Sunday, 30 October 2011

Slow death of Nigerian footballNews analysis

Black September was a phrase associated with
the terrorist incident at the 1972 Munich
Olympics. The darkest moment of the
Olympics was painted when 11 Israeli athletes
as well as a West German Policeman and
seven of the 11-man gang of the Palestinian
terrorist group were killed.
“Black October” may be an apt description of
the happenings of October 2011 in Nigerian
football. For four consecutive weekends,
Nigerian teams were battered in fixtures that
would have hitherto been mere walkovers. Even
then, the first weekend had perhaps the
bleakest independent anniversary celebrations
as it was literarily done behind closed doors,
literarily setting the tones for the next
The elimination at home of the Super Eagles
from the 2012 African Nations Cup was
followed by a similar ousting, at home, of
Enyimba from the CAF Champions League.
Sunshine Stars also lost at home to signal
their imminent elimination from the CAF
Confederation Cup while the Super Falcons
also surrendered their claims to absolute
supremacy in the continent’s women football.
Their elimination from the All Africa Games
women football event last May has now been
followed up with another ousting from the
Olympic Games.
A miserable football season for the country
finally reached its crescendo at the weekend
with Sunshine Stars of Akure predictably
crashing out of the CAF Confederation Cup
just a day after another musical chair was
observed in the managerial arm of the Super
Eagles. Coach Samson Siasia has taken the
familiar route most of his predecessors have
had to pass through, leaving the helms of the
national team via sack, following a loss on
the pitch. The doors are now invitingly opened
for his successor who will in a short while,
suffer the same fate. It is even been suggested
that the new helmsman to be recommended
on Tuesday by the Technical Committee of
the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, and
possibly ratified the next day by the Executive
Committee, will be an interim coach.
Therefore, we have been forewarned of
another change.
So the Super Eagles, in 18 months since
January 2010, will be having their sixth coach,
making the job, one with a high turnover. For
the purpose of getting the picture clearer, the
following handled the team for the period
under reference: Amodu Shaibu (till January
2010); Dan Amokachi on interim (March
2010 in the game with Congo DR and the
WAFU Cup competition in Abeokuta); Lars
Largaback, March to June 2010; Austin
Eguavoen, August to October 2010 and
Samson Siasia November 2010 to October
Going through Niall Edworthy’s book, “The
Second Most Important Job in the Country”,
which is the story of England football
managers from 1982 to 1999, the magnitude
of the heat that Samson Siasia and the others
who have passed through the rigours on
managing the Super Eagles will be
appreciated. In one breath, you are hailed into
a position. Then comes a dramatic twist of
fate, when you are hauled out of position.
Coaching job is often seen as a thankless job.
The team takes the glory for victories; the
manager takes all the blames for setback,
which is often followed with a sack. That
explains why coaching is the most unstable of
all arrays of jobs in football business. A
former Scot player and manager, Tommy
Docherty, in the Guinness Dictionary of
Sports Quotations remarks: “There’s a hell of
politics in football. I don’t think Henry
Kissinger (a charismatic former US Secretary
of State) would have lasted 48 hours at Old
Trafford”. That explains the weight of
politics in football and in football coaching.
Reasons for sacking are sometimes very
confusing. More often than not; a coach
heralded with fanfare into position is given
the boot midway into his assignments. This is
exemplified in two of the three times that
Amodu Shaibu had been sacked from the
Super Eagles.
Sometimes it is just to satisfy ego or just for
sheer mob action, especially when the national
team lost an important match. Adegboye
Onigbinde lost his position in 1984 when he
came back from the Africa Nations Cup in
Cote d’Ivoire where the then Green Eagles were
runners-up to Cameroon. Incidentally, that
remains the best achievement by a Nigerian
coach in the African Nations Cup history.
But often, the result that triggered the sack
of a coach is a climax of accumulating
decadence in Nigerian football. The signals
of the slow, but steady decline of Nigerian
football have remained so apparent while the
administrators pretend all was well.
