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Challenges to Nigeria’s 2014 World Cup hopes

Continues from yesterday
Mitchell: I am appalled at the quality of national team coaches we have had in the last few years. Why do you pay a national team coach so much for doing nothing?


Onochie: I am coming Mitchell, I want to elaborate on this scouting issue.

Mitchell:  When you pay a national team coach say N3m a month, it is not because you want to pay him salary for that month. You are paying him because as a national team coach for a country, with a football culture, strictly speaking, like Nigeria, you need to expand your horizon and as a national team coach, you need to get your own office.

Your own office may not be a fixed office. Your own office means that you have to use your resources to recruit professionals who would support your assignment. So you go out to have your own scouts and pay them because there are so many of them. We have so many former players and coaches who can identify good talents.

football

In every state today, you will get one player who played for the national team and as a national team coach, if you do not have the capacity to move round this country and you want to engage seven persons for the seven zones in this country and dedicate N500,000 from your N3m as remuneration for the zonal scouts, then we are making headway. So you need to ask how they employ national team coaches what do they ask them?

What do they put on the table? Even when they are justifying their salaries, how do they explain it? Is it for a man to wear a good suit, ride a good car?  Those are the surrounding issues that we need to start looking at.

Onochie: The other input I want to make is about the league. I was on air, doing analysis and NTA was taking it live and at a point, they were asking people about their favourite teams. When it got to my turn, I said Rangers International and the guy did not know what to ask next. I feel strongly that our football will continue to be what it is now if we do not take our league seriously.

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 league should be our bedrock and in this league, we must set standards. We have talked about officiating, and then the pitches. The last thing you will see Nigerian player do because of the pitch he grew up on, is to go on the ground with a sliding tackle. There is nothing wrong if a club in Onitsha goes Enugu to play its matches if the pitches in Onitsha are not good. You must set standards. You must approve stadia that are television friendly.

Mitchell: Onochie, you have entered the political zone and that is where my disagreement with some of these people starts.

Moderator: Let me hear what you have to say because I know those pitches are approved.

Mitchell: The point is that after Nigeria 1999, we set a blueprint that the transition body that brought even this board headed by Chief Obaseki, that they should use only pitches of Nigeria 99 and other places where they have good pitches. When they come into office, we know what it is. One state governor invites them, maybe, hosts their annul general meeting, the next thing you go and look at their pitches. How can I have a club and it would not play at its games at home?, the governor asks. Governor want to watch their state teams at home, but they cannot get the right pitches.

Obaseki: No, you cannot.

Mitchell: No I am making a point. The issue is that time has made this issue more pungent and more pertinent. We have seen clubs in this country, gone out to win league matches without playing on their own grounds, so anybody who is going to disrupt that policy must be stopped. After the Under-17 World Cup, the policy of not playing on good pitches, would be battled non-stop because we do not have any other business apart from football again. Bayelsa United won the Nigerian Premier League without playing in Bayelsa.

Before that, Ocean Boys won the Nigerian League without playing at home. Anybody who still wants to play matches on pitches that are not of FIFA standard, would be battled non-stop. We would battle the man running the club and I am making this submission that that is one of the standards for our league, that the standard pitches would not be wasted.

At a stage, we had 16 standard pitches in this country, so let nobody give us any excuse. You can win the league even without playing football in your own state.

Ezeugo: People should be given incentives to manage the pitches every time, so that they will be in good conditions.

Obaseki: This is  the sort of advice I want to hear. We have 20 Premier League clubs in the country all owned by governments. Only last month, one of them, Lobi, was bought off and this is what I have been working towards. I have been trying to wrestle clubs from the hands of governments. I have for instance bought water sprinklers, grass movers for all the clubs to improve these pitches.

I have been to each of the pitches for the league to try to fix things that are not in place. We have been trying to fix these things until the politics that you cited came in. The commissioners would tell me that they own the stadium and the club and I must give them the money to sink these boreholes. I am talking from experience.

Mitchell: There is nothing wrong in that except that they have to give you guarantee that they are going to deliver and show you the finished jobs otherwise they should be charged for corruption.

Obaseki: On government’s sponsorships of our annual general meetings, since I came into power, no governor has ever sponsored our annual general meetings, except this last one that we went to Makurdi. We have always done it in Abuja.

The fact is that if you are so stringent in your law when you do not have competition, you will get into hitches.I have had meetings with the Minister of Sports and he said, immediately after the Under-17 World Cup, that the whole pitches belong to us, to play our matches. I had the first Super Four at the National Stadium but I paid N800,000 just for cleaning.

