By Onochie Anizebe
It could amount to a great disservice to Nigerian football if I do not let Nigerians know this.
My conscience would haunt me if I do not make this public.
Today, I want to expose the internal wranglings that have bedeviled the national team lately.
I’m tempted to agree with Mumuni Alao of Complete Sports Newspaper that luck won Nigeria the Nations Cup and not the ingenuity of any person. But I must give credit to the two changes that dramatically changed our team.
After the first two matches in the first round which were obviously rated poorly, the substitution of Fegor Ogude and Nosa Igiebor for Ogenyi Onazi and Sunday Mba brought life into the team. Nevertheless I give credit to the coaches who made these changes.
But I still agree that Keshi and his crew were lucky. If you were not close enough to the national team you would know about the precious times spent on intrigues, pettiness, a consolidated effort to run people down and curry favour in exchange for gossips. It is a surprise that despite the behind-the-scene games, the team succeeded at the Nations Cup. Mother luck.
A top member of the Federation asked one of the coaches after the qualifier in Liberia: ‘’Do you guys practice set pieces at all, do you put heads together before making changes because your changes don’t seem to help our games?’’
The coach replied: ‘’Sir, you know that I’m not in charge and everybody has his own style.’’
That didn’t show team work and team spirit. It was a big indictment on Stephen Keshi, the head coach and even the coach who gave such an answer. Rather than attempting to ride on the back of the head coach would it not have been professional to suggest ideas or techniques as an assistant?
Take another: A coach once grumbled over their travel arrangement when they spent hours at the airport on their way to a qualifier in Malawi. Before he knew it, he was battling to save his job. A backroom staff had gone to tell the leadership of the Federation that the coach had accused them of corruption.
During a seeming interrogation, the coach admitted grumbling over the travel arrangement but denied any other accusation against the federation.
Certainly, the backroom staff who went to tell tales did not want the success of the coach at the time. He had killed the team spirit in exchange for being in the good books of the federation. It has been one gossip after the other, some very disgusting, irritating and obviously petty. So coaches and backroom staff try to outdo each other in the gossip game instead of using precious time to plan for the team’s success.
Take this one: A player based in Spain goes to the leadership of the federation to fault some aspects of their coaching techniques because, according to him, they differ from what they do in his club. Unfortunately, he gets the attention of some members of the federation.
Just before the Nations Cup in South Africa, one of the coaches advised him to respect and submit to the instructions in the national team, educating him that coaching is never the same everywhere. Some other players are also fond of rushing to the leadership of the federation to gossip about the affairs in the team camp.
Victor Ikpeba, a member of the NFF Technical Committee once lamented, ‘’Onochie, when I was playing, I did not even know those in the NFA. We probably knew the chairman because he was chairman and that was it. We never went to them to discuss anything.
To discuss what? Discuss our coaches and colleagues? Your job was on the field and after that everybody went home. Even when there were issues with allowances or bonuses, it was the responsibility of the captain to discuss with the coach and not even the federation.
But today players rush to members of the federation to backbite and say all sorts of nonsense about their team.’’
I told Ikpeba I also heard such several times and that I might do a story on it.
‘’Please, do if that will help our football and make these boys to play more football and do less politics,’’ Ikpeba told me.
Another one: When the Eagles played Venezuela in Miami, USA, one of the coaches told a top member of the federation that the style of the coach that handled warm-up session before the match was faulty. Interestingly, the federation member came back to tell the other coaches all that the other man had told him. Warming up became an issue that moment.
A case of a coach trying to outdo another coach. Luckily, they won the match.
Take another: Just before the last qualifier against Kenya Stephen Keshi, to the hearing of all his coaches and backroom staff, told one of the coaches that ‘’all the things you go to tell them about us, I hear them.
They also come to tell me what you go to tell them from time to time.’’ .
Take another: The coaches sit to discuss strategy and select players before matches.
One of them later goes to a player and tells him a particular coach spoke against his selection. The player takes offence and stops greeting the coach. This happened in South Africa.
Are these the Eagles that made up the kind of team our dear Clemense Westerhof called a family?
I now know what contributed to the problems and failures of the likes of Amodu, Christian Chukwu, Berti Vogts, Lars Lagerback etc.
When I spoke to three members of the federation Tuesday night on the sacking of Sylvanus Okpala, one of them told me that Okpala’s offence were some uncomplimentary remarks that he made about the leadership of the federation which had been reported to them.
But Okpala swore that he never said such things. He has been disengaged. NFF said it was because of lack of resources to sustain large crew. Another assistant, Valere Houndounou can only continue if Keshi could pay him. This is coming on the heels of the 50 percent Nations Cup match bonus slash attributed to paucity of funds.
But why were only two coaches affected? Okpala was said to have aggravated his condition by reporting this to Patrick Ekeji, the just retired Director-General of the National Sports Commission, a man the federation perceived as their enemy. It then became a matter of time for Okpala to be eased out.
Coaches come and go and Okpala should take this in good faith even if he has to make a case for the balance of his Nations Cup bonuses.
Keshi might have offended the federation after the Nations Cup victory through his impromptu actions. But his reaction followed a looming sack which was only averted when Eagles won.
NFF appears ready to take their pound of flesh. They are furious he traveled out of the country and plan to query him on arrival. A silent battle line has been drawn. We are watching