By Onochie Anibeze
I was a member of the Segun Adeniyi panel that investigated the Namibia match bonus international disgrace.
Eagles had refused to fly to Brazil for the Confederation Cup because the football federation reverted to what they were paying before the 2010 World Cup when the Presidential Task Force increased winning match bonus from $5,000 to $10,000 each. NFF said that they could no longer sustain the increase as the PTF had even ceased to exist.
In one of our sessions on the importance of match bonuses, I made a presentation, saying that it is generally good to motivate players in many ways including payment of bonuses but I clearly and repeatedly maintained that monetary inducement does not win matches. I quickly cited the 2010 World Cup in South Africa which was actually one of the remote causes of the fracas in Namibia.
The PTF increased Eagles match bonuses from $5,000 to $10,000 but our Eagles woefully failed in South Africa. They were in what many saw as a weak group with Korea, Greece and Argentina. At a time they needed just one win to qualify for the second round, they rather offered Greece their first ever World Cup finals match win. Did the new bonus lift their game? No!
Can Enugu Rangers in their current state, for example, beat Barcelona FC if their players are offered $1m each? Will the money conjure better tactics, skill, fitness and every ingredient that contributes to the beauty of the game? No. And I spoke from the background of a former athlete. But money can inspire success in sports if rightly used.
The committee agreed that the federation should always pay what they can afford but must formally inform the team of what their bonuses and all entitlements are for every competition.
I have just recalled this to address what the Sports Minister, Bolaji Abdullahi, did in South Africa during CHAN. He rewarded Eagles with $100,000 for beating South Africa and promised another $100,000 for the semifinal match against Ghana. They lost but he still paid them $100,000. Rewarding failure. And this happened at a time other sports preparing for the Commonwealth Games had not been funded.
Experience has shown that such gestures, if that is what they are, never yield results. Money cannot stop defeat when it comes unless through the fraudulent way of influencing match officials as they do in Africa. In other words, such monetary inducements on players don’t win matches. Records have proved that and not me.
What earns you victory is the quality of your team in terms of individual brilliance, team work, fitness, discipline and of course determination which are all boosted with good preparation. Determination alone cannot earn you results if you lack the skills or the aforementioned qualities. It is the
refore better to spend money to prepare teams than promising heaven on earth during the competition. Lesson to our good-hearted minister.
Those who follow our league know that what we presented in South Africa were no where near our best in the league. The keeper, for example, kept two matches for Rangers. He had been displaced as the first keeper in Warri Wolves before he moved to Rangers. And this season, Rangers registered four keepers and dropped him.
That’s the man that manned the post for Nigeria in CHAN. He embarrassed us with his shameful performance. In football nations, the coaches who picked such a hand would be battling to keep their jobs. But it is on record that Stephen Keshi and his colleagues rarely watch the Nigerian league. That is another scandal on its own. But the last time I made inquiries, the coaches had no allowances to travel to different venues to watch league matches.
If the minister assisted the team with $200,000 for preparation, part of which the coaches would have used to watch league matches and select the best, Nigeria would have probably won the cup. But do you blame the minister for the inability of coaches to select the best for Nigeria? No. When I foresaw problem and took this matter up with the federation long ago they told me that the allowance to travel for league matches was built into the pay of the coaches. I left it at that but I was still scandalised that the national coaches were not watching our league matches. I think a provision for that would have helped although they also needed to make sacrifices to achieve success.
The minister meant well. He has always meant well. But the experts around him should guide him when he has extra money for events. It is better to prepare than doling out money at competition venues. And this leads me to the Brazil World Cup preparation. Good preparation begins with selection of players. There should not be sentiments, the type that saw Chigozie Agbim manning the post for us in South Africa, the type that saw Fegor Ogude preferred to Ogenyi Onazi during the first two Nations Cup matches in South Africa. I still maintain that two changes won Nigeria the cup in South Africa – Onazi coming in for Ogude and Sunday Mba for Nosa Igiebor. Replay Nigeria’s Nations Cup matches and you would agree with me.
Good preparation will entail serious tactical training for different game plans, various types of exercises for physical and mental fitness, friendly matches, match reading techniques and information gathering on opponents and how best to use it, etc. Good preparation will entail good camping – accommodation, facilities, technical guides, etc. The coaches have to make the national team competitive. I have said this before. If there’s healthy rivalry among team mates; training and selection will be highly competitive, the players will take the winning mentality such brews to the field.
Good preparation is about team work on the side of coaches. Our head coach is Stephen Keshi. His entire staff must be loyal to him but they must be bold enough to air their views on selection and tactics although the head coach has the final say and he takes responsibility for every decision. Westerhof saw Aloy Agu in good shape to start USA ’94 World Cup matches but the then goal keeper trainer, Gerry Van Iyke, told him that Peter Rufai was in a better shape. Westerhof did not hesitate to agree with him.
Good preparation is about providing the coaches with what they want. If Keshi does not want a foreign or local technical assistant and wants Sylvanus Okpala back, give him what he wants. The federation may have good reasons for suggesting an entirely new assistant for him but the timing is absolutely wrong. Again, the head coach selects his staff although there are cases where provision is made for some technical assistance from the federation or management as the case may be. We don’t need controversy now. We need concentration and the federation says that they will not impose anybody on Keshi. I think that they mean well and they want results in Brazil. Let them give Keshi what he wants and hold him responsible for every failure and success in Brazil.