NIGERIAN FOOTBALL ON CRUTCHES
The index of rot in our football has been there for all to see, but no one has cared to take the bull by the horns. A friend recently told me of the case of the private secretary of a friend of his who is the younger sister to a renowned Nigerian footballer. At the time this girl was employed as a secretary, she had finished her HND and youth service programme. When she started work as a secretary, a few years later, her elder brother was invited to play for the under seventeen Golden Eaglets! Now, pray, can the most brilliant or precocious child finish HND and youth service before the age of seventeen? And this was her elder brother of same father and mother.
The above is just a tiny speck of the overall rot in the system of football administration in Nigeria. Unfortunately, in football, this sort of hanky panky must eventually take its toll on the entire system. So, for instance, when the likes of Louis Figo, Ruis Costa, Victor Baya, etc of Portugal, who played the final of the Under 21 World Cup in 1989 with our own dear Nduka Ugbade, Tunde Charity, Mutiu Adepoju, e.t.c, moved on to greater heights in their football and only just retired from the international game, our own dear compatriots started their diminishing returns shortly after and have since fizzled out. The result is what we see in the Super Eagles today when we take grand papas to the World Cup and hope to do well.
The league from which we pick our players is also a cesspool of corruption. A situation when home teams 'take care' of officials and win most of their home games is a negative factor at horning the skills and talents of our footballers, hence we cannot depend on them for international competitions.
In the whole of South Africa 2010, (please prove me wrong), Nigeria should be the only team that did not go to the competition with a single home-based player. As a result, we inflict maximum damage on our football by these acts of crass indiscretion and corruption. Government definitely cannot fold its arms and watch this gradual decline into decay.
Football is no longer just a game. It is now the opium of many nations. But it was not designed to be so from the beginning. It is just that over the years, the dynamics of the game have changed by leaps and bounds and now the game evokes so much passion, so much altruism, so much bragging rights of a nation that governments all over the world cannot just keep their fingers away from the game. This is bound to be so for a game that has the potential of uniting a nation, bringing different tribes, colours and races together and bringing activities across the country to a halt for ninety minutes or so when the game is on. Trust politicians all over the world to look for the most potent tool to win the hearts of the people. It is Football.
In South Africa 2010, we have seen leaders all over the world travel to South Africa to watch their teams play. We saw Bill Clinton of the United States as an ambassador of Obama in South Africa; we saw the German Chancellor applauding the German team from the stands; we saw the Ghanian President watch his team beat the U.S in the second round; and our own President Goodluck Jonathan was not left out of our opening game with Argentina. In France, the French President held a meeting with Tierry Henry, the captain, after their disgraceful outing in South Africa. We can go on and on.
The problem is, try as hard as it can, FIFA cannot strictly keep governments out of football administration all over the world. FIFA has to wake up to that reality. National teams are the properties of their nations and the players are ambassadors extraordinaire. So it is understandable when President Goodluck Jonathan woke up one morning and initially applied the big stick by disbanding the Nigerian Football Federation and withdrawing the country from FIFA competitions for two years to enable us put our house in order.
For too long, we have pretended that government does not interfere with football when we know that all Secretaries-General of the NFA have been civil servants seconded from the Ministry of Sports; when we know that there is no Chairman of the Board that has ever emerged without the endorsement, support and sponsorship by government; and when we know that all funding of football come from the coffers of government.
If FIFA says there should be no government interference, why does the FIFA President accept to be received by Presidents in all countries where he visits? Why does he accept to be hosted, accommodated by the countries' Presidents instead of the Football Associations?
The point I am making is that, though interference by governments in football matters may not be the ideal thing, it has become the reality on the ground, considering the impact of the game in national and international affairs and the development of a nation and its youths.
The forward for our football is for the Committee set up by the Government to develop a blueprint for the future of the game in Nigeria that will concentrate on development of football at the grass roots, discovery of talents at this level, elimination of corruption at the Glass House, re-organization of our local league which is the engine room for the production of talents and putting full control of our football in the hands of local coaches who are exposed to best and current international standards.
For instance, granted that our system of registration of births is poor, but the age brackets of those who play in the under seventeen category can be easily verified.
For instance, the primary and secondary schools they attended can easily send a complete, certified register of the pupils or students who were classmates of the footballers to the NFA for verification before they are selected. Such a list can be verified by the Ministry of Education of a particular state (that is, if they keep records) before that footballer is drafted into the under seventeen team. No player who plays for the senior team of any local club should play in the under seventeen category. We know that player cannot be under seventeen.
For people to take interest in discovering young talents, any secondary school that first exposes any player to any inter-school competition should continue to get, at least, one percent of that player's transfer fees and wages, if the player later develops into a professional player and even if he plays for the biggest teams in Europe, until he retires. These suggestions are only skeletons. Flesh can be added to them and more suggestions can be offered by all of us as we all put hands on deck to rescue our football.