In the past one year for instance, Nigerian
teams only qualified for the Women World
Cup and the Under 20 World Cup, both of
which the Nigerian teams did not go far. All
the four clubs failed the continent. The
Under 17 team did not even qualify for the
continental championship, let alone making
it to the Mexico global final. The Under 20
and Under 17 women teams had qualified
before the present dispensation. Even then,
only the Under 20 women team made it to the
final match.
The domestic premier league had been
running epileptically, having one of the
longest seasons ever. A season that kicked off
amid crisis last November is already
stretching sluggishly into the 13th month.
There is nothing to suggest it will not get to
December before terminating when other
leagues are almost half way into the next
season. Little wonder, Nigerians have turned
their attention to the more entertaining
foreign leagues. No wonder, Nigerian players
who fail to get to the big leagues of Europe will
opt for the lesser ones even in war ravaged
zones of Sudan and Israel than grace the
turfs at home.
Another evidence of the comatose state of
Nigerian football is the inability of the
country to qualify for the African Nations
Championship (CHAN) which is for players
who ply their trade in local leagues of the
respective African countries. With two
editions gone, Nigeria has never qualified.
The Nigerian team was eliminated last year
by the team from Niger Republic, pointing to
the depth that the game has sunk into in
It has to take the loss of the qualifying ticket
for the 2012 African Nations Cup for the
appalling standard of Nigerian football to get
attention. The national chief coach has to be
the scapegoat. It is hoped that Stephen Keshi,
who appears to be the next in line for the
Nigerian job, will be given enough time to
execute what ever programme he has.
Co-incidentally, the coach with the longest
stay has had the best result so far for Nigeria.
Clemens Westerhof guided Nigeria to 52
matches and succeeded in qualifying the
country for the World Cup for the first time
in 1993. Perhaps the story would have been
different had he been sacked in his first cap
when the loss to Cameroon also knocked
Nigeria out of the 1990 World Cup.
In his first African Nations Cup appearance,
his Super Eagles crumbled miserably 5-1 to
Algeria in the opening game of the 1990
World Cup, the biggest loss Nigeria ever
suffered in the competition in recent history.
He was left to continue and he got the team
to the final match and lost narrowly, 1-0 to
the same home team, Algeria.
Frequent changing of national team
handlers was one of the reasons FIFA chiefs
often give for Nigeria’s poor performances in
the last three World Cup finals (1998, 2002
and 2010) that Nigeria attended. Since 1991,
Wednesday’s possible announcement of a
new national team coach will be the 19th
change of guard! Nineteen appointments in
20 years paint a picture of disorganisation of
the Nigerian football.
In comparison, the countries with the best
achievements in football have had fewer turn
over of coaches. Spain, the current World Cup
holders has six coaches since 1991, while Brazil
who have won the World Cup twice within the
period under consideration, has had seven
coaches as against Nigeria’s 19 changes.
Perhaps, those are non-African countries,
hence the relative stability and consequent
Egypt is undoubtedly the most successful in
African football in the past 20 years,
winning the African Nations Cup four times,
three of which were back-to-back. Added to
that is the domination of the Egyptian clubs
in both the CAF Champions League and the
Confederation Cup competitions. Yet, the
teams were almost 100 per cent home-made.
The Egyptians, who recently appointed an
American as their national coach, have had
13 changes since 1991. Most of the coaches
have long stint. One of such is the legendary
El- Gohary who was appointed thrice on those
13 changes.
Cameroon, tottering like Nigeria, has also not
won the African Nations Cup since 2002 and
the clubs too, have long ceased to be among
the power-houses of African football. Like
Nigeria, they are big absentees at 2012
African Nations Cup. They also share the
same quality of having a high turnover of
coaches. Since 1991, Cameroon has also
appointed their 20th national team coach.
The foundation of the current state of
Nigerian football had long been laid. There is
no definite football calendar. Fixtures are
constantly altered on the excuse that there
are clubs playing continental matches as if
other African countries don’t have teams on
the same assignment. Yet, those other
countries don’t experience system failure.
Imagine what the scenario would have been if
the bulk of players for the national team were
to be drawn from the domestic league. The
Premier League would have had to be cancelled
outright. What would have been the situation,
this year for instance, if Kaduna United
and Kano Pillars had not been eliminated
early in the continental contests? The
number of outstanding matches for the
Nigerian Premier League would have been
How then have the English Premiership
(that was repackaged at about the same time
Nigeria’s current experiment on professional
football began) been able to cope with the
seven clubs they have in the European
Champions League and the Europa League?
