Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Nigerian football: The way forward

This article was first published online 6/29/2001, but the "rationes" therein is as relevant today as it was then. Sadly Nigeria football is trudging through the minefields after years in doldrums. The articles was a joint effort by members of the largest online fans for Nigeria national team: The Super Eagle of Nigeria...read on..

Nigerian football: The way forward Special memo to the Nigerian Football Association, Sport Ministry and the Presidency

Kudos needs to go to Cameroon on their recent victories. Their achievement in cleaning us out at home in the CAN finals was no mean feat, but following in our footsteps and emerging winners in the recent Olympic soccer tournament must awaken all Nigerians of ordinary prudence and common sense to the sheer reality that Nigerian football’s pre-eminence in Africa is now under serious challenge from a legitimate foe, a foe which also boasts something akin to Nigeria’s charisma.
We have always maintained that it is the joint responsibility of the Nigeria Football Association (NFA) and the Ministry of Sports to ensure the existence of an enabling environment for both the domestic game and the national team, allowing both to thrive and achieve their full potential. That it is the Cameroonians who are now showing the benefits of reasonably competent administration ought to be a pointer to anyone within both the Ministry of Sports and the NFA with a head on his shoulders that the time has come to get our act together. The days when it was said of our team "they succeeded in spite of poor administration" are still with us after so many years, but increasingly our players are finding success difficult to come by. The time for administrators to become visibly and consistently proactive enablers in the creation of this success has arrived.
It appears apposite to digress at this point and mention the recent plea by the NFA Secretary-General, Dr. Tijani Yusuf, for cooperation with the football house on the part of sections of the Nigerian public. The suggestion was that the general impression of the current NFA was negative. Be that as it may, it is sufficient to view Yusuf’s plea in the light of the Latin legal maxim “Res ipsa loquitur” [The thing speaks for itself]. Six years ago, Nigeria reached the zenith with the highest-ever FIFA official ranking of Number 5 in the world. Today, Nigeria has slipped to the lower reaches of the rankings, and lies within the forties region. One of the most difficult things for a self-respecting individual to do is to extend a hand of cooperation to a body that has been adjudged grossly incompetent by most rational organizational evaluation standards. That body and its functionaries must undergo a process of reorganization, recreation and reengineering which must not only be successful but also be seen to be successful.
Returning to the subject at hand, the Cameroonian approach now is somewhat reminiscent to the Nigerian approach under Clemens Westerhof. The higher profile of their opposition is what however draws attention thereto, whereas in Nigeria's case perhaps it has been easier for the not so discerning to overlook. The Eagles under Westerhof in his latter years were in 2 streams: the established Europe-based professionals, and the established local professionals with a sprinkling of neophyte Europe based professionals as well as those Europe-based professionals on the come back trail. This latter combination destroyed Ethiopia 6-0 in a CAN qualifier in Lagos, with Peter Rufai making his return and Sunday Oliseh debuting.
While the former combination tended to handle the bigger World Cup matches, the latter combination prosecuted the CAN qualification campaigns.
Playing internationally had the salutary effect of exposing the established local professionals not only to the intricacies of international football, but also giving them the opportunity to showcase their ability to scouts. Finidi George is a notable beneficiary of the opportunities created by this type of arrangement. The coruscating Friday Ekpo was not as fortunate however [due largely to claims, legitimate or otherwise, that he was too slow ... but as the former Leeds United and England midfield general Tony Currie, also accused of being too slow, once said, "You can't play intelligent football at 100 mph".]
What our present situation calls for, in a nutshell, is a series of changes in Nigerian football that will affect all aspects of the game from the highest to the lowest echelons. These changes are summarized in a series of steps set out below.
In the enlightened, long-term interest of Nigerian football, the Ministry of Sports must be divested of power of control over the NFA that decree 101 donates to it. This naturally means outright abrogation of the decree, if not particular amendment. The legal effect of abrogating the Decree will be to end the Sports Ministry's actual control of the NFA. This control is exercised via the NFA secretary, who is a direct employee of the Sports Ministry and is the personage who wields actual executive power. He answers to the Permanent Secretary of the Sports Ministry and the Minister of Sports. He is not answerable to the NFA chairman, who is merely a figurehead. Thus the NFA Chairman is very conveniently placed for our poniards, whereas the functionary responsible for actual implementation is not.
The NFA chairman runs for that office on a platform of ideas, competes for votes to win and implement his ideas. He is however in an invidious position because the success of his tenure depends on a civil servant who does not answer to him but wields the actual power. This must change.
With these changes, will come a stoppage of annual fiscal flow from the coffers of the Federal Government, but football organization in Nigeria more than has the wherewithal to fend for itself comfortably with proper and visionary management.
