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Catching up with Ghana

Dear Ben,
On July 13, my birthday, I took up your challenge to  chart a course that could make Nigeria meet up with the position Ghana has attained in football and possibly surpass it.

I started by identifying the systemic failure in Nigeria that has affected all sectors including sports and reminded you that Ghana’s football appears to be reaping from the good governance that has made them the envy of Nigerians lately.

I said that one big problem we have in Nigeria is that we wrongly take our passion for football for knowledge of the game.

I regretted that even those who have failed in their areas of specialization have turned experts in sports. Unfortunately, government buys their views otherwise we could have avoided the mistakes that made us blunder in the just concluded World Cup in South Africa.

I also said that another big problem is that those who run the game lack knowledge of the game otherwise how could they be talking about renewing Lars Lagerback’s contract?

I am not condemning Lagerback as a bad coach.

But if you consider the state of our football and the behavioral attitudes and qualities of the Swede you would agree that while he may make impact elsewhere he may not succeed in Nigeria.

But do those who run the game know the state of Nigerian football and the qualities a coach should possess to lift it?

This is a deep technical matter which only a technically sound mind can appreciate. It comes under one of the immediate causes of our failure in South Africa.

Let me first identify the remote causes even as I may be repeating myself for I have done a lot on the causes of the rot in our sports before now.

Ben, your letter on my birthday was so apt that I accepted the challenge to recommend the way forward for our football and to a large extent our sports in general.

How comfortable are you that the supposed giant of African  football could boast of only one or two good players in Europe before the World Cup? Going by the standard of their clubs and league appearances one could only vouch for Mikel Obi and Taiye Taiwo.

Obi eventually dropped out due to injury and Taiwo was running in and out of injuries during the World Cup. The point I’m making is that Nigeria is lacking top class players at the moment.

And this culminated from the poor state of the Nigerian league where facilities are poor, coaching is poor, officiating is almost criminal and management of the clubs lacks professionalism.

Ben, if we don’t address the problems in our league we will not produce star players. Have you watched local league in some African countries and tried to compare with that of Nigeria?

I cover my face in shame each time cable television, Supersport,  is beaming Nigeria’s league matches. I once did a series on our league and recommended that the league board should set high standards and clubs which do not meet them should not be registered.

I wrote about pitches and suggested that clubs lacking good pitches  be compelled to play their matches elsewhere. I wrote about the league board insisting that players and coaches must be on contracts.

I wrote about clubs having feeder teams and I insisted that coaches and referees must be up to date. I wrote about security and the need for clubs to explore ways to generate revenue through merchandising and other means.  I wrote about clubs developing support bases.

The league remains the bedrock of our football but the structure should be such that they are systematically fed by academies. Many years ago, clubs signed players directly from schools.

That was the case even in football nations before the emergence of academies. The schools still remain the roots as the academies now tap talents from them.

In other words, I am insisting that the Ministry of Education and the Sports Ministry must work out ways to reintroduce sports in schools. It is the school system that supplies athletes to USA, Jamaica and other countries that do well in sports. Many schools don’t have play grounds anymore in Nigeria and those that have do nothing with them. BAD.

Ben, when we go back to the school system, establish quality academies and get our league right, quality players will emerge from our shores. When the Nigerian league was competitive, players moved from here to top clubs in Europe.

Now, our best players end up in countries like Sudan and the lucky ones move to Egypt, Tunisia, South Africa, Israel etc. The likes of Mikel Obi, Chinedu Obasi  and Obafemi Martins went to feeder teams of European clubs before they were singed by relatively big clubs. You may not, therefore, call them true products of the Nigerian league.

It pained me when I asked about Uchenna Agba of Heartland and I was told he had gone for trial in another African country. He was one of the best in our local league last year.

Clemens Westerhof dropped Benedict Anijekwu from Eagles for belittling Nigeria by going for trial in a second division club in Belgium after a brilliant performance in Algiers ‘90 Nations Cup.

How times have changed because of our fallen standards. But it is  the same rot that we find in Education, Health, Infrastructure, Public Utilities, Energy, Agriculture and indeed governance. It is a systemic failure and unfortunately, those who have caused us pains and failed in other sectors are now experts in sports.

Bad as it is in sports, it is still the only sector that challenges and struggles to place among the best in Africa or the world at large. A bronze medal at the Olympics means that you are the third best in the world. We won two bronze medals in the last Olympics. Not impressive at all.

But in which other sector do we rank among the top 100 in the world? By FIFA ranking we are 30 in the world. Is it in education or health or general development that we could be so ranked? But we have the potential to do better and rank among the best in sports.

It is our inability to exploit and maximize our potentials that has remained painful. It is more painful that our failure is largely due to our own mediocrity, our mismanagement, incompetence and the general fallen standards that have made us a failed state.

Next week, I will look at  the immediate causes of our failure in South Africa and the solutions that you asked of. Remain blessed.


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