Sport Guard

January 8, 2017

NFF’s decision on Age Grade competitions

NFF, Pinnick


By Patrick Omorodion

The Nigeria Football Federation, NFF never ceases to amuse me. Like the proverbial tortoise, they are always in the news, for the wrong reasons also. A body that knows its financial predicament and should be prudent with its funds, turns a Father Christmas because it wants to please everyone.

I still believe that because the present Board led by Amaju Melvin Pinnick came into being by a manipulation of the electoral system, it has always tried to appease those who were frustrated out of the process.

Till now, all is not well with the Board even though Pinnick tries to say they are one family, as shown by his alleged 11 over 11 endorsement for the CAF seat. I am not aware it was the Board that endorsed him though.

Like I was saying earlier, the NFF reeling in financial emasculation, ferries hundreds of ‘supporters’ to competitions, an action that costs the federation thousands of money in dollars. At other times it sponsors coaches, referees and match commissioners abroad, claiming it was helping to build human capacity to help the game in the country.

Anyone who knows the system very well cannot be hoodwinked into believing the NFF. All these are done to ‘soften’ the ground for the embattled head of the federation who is not only being pursued legally by another power hungry administrator but harassed by fellow Board members who believe that he is not ‘carrying’ them along.

Aware that its subvention from the government is no longer regular and even reduced, it behoves on the NFF to cut its spending and ensure that its funds are judiciously used for its crucial programmes. While its programmes suffer from lack of funds, the leadership is quick to tell Nigerians that monies spent on some unnecessary programmes are sourced independently from avenues that are never ever disclosed.

The most recent was the charter of an aircraft to airlift some of its friends and government officials, which we learnt included the Youth and Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung to Cameroon to watch the final of the Africa Women’s Nations Cup where the Super Falcons overcame the host to retain the title.

The same federation was aware while doing this, that it had no money in place to pay the players and their officials. Yet the leadership could look Nigerians in the face and say that the money used to charter the aircraft was from a private sponsor. If they could source money privately to ferry people who added nothing to Falcons’ victory in Cameroon, why not use the same connection to source money to pay the players so that when the government money they are always relying on comes, they could repay the loan?

What their action has revealed is that they are in football not for the interest of the game nor the welfare of the key actors, that is the players and technical officials, but just to feather their own nests. Otherwise why would Pinnick in the midst of the embarrassment the non payment of the Falcons’ allowances and their shameful protest caused the country, think that his quest to be elected into the CAF Executive Committee was of paramount importance?

Again, aware that it may not find it easy assessing government money from the sports ministry after the Minister had launched an attack on the way it spends both the government subvention and the FIFA grants it gets for developmental programmes, the NFF shamefully told Nigerians that it may no longer participate in age grade competitions henceforth.

The new stance, it thinks, will make it look a prudent organisation in the eyes of Nigerians but how wrong it is. The action is tantamount to one cutting his nose to spite his face. So the NFF does not know that the age grade competitions are like the nursery from which future stars and hope of the country are discovered, groomed and nurtured to stardom? Why do they think FIFA established those categories? It is mostly to help the developing countries who are still lagging behind the advanced countries who have feeder teams at club levels from where they enrich their clubs and national teams.

That is why these advanced countries never bother themselves when their youth teams never win these competitions which the Africans seem to dominate and celebrate with pomp and pageantry. Instead of ensuring that the proper things are done to see the young players graduate from one age grade to the other and into the senior team, the football administrators collude with the young players, sometimes with their parents too, to falsify their ages, all because they want to win at all cost.

Now because they are faced with a lean purse, the first casualty is the age grade competitions. If this decision is not reversed, a time will come when the senior team would not have young and promising talents coming in to replace the old and retiring players.

It has not occurred to the NFF that the age grade competitions have produced some truly young talents who later matured into the senior team. Players like Nwankwo Kanu, Victor Ikpeba, Yobo Joseph, Wilson Oruma and even late Stephen Keshi, among many others came from the junior teams to limelight.

In the current Super Eagles, Kelechi Iheanacho, voted Africa’s most promising talent at the just held Glo-CAF Award, is a product of age grade competition. He is not only making waves with the senior team, but has announced himself as a player of note in the English Premiership within the short time he has played there. Even Victor Osimhen that just signed for Wolfsburg in the German Bundesliga was discovered at the U-17 level from where he moved to the Flying Eagles. He is a potential Super Eagles reliable. Many like him and Iheanacho may not be discovered and our senior national team may be the worse for it if the NFF kills the nursery that produces them.

Rather than destroy the nursery, the NFF should evolve another way to source for additional funds to support what they get from the government and FIFA in order to still maintain these age grade teams. That is the more reason why they have to re-organise their marketing department and have a look again into the perpetual marketing contract they signed with a firm some years ago.