NFF, Keep Your Word
Posted: May 31, 2012
I WILL NOT wait until after the Super Eagles’ 2014 World Cup qualifying match with Namibia this weekend in Calabar before declaring where I stand on the simmering power play between coach Stephen Keshi and his Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) employers.
Just like many of us, the NFF has been caught napping by Keshi’s adventurous team selection (which I
described as “Keshi’s Bold Move” in the this column last week) for Nigeria’s three World Cup and Nations Cup qualifying games stated for June.
President Aminu Maigari and Technical Committee chairman Barrister Chris Green have expressed their discomfort with the dropping of several “senior” players and have reportedly sworn to interfere with Keshi’s team list for subsequent games. Their excuse is that if anything went wrong with the qualifiers like it did under erstwhile coach Samson Siasia, Nigerians would hold them (NFF) responsible for the failure rather than Keshi.
Win or lose against Namibia in Calabar this weekend, I want to register my disagreement with the NFF‘s argument right here and now.
First, may I remind Maigari and Green about the promise they made to give Keshi a “free hand” when they appointed him last November. Or, didn’t they do their homework about his competence for the job before appointing him? How come they are suddenly uncomfortable with his team selection less than a year into his tenure?
Second, it is NOT true that Nigerians held the NFF responsible for Siasia’s failure to qualify for the last African Cup of Nations finals. Naturally, Maigari and Co. were bound to share in the ensuing public condemnation to the extent that the failure was recorded during their tenure. But in the final analysis, it was only Siasia that lost his job consistent with the global practice in football where it is the coach that is fired for poor results.
If Keshi fails therefore, it’s him and his technical crew that will also be in the first line of fire. The NFF may again suffer some collateral damage to their record and reputation, but it is Keshi that will primarily carry the can. The buck stops at his desk.
That is why I insist, like I previously argued in this column after Keshi was appointed, that the right of any coach to enjoy a “free hand” is not negotiable at all. My question to the NFF back then was whether they could appoint a coach (any coach) and then tie one or both of his hands and still expect him to deliver. That question is still relevant with all the threats flying around that Keshi’s freedom to choose his players would be curtailed and some other players imposed on him. Such interference is unheard of in modern football and if the NFF try it with Keshi, I expect him to resist it and he would enjoy my full support.
Last week, even I expressed surprise at Keshi’s squad list and warned him to beware of the implications of his actions if the results go wrong. But I will never support imposing players on him because then, he would lose control of the team and his results would go from bad to worse. With the benefit of hindsight, a similar scenario partly accounted for Siasia’s failure ultimately.
A football coach is like a pilot. The moment you enter an aeroplane, you virtually surrender your life to the pilot whom in most cases you can’t even see. If he flies you safely to your destination, you thank your stars. If he crashes the plane and you don’t survive, too bad. You have no chance to interfere with the pilot’s flying methods.
It’s the same with the coach. The moment you appoint him, you must be ready to swim or sink with his results. You must give him all the support and the tools that he needs to succeed in his work. But you mustn’t interfere with his choice of players. You can only sack him if he doesn’t deliver the results expected of him.
The NFF promised to give Keshi a “free hand” to do his work. We are all witnesses to that promise. The NFF must keep their word.
Keshi Must Take 9 Points
ALL SAID, clearly the best way for Keshi to retain his autonomy and secure total independence from undue interference is to get the kind of results that will make Nigerians happy. Anything short of that, he will open the way for the NFF to undermine his authority and mess him up. That is if they don’t sack him first.
To start with, Keshi must win all his three qualifying matches in June beginning with the Namibia game this weekend. After that comes a road trip to Malawi followed by another home game against Rwanda.
Despite Nigeria’s free-fall to 63rd on the FIFA monthly ranking, all these countries are still below us on the log. The three June games are therefore winnable and Keshi must win them. He must collect the full nine points at stake. That’s number one.
Number two, the Eagles must play well. During Shaibu Amodu’s last stint in charge, the Eagles initially won their matches but their performances were consistently unconvincing as they made heavy weather of modest opponents. Soccer fans always had their hearts in their mouths as Amodu’s team eked out narrow victories, forcing the fans to tag them as the “heart attack Eagles.”
Keshi must not give us any heart attacks before winning his matches. It will not be easy getting his boys playing as a cohesive unit because of the limited time they have to blend. But we expect to see progressive improvement in team play from one game to the other especially as the three matches are so close to one another.
Finally, the Eagles must score lots of goals. Lots and lots of goals. I read that Keshi has told his team to spell Namibia with goals in Calabar. That means seven goals. If it’s not asking for too much, may I request a special one for me to take the tally to eight!
Joking aside, goals have a way of boosting team confidence. If the Eagles can manage to score quite a few in June while keeping a clean slate in all their three games, that would be excellent. And you know what: I have this very strong feeling, that is exactly what they’re going to do.
Good luck, lads!
Up Anwar-ul-Islam College!
I RETURNED to Nigeria to meet great news that my old school, Anwar-ul-Islam College, Agege, Lagos, are champions of the inaugural HERITAGE CUP for old generation secondary schools in Lagos State sponsored by GT Bank. My school defeated Kings College 1-0 to lift the trophy and they will now face the winner of the regular Principals’ Cup, also sponsored by GT Bank, to determine the champion of champions for Secondary Schools in Lagos. (The Principals’ Cup final takes place this weekend at the Teslim Balogun Stadium between Sango Secondary School and Dairy Farms Secondary School, Agege.
The female final is between Kuje Secondary School and CMS Girls Grammar School).
Don’t be surprised. Anwar-ul-Islam College (formerly Ahmadiyya College) have always been one of the best schools in Lagos schools soccer. Alongside the likes of Stephen Keshi’s Saint Finbarrs, Baptist Academy, Saint Gregory’s, Igbobi College and Ansar-ud-deen College, they dominated the old generation Principals’ Cup in Lagos. These schools have not been featuring prominently in the new generation GT Bank Principals’ Cup, prompting the sponsors to create a new competition for them.
That is probably why it is called Heritage Cup: the participants are schools with great historical heritage.
While congratulating the current students and staff of the school, I salute GT Bank for being such a committed sponsor of schools’ soccer in Lagos State. Apart from helping us recollect the days of yore when inter-school soccer enjoyed tremendous followership in Lagos, the competition promotes grassroots soccer development which we have all identified is central to returning Nigerian football to global reckoning.
I say well done, GT Bank! And well done, Fela Bank-Olemoh’s Media Vision, project managers of the competitions for GT Bank.
PS: I attended Anwar-ul-Islam College only for my two-year Advance Level studies between 1981 and 1983. My old secondary school remains Iganmode Grammar School, Ota, Ogun State where I did my Ordinary Level studies between 1975 and 1980. Up IGS, Up Anwar!!!
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