective psyche, dispatched the sports minister to Brazil with a briefcase filled with dollars.
It didn’t do the trick (remember that management principle again) as the team lost to a poor Portuguese side.
One would think the Nigerians would have been wiser with the bad fate that had befallen other African teams. But no, the smell of crispy dollars was too tempting.
So it was bad case of de javu, as our own minister flew in to Brazil with tons of dollars before the team agreed to file out. In spite of ‘plenty’ money in their pocket, they lost and crashed out of the competition.
I recall that it was to avoid such scenario that the former Minister of Sports, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi set up a team to fashion out a code of conduct for all our national teams. Segun Adeniyi, former Thisday Editor and Presidential spokesman, was the chairman of that committee, which also included renowned Nigerians and sports stakeholders such as Onoche Anibeze, Aisha Falode, Garba Lawal, and Akin Osuntokun. That group worked day and night, drawing experiences from the best football cultures around the world.
After several meetings, the team came up with a proto document which seeks to “promote harmonious and professional relationship among all actors in the national team taking overall cognizance of FIFA code of ethics and all such other codes aimed at protecting the integrity of the game of football. This code seeks to provide the tools to manage and promote responsible citizenship and enhance the positive image of the Nigeria through sports.”
The document has five parts, which cover all the usual areas of conflicts between footballers and the Federation, viz: Standard of conduct required at all times; National Team values while on international duty; Allowances and Bonuses; NFF Obligations, and Procedure in the event of an alleged breach of the Code.
The gist of the document is that national football players are expected to abide by predetermined, laid down rules and regulations as a condition for being accepted into the national camps. It also spells out the responsibilities expected of the NFF regarding allowances, bonus and the likes.
It is a contract players on national assignment enter with the federation, in which both parties know what their rights and responsibilities are. Unlike past documents, the burden here is not only on the players but on coaches, team managers and the FA as well.
For example, on players’ values, it recommends that, “(players should) not engage in any behaviour which has, or may have, an adverse impact on the reputation or integrity of The NFF, the relevant National team or the game in general”. Such as betting on matches, using drugs or controlled substances, discussing team’s tactical information with outsiders etc.
And on bonus and allowances which are the main areas of conflict between the footballers and the FA, I have elected to publish word-for-word its most important recommendations:
All national team players must respect structured allowances and bonuses;
·Payment structure for allowances and bonuses as well as flights and accommodation entitlement shall be determined by the NFF at the beginning of every year of engagement in consideration of the competitions/tournaments at hand and the financial standing of the Federation.
All prospective players in the National teams shall be informed of this payment structure and entitlements accordingly. It must be noted that once these are agreed at the beginning of the year, they should not be subjected to negotiation or review until the beginning of another year;
·Players are to provide Bank account numbers and details for payment of allowances and bonuses or any other such entitlements. With the exception of daily camp allowances, under no circumstances will cash payments be made
·All payments due to the players shall be paid to their respective accounts within 7 days of becoming due.
·Players should not discuss or attempt to negotiate matters of allowances and bonuses while in camp.
·The NFF shall ensure and support the players to open a mandatory retirement benefit account in line to the NFF directives/bye laws where a part of the match bonuses due shall always be paid as savings for the player.
· Players are not entitled to any share of participation fees from Governing bodies of football paid to national associations.
Abdullahi, the former sports Minister, was excited by the good work done by the committee and after studying the document, passed it on to the NFF for their input.
The Federation included its own recommendations and passed them back to Minister, who called a big press conference to unveil the document. The press, the committee members and stakeholders were happy with the final document and predicted that if it was faithfully implemented it would end the issue of strikes by national team players.
Sadly, Abdullahi was removed as Minister and so we went back to doing the same thing all over again, no plan, no system, everything based on man-know-man. So it is really not surprising that the players went on strike again, this time on the world stage just before the most important game of their career.
It is never too late to do the right thing. The NFA should disband the team now, even if for one week, and with that remove the sense of entitlements most of these players have. Then dust the Code of Conduct from their drawers and commit to implementing it with the (new) players to be invited to camp.
Or they can pretend that all’s well and continue with the same haphazard way of doing things and reap the same disastrous result. The choice is theirs really, but sadly whatever decision they agree on is capable of making soccer crazy Nigerians happy or sad, someday.
*Ogunro, a media and publicity consultant, was the special assistant on media to former Minister of Sports, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi