I’m not a seer. But, I always strive to look dispassionately at trends in our sports. My submissions most times are spot on. At other times, they go haywire; I’m only human. Only our Creator is infallible. It is, however, easy to predict what is possible with the Super Eagles, especially when there is a needless tussle between the Sports Minister and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).. Why ministers stoop to hijack the functions of a lower-body still beats pundits hollow. I feel strongly that if the government can remove the NFF – and other sports bodies – from the ministry, football will blossom.
Ministers sustain their meddlesomeness in football administration because we are experts in looking at problems from their effects instead of identifying the causes. These ministers hide under the obnoxious Decree 101 to ensure that our soccer totters, putting their primary assignment of developing sports generally in abeyance. Other sports are in limbo while football, which should serve as the pivot to lift others financially ,is perpetually enmeshed in crises subtly sponsored by idle ministers seeking to annex the NFF for selfish reasons.
Appoint a minister today, next week, he visits the NFF. An itinerary, which are to visit players in Europe, irrespective of what happens in the domestic league is drawn up. Thereafter, the minister confronts the NFF, insisting on knowing how government’s cash is spent. Not done, he despatches letters to FIFA – with fifth columnists suggesting visits to Zurich – to find out if the global soccer body could compel the federation to tell the government how FIFA cash should be accounted for.
But such information is available on FIFA website at the press of the computer buttons. In the ministers’ entourage are former NFF members and those seeking to be members, having lost in the last elections. Why ministers fall into this trap remains a mystery. One of such ministers was caught on camera sitting down like a palace chief . He is watching as the Super Falcons players kneel down to count cash due to them. Is the minister saying that the ministry doesn’t have accounts department staff for this? What has happened to the bank transfer system? Is anyone, therefore, shocked that Super Falcons have the temerity to hold the country hostage all the time?
Ministers start their romance with the players during the qualification series, by lampooning the NFF chiefs publicly, if they err in the eyes of the minister. Did I hear you ask where the ministers and the players meet? No prize for getting it right. Our ministers are so busy that they always accompany the team to all trips no matter how inconsequential such matches are. We have witnessed instances where a minister caused a scene outside the country simply because NFF chiefs were not around to receive him. Such scenes where the ministers assert their powers, invariably, diminish the NFF men’s authority . With time, the players know where the authority lies, even as indiscipline sets in.
What our players dare not do in their European clubs, they do with swagger here, knowing that they have a chummy relationship with the ministers, who don’t flinch in reversing decisions taken by the NFF. This minister/Eagles’ stars’ relationship got to a ridiculous level ahead of the France ’98 World Cup, where key players were junketing around the country and Europe in presidential jets, while other countries were in training.
Things started going awry for the Eagles in France when a certain minister directed the NFA, as it was then known to sack Phillipe Troussier, even when he got us the ticket for the Mundial, with a game to spare. Troussier’s sack arose from complaints from key players of the Atlanta 96 gold winning team who lost their places in the ‘’White Witch Doctor’s’’ 3-5-2 tactical formation. For that minister, it didn’t matter if the Olympic gold medallists lost their form or were injured. All that Nigeria needed to win the World Cup was to appear in France and announce to others that they were the defending Olympic Games winners, take a bow and the referee will signal the end of the game. Really! What about the defending champions, Brazil , what would they do? They won’t just come to France.
With Troussier out, the players chose who they wanted to such an extent that even before the first ball was kicked, we knew certain players (permit me not to mention them) won’t kick the ball. Why we left them in the squad underscores how powerless the NFA men were before the players. This indiscipline got to a head when players insisted that they be paid $15,000 up front before the round of 16 game against Denmark, which ended in a 4-1 trouncing in favour of the Danes. In France, the then minister had to return to Nigeria for funds; the dark goggled Head of State, the late Sani Abacha, died shortly before the Mundial began.
We learned no lessons from the 1998 misadventure, hence the fiasco in 2002. In fact, matters got to a head that players were ready to exchange blows with ministry officials. The coaches and players were at daggers drawn against the ministry chiefs, who insisted on dealing with the team directly and not through a ‘’corrupt’’ NFA. Had Nigeria gone to the Japan/Korea 2002 World Cup with the players we had then, we would have done well.
The ministry tigers tore the squad apart under the guise of instilling discipline, leaving the veteran coach deployed to take charge of the team in a precarious position in Japan/Korea. Some of the banned players were our best. The Mundial in Asia threw up Osaze Odemwingie, Vincent Enyeama, Femi Opabunmi and Julius Aghahowa. Nigeria would have done better, if Austin Okocha had played with some of the absentees, such as Sunday Oliseh, Finidi George et al. Taribo West, sarcastically described the Eagles squad to Asia as ‘’junk.’’ -Whatever that meant. The ministers and the ministry chiefs render NFF men otiose, hence the difficulty in instilling discipline. If these three groups just forget their interest, football will be the best for it.
The intrigues of 2002 dovetailed into the new NFF and remained unabated until we failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup held in Germany. The 2010 World Cup wasn’t any different; in fact it was worse. The coach who secured the World Cup ticket, like in 2002, wasn’t allowed to handle the team at the Mundial in South Africa. In fact, the contraption called Presidential Task Force, in like other crises times took charge. So ridiculous was it that at the Mundial in South Africa, Nigeria had two presidential committees. Laughable, isn’t it? Don’t ask me about the NFF chiefs, who were hounded to face the court. These NFF men are free today, but the trauma of that exercise, especially spending Christmas and New year in Kuje Prison, contributed largely to the death of one of them (Ma soro ju).
Since 1994, every minister has visited FIFA’s headquarters, asking the same questions to underscore how busy they are. We wasted two World Cup appearances in 2014 (Brazil) and 2018 (Russia), bickering over leadership at the Glasshouse, leaving undone the task of assembling a good team for the future. Isn’t it striking that it is only in football that we are talking about a decree as an instrument to govern the game? Ministers who should be worried about this development and call for its change, would rather it stays for them to have unhindered intervention in how the game is governed. But for the FIFA Statutes, we would have been changing NFF personnel faster than light.
No one is shocked by the Eagles’ refusal to attend the press conference before the game against Guinea. Our players don’t enjoy peaceful settings in camp. They enjoy rocking the boat to show their importance. Such instances when there is a crisis in camp increases the cash they take home. When they are not crying about the quality of jerseys, they are rejecting hotels or are insisting on sitting with the authorities to decide what they will earn in the latter stages of the competition.
Rather than call their bluff, we stoop to get them to play on their terms, which most times are ridiculous, compared to what other countries pay their players in the same competition. Nigeria is the only country where the President talks to the players to boost their morale. This writer won’t blame the NFF chiefs who bend over backwards to get the President to speak with them. Such gestures lessen the tension in the camp.
Unfortunately, this set of players overstepped their welcome with their protest, even after speaking with the President before the opening game against Burundi. The President is said to have assured them that he had signed all their requests. If the players couldn’t believe Mr President, who then can they trust?
We should stop this show of shame by our footballers. Our players ought to apologise to the nation for their disgraceful action despite Mr. President’s assurance.
This writer is tempted to suggest a code of conduct for the players, but won’t because they are adults. Instead, the ring leaders should be eased out. Manager Gernot Rohr should live in Nigeria, where he can watch the domestic game to pick younger players.
Enough of this nonsense from our footballers (both sexes) playing overseas. Nigeria won’t cease to be a sovereign nation if we don’t participate in soccer competitions.
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