The most respected coach in the world, in clubside football today is Jose Mariunho. He is a young (47 years old), dynamic, impatient and well focused coach. He is loquacious, and boastful, but yet delivers. He is a goal-getter and he knows how to use his boys to get whatever he wants. He has done it three consecutive times, and therefore there is nobody who can doubt his credentials as a superb coach. However, he has many mysteries and many sides to his glorious footballing prowess.
One of such secrets is that he has the greatest respect for African footballers-many onlookers do not seem to know this. He said that African footballers are talented and good. He used Didier Drogba to achieve his feats in Chelsea and Samuel Eto in Inter Milan.
Today, all over Europe, the key players in UEFA and Leagues are either Africans, people of African descent or South Americans. This got to an alarming point three years ago when Michel Platini, the Chairman of UEFA, had to complain aloud, at a press conference, about sports nationalism and the need to have Europeans playing for European teams. I guess his worry or fear is that in no time, what is called European football may not have a single European playing on the pitch any longer. However, what Platini failed to realise is that increasing globalisation and the attitude to football culture has changed globally. This has made even such countries as South Korea and Japan to be footballing nations to be reckon with.
In the 1970s, Football League in Nigeria was very strong, stadia were often filled to capacity with spectators to watch Nigerian clubside and many footballers distinguished themselves and played out their lives in order to entertain the spectators and win matches. All the major players who won Nigeria’s laurels and accolades globally came from the local League with the exception of Justin and John Fashanu. Stationery Stores, Raccah Rovers, Kano Pillars, Bendel Insurance, IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan, and Rangers International of Enugu, were among the key local teams that produced some of the best players for Nigeria. Such as Yakubu and Ismaila Mabo, Haruna Ilerika, Christian Chukwu, Thompson Usiyen, Segun Odegbami, Adokiye Amasiemeka, Aloysius Atuegbu, Sam Ojebode, Emmanuel Okala, Steven Keshi, Sam Okpodu and Stanley Okoronkwo to mention a few. Odegbami’s footballing prowess is comparable to those of Pele and Maradona, but he had not international media to showcase his.
Those folks played with all their strength and talents, they took risks, incurred injuries, and some of them became incapacitated for life. They all played for the country with patriotic zeal without expecting anything in return. The first and major material break through for them was when Shehu Shagari, as President of Nigeria gave each of the winners of the 1980 edition of the African Cup of Nations a house each at FESTAC Town. Then Nigeria was lucky with committed coaches especially Father Tico and Otto Gloria and to a lesser extent Troussier. Today football values and attitude to football in Nigeria have changed-from the football management body, to players, to spectators or audience and then the coach. I shall examine each of these albeit briefly.
The Nigerian Football management body has remained as still remains an edifice of ineptitude, spinelessness and monumental corruption. The other day I read the article of Sonala Olumhense, the well respected Nigerian journalist, in The Guardian, entitled “Yar’Adua Time”. In it, he exposed the nature and dimension of corruption in our sports agencies and in particular the corrupt activities of Dr. Amos Adamu. He graphically illustrated how Dr. Adamu planted his surrogates in the NFF such that even after his exit, his interest is still well protected. It is over year that Olumhense wrote that piece and I have not heard EFCC making any move to arrest or interrogate Dr. Adamu. Our Football management body is just a conduit pipe for siphoning money. I have a friend who once told me that he preferred to be a Minister in one of only three Ministries viz: Ministry of Petroleum Resources; Ministry of Police Affairs and Ministry of sports. He alleged that the corruption and theft going on in those Ministries can solve the poverty of 1 billion people in the world.
The approach of the football management body is that of ad-hocism, looking to foreign players rather than building locally from the scratch, establish football academies and nurseries to train and groom players locally. They prefer ready-made, i.e. harvesting Nigerian players who have managed to travel to Europe to play big football. This is a wrong approach. More than 80% of those who played for the Egyptian National Team in the Cup of Nations in Ghana two years ago and in Angola early this year, are all local breed. The Egyptian national coach is a local breed himself. The local vs. foreign dichotomy is killing Nigerian football, so is the monumental corruption in the football sector. The entire football management body often travel to watch Nigeria play. We saw an occasion where even the Minister of Sports himself was the one carrying the raw cash that was meant for players’ match bonuses. This is a shame, a complete disgrace. Those in our sports Ministry and in the football section have no clue about how to manage football in the 21st century. Many of them are not even up to date with the latest ethical and professional rules relating to football management. All they are concerned about is how to they grab money and build mansions and live a good life. This is sad, it is unfortunate.