Mitchell: That is the standard practice. You should pay

Obaseki: Good, did we get N800,000 for what we did?

*Onochie Anibeze
*Onochie Anibeze

Mitchell: You have to look for sponsors that is part of the work of the league Board.

Obaseki: Which sponsors? How many sponsors are coming up?
Mitchell: All we are saying is that we must start insisting on the rules. If you tell a club that the stadium it is using for matches is not acceptable and insist that you are not going to allow any match there, it is your game, you set the rules and enforce them, no mater what the government says, you would not bulge because it is your game and decision. Remember Nigerians hold you responsible for management of the League.

Obaseki: We have been doing that, we have been stopping teams from playing on bad grounds. For instance we went to Ilorin for our national seminar and we went to play a game, where I told the Deputy Governor that I am going to ban the place for holding league matches

Mitchell:  What did he say?

Moderator: He would make sure that at that time and place that you do not ban the place.

Obaseki: Can I tell you something that there are some Nigerians that you cannot bribe and I am one of them. I have been given N100m but I did not accept. Forget about the governor because I have seen everything I want to see in life on earth except death.

I have seen poverty and I have seen wealth and I am in it. The only thing I have not seen is death. I only pray to my God to allow me stay for some time before I die. I do not care about it, all I want is to make my name stay intact. The only thing that is saving us now is that the Minister has agreed to give us all the pitches.

Mitchell: The Minister may not be there in the future. We are saying the same thing chief. You have the league, you set the standard because it is your league and once you set the standard the clubs would fall in line.

Obaseki: Mitchell, its easier said than done. For instance, I have been campaigning in the media for governors to give me C of O for lands where the clubs would build their stadia. I negotiated loans of up to N2b to build stadia.

Mitchell: It is not even your business to build stadia. Some of us even want to tell you, you have gone too far. It is not your business building stadium. The energy you will spend trying to say you going round to build stadium, if you pursue that, you may not even have time to run the league effectively.

Bassey: We also have to look for appropriate timing for our league matches to suit international standards so that we can shore up attendance. For example, if Manchester United are playing Arsenal at 4pm, our league match is going to be by 7pm but you cannot play a match by 7pm, where the stadia do not have floodlights. I was in Sudan, recently, to coordinate a Champions League match between El Merrikh and Al Hilal.

The match started by 10pm. It reminded me of the National Stadium of yore where you will stand at Maryland and see the floodlights, people trooping with their wives to the stadium at 10pm on a weekend, relaxed in a football atmosphere. Sir, that is what I want to add, that it is not a punishment, it is like just letting you know because at the end of the day, you are going to have Niger Tornadoes travelling all the way, maybe to Kano, with about 30 supporters, and then you lose everything.

Let them know that this measure is aimed at enabling them go back to put that stadium in place because there is nothing like playing at home.

*Paul Bassey
*Paul Bassey

Mitchell: That is the philosophy of the argument, that every club will want to play in front of the home crowd but we are saying that we are building a league and that there are certain standards that need to be met and if you do not start insisting on those standards, at the end of the day, you will have a league whose basic values would be corrupted. So if you take off on the understanding that these clubs would not have people watching their matches, then you would not get it right.

If you insist that they will play on a good pitch and they are enjoying that good pitch, then they can cultivate their own. After all, in Europe, most of the pitches they play on are owned by the city councils. The Nou Camp is owned by the City of Barcelona. Inter Milan and AC Milan are sharing the San Siro Stadium, which is owned by the City of Milan.

They divide one side for the blue side of Inter and the red for AC Milan.

Bassey: Sir, export it to Nigeria and talk about city councils, even at local government basis. Where are they?

Which stadia have they built?

Mitchell: Imagine Lagos for instance, you have the Teslim Balogun Stadium, good enough there is no longer Stores and nobody can claim that Teslim is Stores ground. We must capture that point that they must develop standard pitches.

Okpalla: What does it take to have good pitches, than to water them and maintain them? In my club, we trained only once a week on the pitch. It was not a place you train everyday, so you have chance to maintain it.

In England, they do not even train on their main pitches. They play only matches there. Pitches are very important for the game.

Mitchell: I say in these days where you have artificial turfs, I was watching on artificial turf on TV and was asking whether it’s the same one we imported because our own is black while theirs is green. The quality of the astro turf is different. Look at the one on which we played Spain, I had to slow down the tape, pause the match to see whether it was grass or artificial and it took me a considerable 30 minutes trying to determine whether it was artificial.

