By Segun Odegbami
If I were the person in charge of sports in Nigeria I would instigate the banishment to Sambisa Forest of any football administrator that dares to suggest that the country imports another foreign coach to handle any of the country’s national football teams.
It is now clear to all that the damage done to the psyche of the Nigerian people in the past 6 years, under a German coach that could not perform, is incalculable, saddling an entire country with the humiliating burden of being a party to what amounted to ‘419’, a scam, paying for services not rendered, and making Nigerians, known globally for being smart, streetwise and well-educated, look like fools and bungling school children before a bemused world.
In the end, having learnt their lesson, Nigeria still finds that it is still inextricably tied to an asphyxiating contract that hangs around the neck of the country’s football, slowly sucking its blood whilst the ‘vampire’ lounges by a private swimming pool in Germany laughing at the country’s stupidity.
Some nights ago, I realized that Nigeria is not alone in this shameful situation. Ghana is in a similar fix. This is a neighbouring country that has a rich documented history and a solid foundation of international and domestic football, and a very sophisticated, enlightened and knowledgeable followership of the game.
Both countries have boarded similar boats, and have been sailing in similar turbulent seas; both have also suffered from the affliction of not knowing when to shed off the cloak of colonial mentality, that everything indigenous is not good enough, and anything foreign is better; both have stuck to foreign coaches to handle their national football teams; and both have now failed woefully. The debris of their failures now leaves a foul smell of foolishness in the air.
The case of Ghana is even better to understand as the coach initially led the Black Stars to a successful World Cup outing some years ago. Unfortunately, reality has been unraveled before Ghanaians in the past few days, that the World Cup success was a smokescreen. The country is now paying the price for their short-sightedness with, probably, the most humiliating defeat in their history, losing to a team that hardly exists in practice, has no records of any sort in African football, has never played or a won match in any championship in their history, a little-known island-country in the Indian Ocean called Comoros Island.
Football may be just a game and matches are unpredictable, but some things are just not acceptable. Like Ghana losing to Comoros Islands.
In my close to half a Century relationship with African football I have not encountered Comoros Islands in any football competition. Even now, I have had to activate the google search engine to confirm that the island is actually in Africa, and is not some exotic faraway Polynesian paradise in the Pacific. This country of less than a million inhabitants dealt Ghana a most humiliating defeat, reducing the great Black Stars, with their constellation of professionals in several top European clubs, to bungling school boys.
The worst part of this whole scenario is the reported story of the frustration of the Ghanaian Minister of Sports who found himself unable, like his Nigerian counterpart some weeks ago, to extricate his country from the stranglehold of a contract document signed with the foreign coach that led the country down this humiliating path, that makes Ghanaians look stupid – a contract without a clause about how to get rid of a non-performing coach without emptying their country’s treasury.
I read about the reports from Ghana and realise that Nigeria, a country of people globally renowned for being smart and streetwise, is also still unable to unshackle itself from a similar contract, with the shadow of Gernot Rohr still hovering over the country. Nigeria is yet to pay the German his severance fees. The country might have to empty its treasury to do so, or end up in the jail of FIFA.
Yet, even as the matter remained unsettled, another plan was being hatched to hire another foreign coach to take over the same team. There was obviously a ‘madness’ virus in the air. Did anyone think Nigerians will accept being taken down the same old, tested and failed path again?
What is wrong with Nigeria and Ghana, these two so-called African football giants, that makes them fall for such cheap crap, a scam, clearly designed to feast the beasts of corruption? Why would these two countries that are struggling against poverty in their land and amongst their people engage in such blatant and reckless financial brigandage that attract no consequence to the perpetrators?
Ghana and Nigeria are close neighbours along the West African coastline, intricately connected culturally, socially and economically. Both countries were colonised by the same Great Britain, with similar political foundations, to a large extent. The foundation of their football is also similar, originally grounded in British tradition, honed by England’s legendary, dribbling wizard, Sir Stanley Mathews, who went round some African countries in the 1950s to influence and glamorize the game and establish the tradition.
Both countries became the fiercest rivals on the football field but remained the best of friends outside it. They must be taking pages of lessons from their common experiences at AFCON 2021. At this point, their interest must be beyond the trophy. It must include confronting the demons of corruption, of slave mentality, of self-inflicted inferiority complex, and of not valuing their own.
Ghanaians are wondering why their country should have been parting with $35,000 Dollars every month (and for several years), to pay a coach who was constantly on ‘vacation’ abroad in the pretext of coaching a national team of players that are all based in Europe and unavailable for any coaching.
Nigeria’s case was worse. Nigeria was paying her own German coach $45,000 Dollars every month for 6 years. Do not try to convert to the local currency. You will lose your sanity if you do, realizing that the humongous sum, deployed wisely, could have changed the lives of thousands of Nigerian footballers at the grassroots. The thought is so annoying.
After 3 matches in the Cameroon, the light of the Black Stars has been dimmed. The team has returned home in tatters. The foreign Coach waits to collect the rest of his booty and to return to his narrow interests in old Yugoslavia.
At the same time, the Super Eagles are on a new high with a Nigerian coach at the head of a consortium of other Nigerian assistants in a wholly indigenous technical team, cruising confidently, soaring high, playing football of the Nigerian brand and looking like potential champions already. It will not surprise anyone if the team gets to the final rounds and even wins the coveted trophy.
If they don’t win it, it would not matter, because useful lessons have already been learned and the ‘drugs’ of stupidity would have worn off.
Nigerians have seen enough now not to return to the failure of their immediate past.
Personally, I was thinking of going to the streets to protest in the unlikely event of Nigerian administrators attempting to hire another foreign coach and further rape our collective intelligence. I have changed my mind. Now, I shall head for the civil courts to stop them.
The Super Eagles have become like good red wine, maturing nicely from match to match and making all Nigerians relieved and happy.
Even if the team were to lose at this point, they would have saved Nigerians from further humiliation and reckless financial brigandage. Already, they have shown possibilities of what the team can do and be when handled by their own coaches that understand their psychology and are grounded in the rich culture and tradition of Nigerian football.