By Pual Bassey
I start by appreciating the Nigeria Football Federation for quickly stepping in to calm the nerves of coaches and players of the Golden Eaglets after they had been beaten by South Africa in the just ended CAF U17 Championship in Niger.
I must confess that I was hit very hard by the defeat. It came to me as a shock. As one of those who was involved in the success story of the last team, up to the winning of the world title, I was convinced that we had found a formula for not only excelling on the global stage, but sustaining the production of stars potent enough to feed other arms of the National team thereby guaranteeing the future of our football.
The Manu-Amuneke-Ugbade-Amadi combination was so ideal, so complimentary and so efficient that at the first meeting of the Technical Committee after that victory, we not only congratulated ourselves for the painstaking experiment that yielded results, (Remember that nobody will remember our contribution not to talk of appreciating us) we also debated on the way forward especially the maximizing of the valuable human resources at our disposal.
The tracking of the stars, the wish that they are not abused by self seeking agents, the education of their parents and guardians on what is best for their wards, etc.
I also remember that the Sports ministry stepped in and scheduled a workshop/ seminar in Obudu Cross River for this purpose, where the boys, their parents, coaches and stakeholders were to be involved. I was shortlisted to present a paper. Why that laudable experiment was cancelled, I don’t know.
As predicted and feared by the Technical Committee, the infamous Ihenacho scandal came up to rock the foundation we were about to set up.
Another debate that positively took place on the floor of that popular and successful Technical and Development Committee (Green, Anyansi, Deji Tinubu, Onigbinde, Chukwu, Okocha, Ikpeba, Garba Lawal, Garba Ilah,Elumelu, Ikpeme ) was the deployment of the coaches going forward.
Some of us believed that the coaches should not be touched. That they should be left for another three to four years to continue churning out the future of our football. Others said. NO. That some of them should be promoted with the boys and that by so doing they will better understand and handle them.
My argument for the former position was that there was a great difference between a youth coach and a senior team coach. That some coaches by their upbringing, training and temperament are best suited to handle youths and developmental programmes.
At the end of the day, the “opposition” won. Manu and Nduka Ugbade were separated from Amuneke and Amadi and we moved on. The stutter against Guinea, the claim that only two of our players can score goals and the eventual defeat in the hands of South Africa (That country again?) has taken me back to that debate.
Yes, qualifying for the World Cup is not bad, but can I forget my visit to Cote D’Ivoire last year?. As a member of The Special CAF delegation to inspect countries bidding to host the 2017 and 2019 Nations Cup we arrived Abidjan to pay a courtesy call on the President of the Football Federation. On his table, occupying pride of place was the U-17 trophy which they beat us to in Morocco. He did not allow the opportunity slip when he told the delegation that it was one of their sweetest football moments ever, that any country that beats Nigeria at Youth level should jubilate because it has been Nigeria’s forte over time (I have included the picture with this column hoping the Editor will find space for it.) Of course, we went to the world cup in Abu Dhabi to prove that the African loss was a slip, while we returned to Africa this year to claim our rightful place as African Champions, yet could not even make it to the final, not to talk of winning the trophy.
I started by commending the NFF for coming out quickly to back the coaches and the players, propelling them to greater things even as we should not lose sight of the fact that unlike the past when we concentrated on winning the cup at all cost, ephemeral victories that were tinted by accusations and allegations of using over age players, the emphasis this time around is on the development of the game and this takes me to the next topic today.
JV School Sports in Akwa Ibom
For fourteen years the Joint Venture Partnership between NNPC and MPN has sustained the hosting of a grass root Secondary school track and field Championship in Akwa Ibom State.
This week end, March 7 to be precise, inside the main bowl of the prestigious Akwa Ibom International Stadium the fourteenth edition will be brought to a grand finale.
As consultant to this project, it is one experiment that is after my heart as I am exposed daily to the talent that abound in this country in all spheres of sports. Whenever I talk about this programme, I wish the JV Experiment in Akwa Ibom can be extended to other states of the federation.
You need to be in Uyo this week as more that 500 students, who qualified from the zones will turn up for an opportunity to excel at state level as a prelude to national exposure ( Ask Aniekeme Alphonsus , who is in the national team that has taken off to Ethiopia for the African Junior Championships)
While looking forward to the setting of new records, the thrills and the frills, a special feature this year may just be the grand “RECEPTION OF GRATITUDE” that the students are planning to accord Governor Godswill Akpabio for giving them an infrastructure that will help to boost their efforts and ambition.
Also expected is the Sports Minister, The DG, National Sports Commission, who has lauded the programme, emphasizing the catch them young sermon and the future of our sports being found in schools and colleges. President YSFON, leadership of AFN, top political and community leaders in AKS and environs, not forgetting the students and their parents and guardians.
This week end, Uyo is the place to be.
. . . Once bitten, twice shy.
This week, Nigeria recorded a 100 per cent success rate in Africa as all our football clubs scaled through the first hurdle of their continental assignments.
This time last year, the picture was not that appealing. Let it be said however that going by the stories that made the rounds regarding the preparations of our teams, a lot needs to be done if we must not only progress but make appreciable impact in the competitions.
Tested Administrator Mike Idoko who is consulting for Kano Pillars was quoted as saying that he foresees a Pillars/ Enyimba clash in the final of the Champions League. Good talk, ( If the fixtures so allow) Far above that wish, is the need for clubs to be professional in their preparations and approach to their ambitions in Africa.
I do not think our league is so bad that one of our champion clubs has to struggle to beat a club from Equatorial Guinea!
Well done to those who monitored their next opponents even as they were playing their matches. Now that they know their next port of call, I pray they start making their flight bookings, get acquainted with type of playing surface, weather, food etc. Good luck Nigeria.
See you next week.