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Who will save Nigerian football from itself?


“If we had beaten Italy, we would have won the tournament,” Emeka(Enyadike) says with conviction. Certainly teams which Nigeria would have played to reach the final (Spain in the quarters, Bulgaria in the semis) were not as strong as Italy. But even if they had managed to reach the final-and that’s a rather large “if” they still would have had to beat Brazil to win the trophy. It wasn’t the greatest Brazilian side, but I think Emeka is being a bit unrealistic. “We could have beaten that Brazilian side,” he insists. “We really were that good.”-Steve Bloomfield (2010), in his book AFRICA UNITED-How Football Explains Africa.

I attended the African football executive conference last week. I was one of the speakers and I had a lot to say about how African football can become an industry like it is in Europe and elsewhere. However, deep down, I knew I had no moral right to advise anyone from anywhere else in Africa.

For just one reason. I was Nigerian.

How do you go from winning the Africa Cup of Nations in such a spectacular manner to so much chaos back home? Who will save Nigerian football from itself? Somebody explain to me why we cannot manage success? Why have we constantly failed to realise our potential? What is wrong with our administrators and what is wrong with us?

My rise to international acclaim as a football analyst coincided with the emergence of Nigeria as a force in world football in the 90s. While Nigerians celebrated, I remember saying on national TV that our achievements (winning Afcon 1994, qualifying for the World Cup back-to-back and getting to the second round at USA ‘94 and France ‘98 as well as winning the Atlanta 96 Olympic Gold medals) were not planned. They just happened.

Many were surprised and I said it shows that, if we can achieve so much without a plan, we could win the World Cup if we planned.

The quote at the beginning by English journalist and writer Steve Bloomfield was from a whole chapter where he focused on Nigeria and quoted extensively from an interview he had with me. I met Steve in Abuja where I stayed with the Super Eagles in the Nicon Hotel ahead of their World Cup qualifiers with Kenya. Steve says I was a bit unrealistic there but let’s put the argument to bed.

Nigeria already beat Bulgaria 3-0 earlier in group D, at USA 94 and beat them again 1-0 at France 98. Nigeria had a 3-2 victory over an even stronger Spain at France 98 and who will forget the 4-3 defeat of Brazil at Atlanta 96, complete with Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Bebeto.

What has happened since we won the Afcon?

First the NFF takes so many backward steps since we won the Nations Cup. I did not know whether to laugh or cry when I heard they had sacked some of the backroom staff. One report said they wanted to cut it down to conform with Fifa standards. What Fifa standards? What is the backroom staff of Brazil and England?

Every one of those 17 backroom staff are important and how do you even include the video analyst in an era of statistics and technology in coaching? The NFF is wrong in many ways and because I know a lot of them personally, I have often told them so. They need to think of how far we can go as a nation rather than allow trivial issues to cloud their decisions. I am disappointed.

Keshi should be allowed to choose and keep the staff that he is comfortable with and please do not give me the excuse of no money? The Super eagles are the biggest brand in Africa and it is an indictment on their lack of marketing vision that they have sold all the Super Eagles cheap. I have said this so many times.

Since 1990, how many players have been transferred from Nigeria? 10 000? 50 000? Where are the records? Let’s say for example that we have 30 000 and the minimum transfer fee is $50 000. You then have $1.5 billion. Think about it. Convert that to naira and you have one of the most significant bases of the football economy or industry.

How many chairmen are there? Who are the stakeholders? Who are the club owners? How can a league with so much potential continually self-destruct? Do they realise that the league is supposed to belong to the clubs? Why can’t we just develop a system like the PSL or the KPL? They are great examples of focused and committed leadership.

If I didn’t grow up in Nigeria, I would think we should excuse them because we just launched professional football in 1990, so it’s only 23 years and we are still learning. Give me a break. Our league probably did not have good grounds in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s but we had structures. We had real clubs and even when they were owned by government they were well run by the chairmen. Their team and players were not owed salaries and we had a full house. The stadia were packed to the rafters and the football was entertaining.

The people who purport to be club owners now really amuse me. When they hold a meeting and make a decision, the sports commissioners and governors rule otherwise.

Pray, how can a country with so much talent and a solid football pedigree continue to take 2 steps forward and 50 steps backward? Don’t ask me why I keep asking questions? Don’t ask me what have I done about it? I have been on the board of a so called professional football club, Sharks, where I was a director for five years. We tried to instill professionalism and it gave me deep insights into the running of the professional league.

I also contested the 2006 NFF Elections and it was impossible to get elected with the system in place, no matter how great your ideas.

We are always in the news for the wrong reason. Our federation and the league have been in court so much you wonder what exactly they are fighting for or over.

We do not have professional football in Nigeria. Show me leadership. Who will tell those in the clubs, state FAs and the NFF, and all who claim they are stakeholders, that football is an industry? Who will save Nigerian football from itself?

What do you think? Leave your comments below.

Catch me on Twitter: @EmekaEnyadike


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