In the enlightened interest of our football, the NFA must hold fresh elections. From all available indications, the reign of Dominic Oneya thus far has seen "business as usual", and the general opinion is one of sore dissatisfaction with the reaction to Jo Bonfrere's allegation that the reason behind the Eagles' inactivity in terms of exhibition matches and friendly internationals is a greedy official's demands for monetary "satisfaction".
The reconstituted NFA MUST as a matter of urgency conduct a needs assessment. What are the needs of the domestic game? What are the desiderata? Many things spring to mind. Improved pitch quality, better refereeing, better player management and remuneration, more effective revenue generation via hoard advertising, the sale of TV broadcast rights [terrestrial and satellite], club sponsorship via shirt advertising, establishment by clubs of proper corporate structures in line with their official status as Public or Private Limited Companies [plc] duly registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission; ownership of stadia by clubs or lease agreements between clubs and the owners of the stadiums. The list goes on.
Here in the USA, a market seems to exist for football programming from third world countries. Many subscribe to RAI, Football Chileano, Telemundo and a host of others which show football matches during the weekends. Starved as we are for information on the young up and coming stars of the Nigerian game, and considering the esteem with which Nigerian players are held outside that country, it seems that the prospect of TV revenue going to clubs, and ultimately players –thereby giving a healthy shot in the arm to the matter of players’ welfare—is hardly a chimera. With the hundreds of thousands of Nigerians resident in such cities as New York and Houston, a satellite television market is guaranteed.
Dish Network / WebTV for instance, is open to programming from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, India, Egypt and various others [unlike, for example Directv which caters to what it considers a more demographically mainstream market]. The revenue flowing to both the clubs and the NFA from a TV deal involving an octopus of the size of DishNetwork or WebTV will more than compensate for the loss of central government revenue. A market also exists in Europe, with the large Nigerian community resident in England. Nigerians in the Diaspora are ready, willing and able to support Nigerian football in a variety of ways, including TV viewership.
The immediate benefits are as follows:
clubs will become less strapped for cash.
that being so, they will be better able to remunerate their players handsomely.
consequently, players will be more comfortable.
this will contribute to reducing the stampede of our best players abroad before they are ready.
furthermore, the clubs which apply their income wisely will be able to build up their infrastructure.
the possibilities opened up by this kind of opportunity will encourage clubs to explore other revenue-earning methods.
in the long run, privately-owned clubs will be expected to become self-sufficient, while state-owned clubs will also earn a measure of financial independence from the various government agencies to which they are attached.
The NFA, working closely with the clubs, MUST institute a 10-year development plan. This 10-year plan must be based on the outcomes gleaned from item 3 above. Each plan must be broken down into manageable component parts, thus permitting step by step progress assessment, fine-tuning, etc.
As far as professionalism in the league and its organizing body is concerned, all employees of both the NFA and the clubs must mandatorily attend biennial management training courses organized by a reputable management training organization of the NFA and clubs' choice.
Clubs should be expected to send their coaches on training courses in the top European soccer schools. In this regard, advocating a Dutch school is indicated chiefly because whereas our style originally was inherited from the British, our natural tendency is not towards the British style and we have developed a style of our own distinct therefrom. It is nowhere near the Italian catennacio, or the French flow or even the Spanish style, and our players lean towards flair rather than Germanic method, Nordic simplicity or Eastern European orthodoxy. The Dutch system appears to encourage a fusion of varying styles, and the Dutch influence on our game has been strong of late.
The NFA must create a full time position of Technical Director. The occupant of this position will be the chief architect of the tactical and technical development of Nigerian football. He will be responsible for ensuring that clubs organize viable feeder systems, coaching and scouting systems for youths, thereby exposing players at a very early age to the tactical and technical intricacies of the game. [This is important because, as a BASIC example: tackling is not a matter of technique only but also tactics. Take a player committing to a sliding tackle against a balanced opponent when he is the last man with only the goalkeeper to beat [technique] versus a player who, in the same situation, holds off until help has arrived before launching into his tackle [tactics plus technique]. If our young players can learn these kind of things at an early age, their level of tactical awareness as they mature will be superior to today’s current stars].
In other words, the Technical Director will attempt to influence the development, not of the league in terms of the tactics and techniques which each individual team chose to adopt, but rather of the players that enter the league even before they become Pro League professionals. This is the role the current Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier played within the French Football Federation, and the results have been a World Cup and European Championship victories. Giving credit only to Aime Jacquet and Roger Lemerre is thus ignoring the importance of Houllier's quiet background work over several years. The tactical nous and technical adeptness of the Anelkas, Vieiras, Petits, Desaillys and a host of others can be traced to the sterling work of Gerard Houllier in laying a general foundation for French football.
Imagine the impact on our league! And subsequently, on our national team! Such a person might be Chief Adegboye Onigbinde.
