It’s a new year.  Welcome to 2012.

While exchanging compliments of the season with the General Secretary of the NFF we thought it wise to pray for a year that should make us forget the night mare that was 2011. That is why one of my favorite wishes for the new year came from my friend Ibn Mohammed, who prayed for positive inputs from all of us, towards the betterment of our sports especially football in the coming year.

I do not think I want to bore my readers today repeating the disaster that was the year just gone by. I prefer instead to look ahead, to the future. If I could, I would have talked about the London Olympics and our chances because that is the question my younger colleagues inundate me with.

Seven months away, I regret not having much to say. Incidentally instead of us coming together to tackle the problem, all I get to read from the media are stories of association chairmen and presidents passing the buck. Translated directly it reads like this “ ……if we go to the Olympics and fail, do not hold us responsible because we are yet to get money from the National Sports Commission”

Pray, when are we going to get associations that will operate independent of government? When are we going to get men and women who can muster enough funds to run their sports while not waiting for, or pending when government makes the fund available?

I remember that the NFF did complain that the NSC did not make funds available for her Olympics and All Africa Games Qualifiers, yet it went ahead to play those matches, pending.

Three weeks ago in this column, I spoke about a young man who organized Copa Lagos Beach Soccer independently and made a success out of it. Worse, the NSC is now involved in all manners of summons from the law makers that may even leave it with not enough time to plan for the Olympics.

The future of our sports is Stephen Keshi and the domestic players, holed up in Abuja, players and officials who sacrificed Christmas and the attendant end of year festivities to be able to lay a foundation for the future of our football.

This has always been the thinking of the Technical Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation. I remember that when Siasia came on board we canvassed this line of action which he bought, called some players to camp but later on abandoned the idea for an ephemeral disposition that emphasised victory at all cost to the detriment of the development of the sport.

Keshi is determined to go steps further. He has decided to be patient with the boys and has psyched them up with the declaration that should they work hard,not less than eight of them will be in his squad against Rwanda in February. Then came the part that attracted expected reactions. That he will not tolerate earrings and ‘Nyanga’ football.The first shot was fired by my pastor.

Pastor Elijah Okon Usen is the Area Superintendent of The Apostolic Church Maboju. “ …..If not for anything, for that singular decision Keshi will succeed. From now on I will double my prayers for him. Discipline is about men not getting distracted by feminine and wordly apparels” Pastor Usen emphasized during a Sunday sermon.

Those who thought the coach should not impinge on the fundamental rights ( ? ) of players would have lost sleep when Obafemi Martins came out to say that he will readily pull off his earrings to play for Keshi.

That for me is the spirit, one in which I want Keshi to embrace. The news that he will play Rwanda with at least eight domestic league players is already sending shivers down the spines of the foreign armada, those players who in the past believed that their only passport to the national team was being a member of a European club. Whether they were regulars or bench warmers did not matter.

Just recently my friend Ini Edoho, ( Amama ) a player’s agent returned from India with tales of three players he believed can walk into the national team if given the chance. Edoho should know. Being a team manager for clubs like Nitel, Akwa United and Enyimba confers on him some authority in technicalities of the  game. I do not mind the situation where players are given the chance to prove themselves no matter where they ply their wares. That is why Youth Corper Morah who has no club to call his own is part of my daily prayers, for him to break through, on merit of course, quite aware that there are more like him.

All Keshi needs is patience and time to build a brand new team for Nigeria. We will not forget that it was when Keshi and co were not readily available that Westerhoff from scratch, built a team of local stars into superstars.

Not only does Keshi require time, he has to start on a clean slate, not tied down by the prejudices of the past. Next time there is a meeting of the Technical Committee, called to share with Keshi on his list for the Rwanda and other matches, I will go armed with a dossier celebrating the current form of Odemnwigie, Anichebe and Victor Moses. I will ask for permission to address members on why Yakubu Aiyegbeni should be number one on that list.

Welcome to 2012, the year of Redemption.

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