‘NFF has failed; No, blame security agencies’
*Kojo, Maigari, Okala, Odegbami, Taribo, Etta Egbe, speak
By Jacob Ajom
IT has been one long bad dream that has refused to go away. A nightmare that forces one to remain awake because once the eyes are closed the nightmare returns with renewed aggression.
For those who witnessed the glory days of Nigerian football, the appalling state of football in the country is nothing short of a nightmare. It all boils down to one clear and loud index of the poor manner football is run in the country. Football enthusiasts in Nigeria are suddenly nursing a growing disenchantment towards their national teams. The Super Eagles, CHAN Eagles, Super Falcons, Flying Eagles, Falconets, etc are all groaning under the weight of non-performance.
Former Nigeria international, Emeka Ezeugo lamented, “The beautiful game in Nigeria is dead and we should be worried about fixing it,” he told www.brila.net.
The Super Eagles went to the World Cup in Russia 2018 but were knocked out at the group stage. Nigeria assembled a squad of young and hugely talented players who were touted as the youngest squad in the tournament, Nigerians were told that the Super Eagles were capable of getting to the semi-finals of the tournament and could even win the World Cup. President of the Nigeria Football Federation, Amaju Pinnick severally told Nigerians that the time had come for an African team to shock the world at the World Cup and that country was no other than Nigeria. Russia, he claimed, provided the perfect setting for the historic feat. And some Nigerians believed him, because of the manner the team qualified for the tournament with a match to spare.
The Super Eagles even had the luxury of giving away a match after fielding an ineligible player in their final qualifier against Algeria. The Super Eagles opened their World Cup account with a 0-2 loss to Croatia, beat Iceland 2-0 and lost 1-2 to Argentina. They exited in the first round. A step lower than the team late Stephen Keshi took to Brazil in 2014. They got to the second round even though they were not as talented as the team Gernot Rohr took to Russia.
After the World Cup the Super Eagles attended the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt. It was the first time 24 teams competed at AFCON. Many Nigerians thought after two consecutive inexplicable absences from the continental scene, it was time for their national team to announce their return to Africa with a bang.
At the AFCON 2019, the Super Eagles lost to Algeria in the semi-final but fought hard to end up with a bronze after edging Tunisia in the third place match. Rohr, the German coach of the team said he met the target set for him by his employers, a statement which did not go down well with most Nigerians. Former Nigeria international and one time Super Eagles Assistant coach, Sylvanus Okpala said, “a country like Nigeria should not go to AFCON and target anything less than the trophy. If the semi final was the target, that means the NFF and the coach actually wrote their team off even before kick off. For God’s sake we have been AFCON champions before, we could not have aimed for less in Egypt.”
The Super Falcons qualified for the World Cup after winning the African Women Nations Cup. In France the Falcons rode their luck and qualified for the second round of the World Cup. But the luck departed from them when they faced Germany. They fell 3-0 to the Germans and that marked the beginning of the numerous problems that have bedeviled the women game in Nigeria.
After their match with Germany the girls demanded for the bonuses and allowances owed them. They refused to leave their hotel and eventually missed their return flight. Embarrassed, the leadership of the football house penciled down some of the players regarded as ring leaders for punishment. Corresponding developments confirmed the mood in the Glass House as the captain of the team Desire Oparanozie, Onome Ebi, among other senior players were not invited for the Olympic qualifiers against Ivory Coast.
Thomas Dennerby, who was in charge of the team for one productive year jumped ship, citing interference in his work by a top NFF official in the women football department, who, we were informed, wields so much power at the NFF secretariat. It is alleged that she can invite and decamp players at will.
She was in charge of the Falcons welfare in France and had sworn in the aftermath of the players’ revolt in France to get back at some of the players who led the protest. She felt personally insulted by leaders of the team and swore that for as long as she remained in the football house, those players would never get an invite to play for their country again. She actually carried out her threat as Oparanozie, Onome Ebi were not called up for the Olympic qualifiers against Ivory Coast. The African champions were knocked out ignominiously.
She was part of the reasons Dennerby left and Sports Vanguard has gathered that the Swede was incensed when his assistants were changed without his consent. He too has sworn never to return to his duty post for as long as the all-powerful official in the Women Football department remained in office.
Back home, football in Nigeria is in shambles. The Nigeria Professional Football League, once touted as the toughest in Africa has become a laughing stock. The country’s representatives in continental competitions have all suffered one form of indignity or another. Except for Rangers that were able to progress to the group stages of the CAF Confederation Cup and Enyimba who dropped to the second tier competition by default, after their elimination from the Champions League by Sudanese club, Al Hilal, it’s been a shameful story.
In 1994, the Super Eagles were ranked 5th in the world by FIFA. Fast forward to 2019, one would need a google search to find the position of Nigeria in world ranking. In FIFA’s latest rankings, the Super Eagles are ranked 34, while the Super Falcons, though still Africa’s best, are ranked 36th in the world.
