Nigeria , the giant of Africa has fallen out of the FIFA 2010 World Cup in a very unbefitting manner. As a sporting event, it is expected, of course, that there must be winners and losers. What is difficult to swallow in our outings is the disgraceful and unathletic behaviour of the Nigerian representatives, referred to as Eagles.
This is the last straw and a final posting of the abysmal low level of football as a sport in Nigeria . For some years, football in Nigeria has been on a free fall, inflicting unbearable agony to its numerous followers and colossal waste of financial resources that other sports have been denied.
In this particular event, Government and well meaning Nigerians invested so much resources with high expectations and yet got nothing in return. You will recall that before the event, the Nigerian football Federation was unscientifully talking about a semi-final target for the national team, whereas a realistic assessment should have revealed that we do not have the players to do the job. I am personally so angry that the leaders of the Nigerian team celebrated a 1- 0 loss to Argentina , in a match that we would have plotted to do better.
Many Nigerians seem to be of the opinion that football management in Nigeria has failed to live up to the nationâ€™s expectations. Some people have even declared that the level of failure can no more be tolerated. As an individual, I feel that Nigeria has very serious house keeping challenges to reverse the perpetual disgraceful outing of our senior national football team in major competitions.
This team is below average in all indices of assessment. The worst is that the team is very unathletic on the field of play. I suspect it is saturated with very old players. The players are not physically and psychological fit enough to be at the World Cup event. These players have damaged the image of our country as well as diminished the bright prospects of their own career, perhaps with the exception of the goal keeper, Vincent Enyeama and one or two others. It is very surprising that footballers who earn their livelihood from the game scored very low marks in the fundamentals of the sport, such as ball control, movements with and without the ball, shooting skills and so on. Where do we go from here? I wish to suggest the following:
1. Management of football.
As a sport, football is guided by knowledge. I mean scientific and practical knowledge. It is not just knowing about FIFA rules and statute. It is equally about the human beings who are involved in the game, in terms of social psychology, ideology, physiology, philosophy, history and politics of sport applied to football. This enables us to create the profile of a footballer. We must create our own brand of football and develop players who can do the job from the foundation level.
Secondly, those put in charge of managing football should be working with sincerity of purpose at age-grade competitions. Nigeria has not benefitted from this age-grade FIFA competitions, mostly due to the fact that a typical Under-17Â Nigerian footballer is probably well over 25 years of age. Hence, progression to the senior team is difficult because by the time he is winning the F.I.F.A Under-17 competitions, such a player may have peaked and is ready to fizzle out.
In this new beginning, football management in Nigeria must tackle the deceptive use of over-age players in age-grade competitions. The school system provides a solution. Football or Sports should be rooted in the school system.
2. Rediscovering the Nigerian Indomitable Spirit.
Football managers must rediscover the indomitable Nigerian Spirit. Nigeria is a nation with tremendous self â€“ belief and faith. This spirit or ideology must be infused into the Nigerian football team. The present generation of Eagles has lost this spirit. Hence, no matter how the team is motivated with millions of naira, you cannot get result. A heavy dose of indoctrination of players with the Nigerian spirit of doggedness is desirable.
3. Redevelopment of the Local League
The real hope for the change of fortune of Nigerian football at the senior level is on the rise in standard of the local league. This challenge must be taken seriously as it is now obvious that the â€˜richâ€™ European-based footballers have failed the nation. Nigerian footballers in Europe seem not coachable anymore at home and it would be perhaps, more profitable to reduce their dominance of the national team.
We can redevelop our local league by (a) investing more resources in it, (b) raising player welfare,
(c) effective officiating, (d) organizational efficiency, (e) improving the intellectual base of the league through creating a constituency for sports intellectuals in the Premier League Board,
(f) growing the players in the fundamentals of football, (g) professional development of coaches,
(h) paying competitive wages to players, (i) redeveloping the football facilities to attain international standards and (j) application of sports science in the training and coaching of players.
4 Reorganization of the Nigerian Football Federation
Football in Nigerian is held hostage by people who know nothing more than kicking the ball. As a sport, football has its intellectual and knowledge base. In fact, the quality of play on the field cannot exceed the quality of thoughts put into preparation of players. Most of the time, the politics of ascendancy and control of the football Federation supersedes everything else. This issue of being ex-international â€˜ex-thisâ€™ and â€˜ex-thatâ€™, has been used to bamboozle Government. So that when Government is thinking about the sports expert, I am sure Government is thinking about that person who has played the game only. This is s fallacy and this is the biggest headache of sports as a profession. It is only in sports that people become experts to study without having to study it. Football is a sport and consequently has its organized epistemology. Solving the problem of Nigerian Sports inclusive of football is just like solving Nigeria â€™s power, economic and infrastructural problems. If you allow an illiterate as head in these areas at the level of leadership, be sure you cannot find the solution you are seeking.
Accordingly, the re-organized Nigerian Football Federation must create a constituency membership for sports intellectuals and practitioners with the cognate knowledge and experience to provide leadership. Many times, the FIFA card has been played up to create exclusivity of membership of the football Federation. But football in Nigeria is for Nigerians. And when it fails, Nigerians cry and not FIFA.
As we look forward to the future, we must now sow new seeds for growth and development both in football and other sports. And make no mistake, it could take us up to 16 years to evacuate the decadence and arrive with the fresh and result oriented players that Nigeria deserves. This is the only way that Nigeria, the giant of Africa, will no more be kicked out of the World Cup in the first round with very unathletic behaviour.