Many of the players themselves play for money not out of commitment to the nation. Many of them are afraid of injury (justifiably so) and as such do not give their best. Some of them constitute themselves into a cabal and often play the politics of who should wear the national colours and who should be left out. They complained about march bonuses even before they played any match. Sometimes, it was alleged, they deliberately decided to play woefully in order to disgrace the country. This is unpatriotic, as it is unprofessional. We must do something to rekindle the patriotism and commitment that comes with wearing the national colours. It should be noted though that all the blame must not go to the players as many of them have been unfairly treated. Many of them whose careers ended injury while playing for Nigeria were not compensated or treated. The list of such players is endless and in order not to embarrass them, I will not mention them.
The audience too have their portion of the blame. Take for example the Nigerian Football Supporters club, which has become a huge racket. Entry into it is impossible expect you are politically connected or you are a friend, make or female to the big Oga. The Nigerian football fans are also no longer keen about local league. Every where you go, you find make-shift tents with small boards advertising the European matches for Chelsea vs. Man Utd., Liverpool vs. Arsenal etc; and advertising viewing fee is N100. Nobody says or knows anything about the Nigerian League
Nobody is keen about our local players; nobody even knows the names of the locals who are doing very well at their clubsides. The Local League has been allowed to die by the private sector-drivers who were brought to take it over. The football spectators have also not allowed the League to grow because of their contempt for local football. Unless all hands are on deck to develop the local league it will never grow. Unless we come to the realisation that football is meant for entertainment and national pride, and our football managers eschew corruption and nepotism, we will never grow.
This brings me to the final issue I wish to address which I think is most epiphenomenal to the entire football crisis but it ahs been made to look as if it is the main problem viz the matter of Shuaibu Amodu. Coach Amodu is not the problem of Nigeria’s football; rather he is a victim of it. We often make the mistake of always reducing the crises in Nigerian football to a coach. We are being narrow-minded and reductionist, if we think so. It is better we took a global view of matters. We have been unfair to Amodu. He took Nigeria to the Cup of African Nations in Mali and he was relieved of his post as the Coach and his team was taken over and handed over to Coach Onigbinde to take to Korea-Japan, after he had indeed won the qualifier to the world cup. Again he won the qualifier to the world cup in South Africa, then he was demoted and Lagerback was brought in. yet, The Swedish former national coach from the list release by FIFA is using all the players Amodu put together. What value could Lagerback have added to the Nigerian team between March when he was hired and June 11, when the world cup would commence? Second, look at what Lagerback is being paid. He earns in one month what Amodu earned in 10 months. Is this not meant to inflict inferiority complex on Amodu? Imagine even the gap between what Amodu earned and what the players he was coaching earned in Europe. Amodu did not earn half of what Steven Keshi earned as the National Coach of The Togolese team. This is unfair, it is psychologically upsetting and defeating. What is worse, nobody has taken time to study Amodu’s football profile. He beat France in their own home. How many matches did Amodu lose through out the qualifier for the world cup in South Africa? These are the indicators to measure whether he is good or bad.
The more important point is that, Nigeria must come to accept that we cannot give what we do not have. At the current form of performance, our individual players are not so good. This is not Amodu’s making and it is nobody’s making. But it only points to a challenge, that if you need something you have to work towards it. Brazil already has three sets of youth in the academy that they are growing for future world cup. It is the set that produced Lionel Messi, that played Nigeria in the under 21 finals that are now ruling Argentina and the world. Out of that set, in Nigeria Mikel Obi, seem to be the only one that is thriving well. What does this tell us about our sports and football profiles?
Our “fire brigade” approach football and sports generally, the monumental corruption that have remained uninvestigated and unchecked in the sports ministry and sports industry in general have not helped the country. We must be sober about this, and lower our expectations and ultimately go back to the drawing board. Nigeria is a football loving country; however we are not the only country that loves football. As it is today, every country is taking football seriously and investing in it. That is why Zambia almost caused an upset in Angola. Cote D’Ivoire, Senegal and D.R of Congo and now football countries that we cannot ignore. That is the nature of the sports that we have to be less arrogant and more sober and serious about how to overhaul our football nay sports as a whole.