By Onochie Anibeze
There’s hardly any week that the Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, does not have a thing or two to talk about football. If he is not orchestrating to settle dispute (even where there is none) he is attending one football event or receiving a delegation of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF or their President, Amaju Pinnick. He occupies himself with things you may not link to football development.
That is the state of our sports now. It is not only football. The other day, Solomon Dalung was battling to explain to Nigerians how the National Sports Commission, NSC, ceased to exist. He also made news reinstating foreign athletics coaches disengaged by former NSC Director General, Yakmut Alhassan. But he did not make news on the performance of the coaches. What have they achieved since their engagement or their challenges and how to face them. Before then, he had travelled to Brazil to inspect facilities for the Rio Olympics. Ever heard a thing like that? If the facilities were bad what would he do? If the distance between the athletes’ village and venues is long or short what would he do? What difference would such a visit make on the Nigerian team?
The money the minister and his delegation spent on that trip could prepare 10 athletes for the Olympics. I’m yet to see any policy direction for our sports since the Muhammadu Buhari administration came into office last May. And this is largely due to the shortcomings of the man running sports. He simply doesn’t appear to have a clue on the way forward as far as sports development is concerned. There have been more news stories on disputes, occupation of offices and interrogation of the football federation than REAL SPORTS DEVELOPMENT since Dalung assumed the office of minister of Youth and Sports.
As far as football is concerned I do not entirely blame him. I blame the Amaju Pinnick-led federation for submitting our football matters wholly to the supervision of the minister, who is enjoying the air that is not even fresh. I don’t think that we have had it so bad in recent years. That to pay match bonuses and allowances of all our teams the minister would have to intervene or interrogate some football officials? That for taking vital and minor decisions in our football the board will meet the minister for approval? That to conclude on sponsors the federation will approach the minister? What a big shame on the side of the federation! And what an aberration or seeming indolence on the side of the minister to focus on trivialities that mean nothing to REAL SPORTS DEVELOPMENT.
If the Nigeria Football Federation had the money to hire a foreign coach why would they need the minister’s consent? FIFA will not even be happy with Amaju Pinnick on the way he is corrupting the independence of association football. He is now subjecting our association football to government control. Yes, in as much as you receive money from government you must be accountable to them. But that does not mean that you subject daily administrative football matters to government. Amaju has been long in sports to know better. So are Sheyi Akinwunmi, Barrister Green, Felix Anyansi-Agwu and other members of the board. Dalung is a complete stranger to sports. He doesn’t get it and if the Amajus and Greens are submitting wholly to him instead of guiding him you can imagine the magnitude of our problems. It then means they are not doing the right thing. This probably compels the minister to take the lead in areas he is not well informed. I blame the federation even as I recognise the efforts of Amaju Pinnick. I thought that he would be among those guiding the minister and education in football matters. I don’t get what is going on.
We will appraise the minister better after the Rio Olympics. I doubt if we will win any medal the way we are going. I know that the minister means well. But he appears to lack the wherewithal to develop sports. This piece is largely to tell the sports minister that he is not doing well, that he could do better and that I wish him well.
It is also to tell the Nigeria Football Federation led by Amaju Pinnick that the Super Eagles remain the yardstick to measure their success and that they have also failed Nigerians as far as the Nations Cup is concerned. I’m an apostle of REAL SPORTS DEVELOPMENT, the one that will revolutionize sports from school to elite level.
In as much as I recognise and appreciate the success the federation attained in winning the Under 17 World Cup and qualifying for the Olympics as African champions I’m yet to see clubs of the league that they supervise own youth teams. I have advocated for this for long and I’m not alone. When we have a good youth structure where these youth teams will produce players for our age-grade teams, having the type of football philosophy that Kojo Williams has been campaigning for will be possible. A respected football coach told me that Sunday Oliseh tried to introduce Dutch system to the Eagles but he forgot that in Holland they start playing the system from their youth level. That is the philosophy that Kojo is talking about. Such a football philosophy, from my own perspective, will help our football more than whatever a foreign coach will do at the senior level. We could have a combination of foreign coaches and local ones to start this and when it is well established, our coaches could do the work. It is a system that will see our age-grade teams play a common or unique pattern and continue with that way at the senior level. I have heard a lot of campaign on the need or otherwise for a foreign coach. I just want to warn that having worked closely with many of the foreign coaches, who coached the Eagles from late 1980s I can authoritatively say that they have no magic wands. Clemence Westerhof still has an unbeaten record in terms of medals and development of the game. One Nations bronze, one silver, one gold and Nigeria’s first ever World Cup qualification. He introduced a pattern that destroyed teams. It was possession football at the rear, which exploded into a blistering speed when attacking, avoiding slow game in the midfield. It caught opponents unaware. Imagine the speed of Rashidi Yekini, Daniel Amokachi, Samson Siasia, Emmanuel Amuneke. If you didn’t have blistering speed you couldn’t play for Westerhof. Even midfielders had to be quick. Mutiu Adepoju, Sunday Oliseh, Thompson Oliha, Emeka Ezeugo, Moses Kpako were all quick. Jay Jay Okocha was a fine player but simply because he liked to hold on a little bit to the ball Westerhof found him useful in some matches and benched him in some.
That era remains our best and Westerhof was a huge success because of his passion for Nigeria. He saw himself as Nigerian, lived here, watched our leagues including amateur leagues, developed players in camp and took them abroad for training.
Other foreign coaches that came were not interested in our league or developing local ones. Some lived abroad and came to Nigeria when we had games. They were more interested in their wages than in our football. Amaju can only get it right with a foreign coach if he goes for one with Westerhof’s attributes. This is no campaign for Westerhof but we certainly need a coach with his qualities. Where can Amaju find one? Are they in Nigeria? More on foreign coach later.