By Patrick Omorodion
IT is another World Cup year and the horse trading has started among players, coaches, administrators, their friends and most importantly, their agents. Agents are legitimate stakeholders in football, recognised by football authorities whether at national, continental or world levels through Football Associations, the Confederations or FIFA.
Every World Cup year, especially for African countries which qualified for the World Cup, the scheming begins from the players who want to be part of the train. For a player whose contract is almost expiring or is not having a regular playing time in his club, he needs the World Cup to ‘sell’ himself to clubs who are looking for good players to fortify their teams for the new season that opens few weeks after the World Cup.
How do these players do it? They begin by consulting news men to write about their exploits in the newspapers or talk about them on their radio or television programmes. From the newspapers write-ups or radio and television programmes, fans pick it up and start rationalising why a particular player should make the list, either provisional or final.
From 1994 when the Super Eagles qualified and played in their first World Cup in the United States, Nigerians became familiar with agents as scouts swarmed Nigerian players following the exploits of the Super Eagles who missed qualification for the quarter-finals on their début following a tactical blunder against Italy.
Nigeria’s football was never the same after the Super Eagles conquered Africa and shone very bright at that World Cup. From that time, every player wanted to be a part of future World Cups and agents wanted their players to make the team. Selection of players to don the national colours became something of a do-or-die. Even though it is difficult to prove, coaches who have the final say on who makes the final team became the target of players, agents and sometimes, football administrators who entice them with rewards, both in cash and in kind. The result was the infiltration of the final squad with players who are either not good enough to make the team and want to be exposed to clubs seeking players or worst still some who are injured but still want to be part of the squad to be able to meet up with the minimum appearance for eligibility for work permit, particularly in the United kingdom.
With half baked or unqualified players, the strength of the team is ultimately whittled and the performance becomes abysmal and eventually results in early exit of the team from the World Cup party. This practice has been going on but it took the boldness of an insider, a former player and coach, Daniel Amokachi for it to be voiced out now. Amokachi who had been in the same position to know the pressure coaches face when trying to name their squad for a major competition, warned Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr not to allow agents pressurise him into selecting players that won’t help him achieve his set target.
Rohr himself had also lamented the pressure he was being put through as he prepared to announce his 30-man provisional squad. Even though he tried to say it was not really pressure and that no money was offered him, reading his statement, one is safe to conclude that he was offered something in return for any favour he does to them. But he shunned the ioffer Just read his statement below and you will understand what I mean. “Some agents are calling me or sending me messages about their players, they want me to take them but it is not pressure,” Rohr said on a television programme. “They try to do some things but they see that I don’t accept their proposal. I have a look, sometimes, they try to work for the players which is normal. I have never been under pressure, I never got money proposal to take one player because they know my reputation, 45 years in professional football I never did it.”
The Amokachi fever also caught up with president of the NFF, Amaju Melvin Pinnick. He disclosed also how agents have been bombarding him with requests to include their players in the World Cup squad. Even though they know that team selection is the business of the coach. Here is where Amokachi’s warning should be taken seriously. If Rohr, an European who has his name at stake because of where he comes from refuses to be influenced, can we say about the Nigerian coaches who are more susceptible to being influenced or corrupted? Apart from agents, another group of people who have tried to influence coaches, especially Nigerian coaches are members of the NFF technical committee, who most times want the coach to drop some players on the excuse that they are not good enough to make room for their favoured players.
Not that we didn’t know it existed before, the boldness of Amokachi to voice it out has caused the issue to brought to the front burner now. It is good that those who know that agents influence team selection are now speaking out. Maybe it will help stop the corrupt tendencies that help destroy our national teams or reduce it to a minimal level.