Our clubs should aspire to have these standard facilities for the good of the game.

Okpalla:  Abroad, they take pitches very serious. They reserve the main stadium pitch for games..

Mitchell: You cannot even walk on the pitch at the Old Trafford.

Okpalla: Even we who own the stadium could not go near the pitch in my club unless we have a game. If it rained,  we would not train there, except it is for matches.

Moderator: Some of these things look so elementary  we should not dwell on them. States build stadia without training pitches. We have not discussed players.

Ezeugo: It is common practice with our national teams and the members of the board, with those who run Nigeria football right now, it is common practice that they bring in a coach or five coaches  for the national teams and those coaches are given about five to six players, for them to be part of the teams and compel those coaches to take those players to global competitions. It is the window to market those players because once they get onto the pitch, they can sell the players.

Obaseki: We have been hearing this for a while.

Ezeugo: Sir, listen to me, otherwise, why do you think that a nobody comes from nowhere and is made a national team coach. It happens in this country. Let me give you an example, two weeks ago, Princess Jegede called me and apologised for what happened four years ago when we approached her and Amun on the Falcons job but they did what they wanted to do.

Obaseki
Obaseki

Five years on, look at where Falcons are. So she called me to ask me to attend the interview that they are conducting  for a new coach for Falcons. She asked that I should come to Abuja for the interview, unaware that earlier, five players of Falcons had begged me to be their coach because they had got the hint that there would be an interview and they begged me to attend the interview.

They said they had not been able to do well in tournaments because they have not had good coaches. When I got Abuja, out of ten coaches who were interviewed for the job, I could only recognise two who were ex-players. Now, such coaches come from nowhere to become national teach coaches. How do they get there?

They got there because those who appointed these nonentities get something in return.

Bassey: Sorry sir, excuse me.  Except you can name the national team coach who is a nonentity, the argument is faulty. Secondly, let me give you the last example. In fact, I want to mention names. Coach Shuaibu Amodu was appointed by journalists in this country.

They brought journalists together and said to them, these are the coaches.
Moderator: Sorry, was that appointment or confirmation.

Bassey: Confirmation. They selected three coaches and asked the top journalists from this country to help them confirm the coaches. They defended it by saying that he has done this and that, even at the international level and went ahead to appoint him. That you even went to Abuja was faulty because who even invited you.

In what capacity did Jegede invite you and even the players that invited you, it was faulty because what they wanted to do was that by the time you are appointed, their places in the national team will be secured. So I am saying that except we have evidence that ABCD should not have been there, I do not think we should be arguing.

Ezeugo: In 2004, I was around and luckily for me, Samson Siasia was the coach of the Flying Eagles team for the 2005 U-20 World Cup in Holland. Waidi Akanni and I decided to visit Siasia and his team in Abuja to watch the preparations. We got to the stadium to see that Siasia was not working with about five coaches who the NFF imposed on him. We told him that he should have given them a chance.

He laughed and said we should watch out that he would allow these coaches to train the boys.When we got to the stadium, he told two of the coaches to handle the training. On the pitch, these two coaches told the players to run 20 laps when they got to the pitch and we were just laughing.

He did 20 laps in this age of modern trends.On spectators, if you make any suggestions to any clubs right now, on how to get the spectators into the stadium, they will not even listen to you.

There are professionals who can do this. Look at clubs in Europe, who have age groups for children, from 5-7, 7-9, 9-12 ages and so on. Now when you have a five-year-old come into a club five times a week, every evening, the child is not coming there alone.

He is coming with the parents or guardians, and train. Probably, once a week, players of the first team come to their team and just kick about a little bit with them.

These players in the first team are their heroes who they see everyday and want to be like. At weekends, they want to come and see these games. These kids cannot go to the stadium alone. Ehen they become adults, they are already attached to the teams.

Mitchell:  I now know is that why sometimes they tell you, Ezeugo, you are a foreigner, an oyibo man.
Ezeugo: Now, at weekends, the kids want to go to the stadium to watch their heroes and the parents would have to include that in their programmes and when the parents are going to the stadium with these kids, maybe, some of the other siblings accompany too. Now, the number of spectators in the stadium increases this way. We are creating affinity.

Bassey: Ezeugo has talked about the heroes of the kids, so first of all, we have to identify the heroes before we can talk of them. We need to identify a platform. First of all, what will make that kids to want to go to stadium?

Where are the heroes? Then I have a small girl at home who leaves for school by 8am finishes by 2pm goes into this lesson class that ends by 4pm and by the time she gets home, the lesson teacher is waiting maybe its 7pm; then at what time does she finds the time to do this schedule.