“Our football must not be allowed to die,” former President of the Nigeria Football Federation, Alhaji Aminu Maigari told Sports Vanguard Wednesday. “It’s very sad that our football has gone down. Nigeria has never experienced this kind of situation before, when all the national teams are down and the league is not functioning. It is sad indeed,” Maigari said repeatedly.
The former Bauchi State Football Association chairman said like minds must come together to revive the league, in particular. “We created that platform to give young Nigerians hope for a brighter future, to give them hope of one day wearing the green and white national colours. That is why we must encourage our home-bred players to play for Nigeria. The league must not die.”
Former Nigeria international, Taribo West expressed disgust at the state of Nigeria football. Taribo who was among a number of ex-internationals in Warri during the election of Amaju Pinnick as NFF President in September 2015, said he felt bad because he was full of expectations when Pinnick first took the mantle of leadership of the NFF, but he was feeling very disappointed with what he was seeing now.
“He(Pinnick) is good at talking business and politics of the game but we have not done well in terms of real football development,” the 1996 Olympic gold medalist said. “Imagine me being asked to handle the duty of a lawyer. No matter how passionately I like the legal profession, there is no way I can perform that function without being trained as a lawyer.
“We have a lot of ex-internationals in this country and career sports administrators who can do a lot better than what we are seeing today. The likes of Segun Odegbami, Daniel Amokachi, Uche Okechukwu, Austin Eguavoen, Ben Iroha, myself inclusive among others, who are still around, nobody calls us because we can’t stomach what they are doing,” Taribo said.
“I visited the Golden Eaglets camp recently and what I saw made me weep. The kids were training without jerseys. In fact jerseys were rented for warm up matches. How can that be under normal circumstances?” he asked in frustration.
“Why can’t the league function? Without the league where is our football?” He asked angrily. “They seem not to have a direction for our football.”
Taribo called on all stakeholders in Nigerian football to come together and salvage the situation.
Former chairman of the defunct Nigeria Football Association, Kojo Williams is nonplussed, but not surprised about the low levels Nigeria football has attained. “Nigerian football has been dead for a long time. We have just been patching things up. I have been saying this for a long time and I don’t think I want to repeat myself anymore,” Kojo said. “But for your persistence, that I must say something, let me tell you that our league must be made stronger and better. I am recommending total restructuring. We have to start by setting up a normalisation committee. The restructuring has to be holistic from top to bottom. It does not matter how long it takes us to achieve it.
We must be looking at the so-called League Management Company, youth and grassroots development; certification of coaches and referees; club ownership structure, etc. The league needs to go public with very strong backing from the private sector. We can start with ten or eight clubs with enough financial muscle to participate in the league. We need people with genuine interest in the development of our football. Even FIFA would like to work with us on this.”
Writing under the title: Football in Nigeria is dead, former Nigeria international, Chief Segun Odegbami lamented the dearth in good football pitches in the country. Said he, “What has dragged football backwards is the neglect of the small details, particularly those of the playing fields that should attract even retiring superstars and give new talents a platform to advertise themselves. A bad ground would never allow any of these things.”
The former Green Eagles attacker suggested the way forward. “Going forward, the government must play a big part by changing its attitude and, of necessity, influence a change of guards and structures, because, politics has played its part long enough (for three decades) and failed woefully.”
Former Green Eagles goalkeeper, Emmanuel Okala could not believe things could get this bad in Nigerian football. Asked for the way out, Okala said he would not know what to say because the NFF has not come out to tell Nigerians what their problem was. “They should come out and tell Nigerians what their problem is. I cannot proffer solution to a problem I do not know. The administrators should be bold enough to tell Nigerians their problems.”
Another former international and the national Public Relations Officer of the Nigerian Football Coaches Association who also doubles as goalkeepers trainer with the Olympic Eagles, Etta Egbe has a different opinion on the dwindling fortunes of Nigerian football. Although he agreed that the non-commencement of the league may have played a major part in the poor performance of Nigerian teams abroad, one of the major problems has been the hounding of NFF officials by security agencies over allegations of corruption against them.
“What have they been looking for in the past two years? If they cannot find anything incriminating against them they should let them be. Nigerian football is suffering because security agencies are harassing NFF officials, they cannot sit for one day and administer the sport they were elected to manage. Everyday in the life of Nigerian football administrators is fraught with confusion and uncertainty. How can they think right under such circumstance?” Egbe asked.
In a recent function, Nduka Irabor regretted that the former sports minister, Solomon Dalung, rather than seek ways to develop the game appeared more interested in monies raised by the Federation from sponsors. He also regretted that even sponsors of the game were hounded, wondering how funds would be raised for the growth of the game under the circumstances in Nigeria. NFF has had their own problems especially from those who were expected to support the game. It has been so messy.
But aside the politics that appears to be muscling them, have they led well on real technical matters like control and selecting and guiding the coaches well?
From all indications the country’s football is at its lowest ebb. It surely needs help and only knowledgeable Nigerians with genuine love for the sport can bailout the suffering sport and save the teeming youths who see football as their only hope to self realisation from going astray. The present board can do better if they change their ways and if those politicking with the game can exercise some restraint. For now, Nigerian football appears the victim.