The eighth club, Birmingham, in the Europa
League, plays in the Npower Football League
Championship. Yet, apart from the
premiership and the other league, these clubs
also feature in the Carlings Cup, making their
calendar even more congested than ours.
Can’t we learn a little from how the league is
organised elsewhere and get ourselves better
organised and make Nigerian football a little
more appealing?
Beyond the disorganisation of the league, had
been the squabbles over marketing rights,
robbing the league of its live wire.
The NFF are more engrossed in a battle for
survival than marshalling plans to advance
Nigerian football. Until the right
atmosphere exists, the downward trend in
Nigerian football will go on free fall. We
don’t need to go far to search for solutions to
the ills that have been ravaging our football.
All that is needed is just go back to the shelves
where past reports are gathering dust and
having undisturbed rest. There is the Amanze
Uchegbulam Report of 1999 which deals with
the composition of the age-graded teams and
the attendant falsification of ages. The
implementation of that report would have
changed the face of Nigerian football today.
One may add: What has happened to the
Emeka Omeruah inquiry into the reasons for
our failure at the 2004 Olympics? It was
meant to provide possible ways to turn around
Nigeria’s flagging sports’ image. Sadly, such
reports that could have helped in saving the
nation the recurring pains occasioned by
constant failure are never implemented.
Before Omeruah’s one-man panel, there had
been the S.O. Williams Panel in the early
1980s. One will not be surprised if another
inquest is established to unearth the cause of
the current free fall of Nigerian football.
Yet, the solutions are in some documents
tucked in various shelves.
In 1989 when Chief Effiom Okon, who is
today the oldest living man to have been
involved in Nigerian football administration,
headed an interim administration of the then
NFA, the management committee set up an
11- point agenda to be carried out. Even
though it is doubtful if they were implemented
before the committee was shoved aside, at least
10 of the 11 points are still relevant in today’s
The kernels of these points are hereby
•Examination of historical evolution of
football in Nigeria with a view to providing a
useful document for smooth football
administration. In an encounter with Chief
Effiom Okon who is now 87 years, he
affirmed that the NFA was older than what
the 1945 foundation date is suggesting.
•Working on a good package of incentives
for the locally-based footballers in order to tap
the best in them. It is a well-known fact that
the products of the domestic league have long
been made irrelevant in consideration for
national teams. Even, selection for the
Under 20 teams now extends to players
•Drawing up of regulations to check current
and future exodus of good footballers.
Nigerian players now even feel better playing
in war zones of ?Sudan, Israel and other
lesser-known football regions.
•To draw up a five-year programme to ensure
an orderly progress in our game. This point
speaks clear for itself. We are more
concerned in participation in competitions
more than developing our sports.
•To examine the remote and immediate causes
of recent haphazard preparations for
international engagements and suggest
measures to reduce such trend.
That was a 1989 scenario which is
manifesting in 2011 because no lesson was
learnt from history.
• To draw up necessary Code of Conduct for
all footballers in order to reduce cases of
indiscipline. Perhaps, the Enyeama,
Odemwingie and Mikel Obi cases which
occurred in the course of campaign for the
2012 African Nations Cup would have been
• To suggest necessary modalities for the
setting up of standard national teams. This
way, someone who had played three seasons in
the domestic league or finished secondary
school three or four years ago will have no
business in either the Golden Eaglets or the
Flying Eagles. We know quite a large number
of them who either retired or reached their
peak before they clock 23.
• To examine various ways of enhancing the
performance of Nigerian football coaches,
including their identification, selection and
retention. The evidence of this problem is
glaring today, 22 years since it was identified
as an issue to be tackled.
• To suggest other ways and means of
enhancing the development and
modernisation of football in ?Nigeria. We
should ask ourselves, what makes the South
African and that of North African football
leagues to tick while that of Nigeria is
flagging? The comparison with other African
countries is deliberate as it will amount to
going to the extreme comparing it with the
Premiership, La Liga and that of other parts
of Europe.

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