Okpalla: I want to mention that it can be practised on weekend but the one he is talking about is a little bit far stretched except it happens during the holiday period. During the holidays, the kids can get into that type of programme.

Bassey: With all my experience and exposure, I have never heard about all these things we talk about when it is time for election in Nigeria. In our football, you have to come from a particular zone to seek office. I do not even think that is the best  from that zone s the one who makes it. So what are the statutes, because it can limit you.

No matter how good you may be or want to be, you cannot even go in there. That is the problem. So the system does not produce the kind of people that should be in office if we are looking at improving the game.

Moderator: There is a  major problem with the statutes is that it excludes people who are not on the board from contributing to football. If the scope of participation is expanded, knowledgeable people are not board members can make great contributions.

Sylva Okpala
Sylva Okpala

Bassey: The only committee that works in the NFF is the Technical Committee. Aisha Falode is the head of the Media Committee and anytime you call her, she will say I do not know, we have not held any meeting. I have never heard of the Medical Committee, I have never head about the Players’ Development Committee, I do not even know who heads that Committee. For instance, the head of Technical Department of the Nigeria Football Federation is Dr. Ikpeme.

Moderator:  He is a staff.  His is not the Technical Committee .

Bassey: That is where the problem even starts. Chief Onigbinde and Laloko will insist that the foundation of football development is the Technical Department of the football federation and it is headed by one doctor who is a teacher somewhere in Calabar, who got himself there and James Peters, who is supposed to maybe, know, he has been a coach, is an assistant to him.

Someone we do not even know, is the supposed technical egghead of the Nigeria Football Federation.You have the Technical Committee too, which is headed by somebody, who people believe played the game but the Committee system which operates in FIFA and CAF, is non-existent in NFF, because that is another level.

The first level is the membership of the football federation, itself. Who are members of the NFF? What is their pedigree? What are they bringing to the table? What are their antecedents? Where are they coming from in terms of football?

You do not have to have a football past to belong to the NFF, I agree but there must be something you are offering the game.

Moderator: Where is the Coaches Committee?

Onochie: They do not have a representation any longer.
Mitchell:  The Technical Committee that is supposed to have a unit for coaches, just like you have the referees unit within the Technical Committee.

Bassey: There is no Coaches Association anymore. Chief Onigbinde was brought in, with Ogbeide and Charles Bassey to grade coaches and they have done something. You cannot hold anybody responsible as the head of Nigerian coaches.  The Coaches Association does not exist.

Moderator: What can we do between now and 2014 to make a difference?

Mitchell: The first thing we need to do, maybe, if we want to find a synoptic approach to these issues, is re-evaluation of the statutory demands of what it takes to be in the Nigeria Football Federation. A re-evaluation of the key sectors, the leagues, the pro-leagues and even re-evaluation of the competitions to determine if they are meeting their set targets are all important.

Once we have there-evaluations, then, we can start setting a new framework, of where we want to be.First and foremost, for Nigerians, the World Cup is the thing. A youth unit, if we even have a youth unit that is functional, they would want to ensure Nigeria has a consistent representation in all major youth tournaments in the world.

Then what does that entail? It entails expanding the grooming of coaches. Where is the NFF’s training reservoir? What programmes of training does NFF have, all round? What management, administrative, technical, marketing training programme does NFF have?

Bassey: These problems have been there for so long and I do not know what this roundtable will be able to do if we do not return to the basics, the development of the game. I am also talking of other sports, if we are too much in a hurry to win, we become too competition conscious.

Each NFF chairman wants to say that he won the Under-20, the Olympics and others and in the process of wanting to win at all costs, there are short cuts to victory. These things hurt us. I want to believe that from this Under-17 World Cup, we would present a team that will last for 10 years, if there is management, development because it will be proven to be maybe, 18 years old and then you stay with that team.

Moderator: Have agreed to use MRI?Onochie: They have.

Bassey: We do not have a choice.

Mitchell: We are also saying on this roundtable that MRI should be a standard equipment within the football or sports domain, to be used consistently, not just because it is a FIFA induced measure, that it should be a consistent measure all round, starting of course, with all our youth competitions. MRI scan should be part of criteria for participation.

Onochie: If the clubs have the youth teams that Okpalla talked about, MRI should also apply.Ezeugo: We should make it compulsory for clubs to field two U-17 players in their matches, like they do in South America, that way, we can start seeing younger players coming through the ranks.


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