The rule should be established that all national age-grade selections MUST emanate from within the Nigerian league, YSFON and the secondary schools games. This will be a way to keep in line with FIFA's proposal to ban the sale of any player under the age of 18 years to another country. In fact if the rule is applied to ALL age grade selections, this age restriction will be increased to 21 years minimum.
We must encourage our young players to establish themselves in Nigeria first before they go abroad, for these reasons:
The trade in our young players is bad for our National team and football development in Nigeria because it leads to problems with call ups, creates a superiority complex amongst some players thereby causing disharmony, creates problems in player development, and is a factor in players’ exploitation by unscrupulous agents and clubs.
In order to fulfil the mandate to organize the local scene before soccer glory returns to Nigeria, we must recognise the importance of ensuring that our players have good grounding in the Nigerian league in the same way that the Keshis, Amunikes, Amokachis, Rufais, Shorunmus, Yekinis, Siasias and a host of others did before venturing abroad in pursuit of professional careers. It is noteworthy that even though we had mostly Europe-based professionals in our 1994 squads to the CAN and World Cup, most already had a good grounding at home before going professional overseas. Consider the goalkeepers and the entire back line during the 1994 World Cup finals: while all of them played professional soccer abroad they had made their mark at home.
It is recommended that only the full squad may be the exception to that rule.
The NFA must take steps, as the body responsible for the OVERALL organization of the Nigerian game [and not just the league], schoolboy football inclusive, to resuscitate the Principals' Cup competitions. We have all noted that the Principals' Cup is a veritable hunting ground for the best schoolboys, whom will in turn, hardened by serious inter-school, inter-local government and inter-state football, populate and drive the clubs, with the upper strata thereof wearing Nigeria’s colors eventually.
The Principals’ Cup has had a long and illustrious history, and the benefits accruing therefrom to Nigerian soccer have been innumerable. The likes of Sam Okpodu, Tarila Okorowanta, the star players of the Nwosu-Keshi era at St. Finbarrs, almost the entire complement of the late Christopher Udemezue’s Flying Eagles of 1983, the preponderance of whom would go on to win full honors for Nigeria: these are products of the Principals’ Cup. This competition must be brought back to life.
Our current football governing authorities need to get with the program. The issue at hand is a visionary overhauling of the administration, the creation of an efficient organization which will stimulate the proper development and deployment of talent.
Additionally, all those calling for Johannes Bonfrere’s head must tarry a while and reevaluate our situation with a critical, emotionless eye.
Since 1994 when Clemens Westerhof left Nigeria after the World Cup finals, we have had the following succeed him:
Shuaibu Amodu
Carlos Alberto Torres
Johannes Bonfrere
Philippe Troussier
Bora Milutinovic
Thijs Libregts
Johannes Bonfrere (again). This high turnover of Technical Advisers has been in the space of less than 6 calendar years.
It is not arguable at all that stability as a factor in progress and development in all fields of human endeavor is a sine qua non. Thus, if the aim in Nigeria is to restore Nigerian soccer to its former preeminence in the African and world game, then a continuation of the Technical Advisership merry-go-round is hardly indicated.
The complaints against Bonfrere has been well-documented in headlines and stories by such reputable papers as The Comet, The Guardian and The Vanguard, chief of which includes:
Bonfrere’s glaring lack of respect for his employers; and
Bonfrere’s unrepentant refusal to cast his eye on the domestic league for international quality talent.
It appears that Bonfrere’s attitude should not be condoned, because, in the first place, nowhere in the world do employees dictate to employers; and secondly Bonfrere’s brief as contained in his employment contract includes the task of developing domestic talent, a task which Clemens Westerhof, for all the criticism he endured during his tenure and has endured since, performed with remarkable sedulousness.
It appears that the NFA must now revisit this contract with Bonfrere in some sort of mandatory evaluation meeting, which would remind all parties involved of each one’s responsibilities.
The way forward for Nigerian football is arduous and filled with many tough decisions, which require not only to be made, but also to be correctly made. However, provided that the guiding principle, the prime directive, remains the enlightened best interests of Nigerian football, the end results should see a pleasing renaissance of our domestic and international game profiles.
Being of the old school, a return to the Sunday Dankaro days when Nigerian teams stalked the African continent like Alpha wolves will be the realization of a dream.
Tokunbo Ojo
‘Gbenga Aina
Osheiza Abdulmalik
Adeolu Adejokun
Placidus Amama
Tajudeen M. Balogun
Fisayo Fakunle
Peter Johnson
Dele Kilanko
Ladi Kukoyi
Rodney Lassiter
Hussein Mahmoud Wada
Lawrence Musa
Tokunbo Ojo Bode Olajumoke Femi Onibudo
George Oti
James Temidara
Ejovi Ughwanogho

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