Nigerian Football - The Way Forward (1)
Posted: Oct 20, 2011
WHEN an elephant dies, all sorts of knives will emerge (Yoruba proverb).
Expectedly, all sorts of knives have been on parade since the proverbial “elephant of Nigerian football” died with the Super Eagles failure to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations. Every Ikechukwu, Olamide and Umaru (take that to represent every Tom, Dick and Harry) has had something to say about the state of Nigerian football and how we found ourselves at this sorry pass. Unfortunately, however, not every commentator has a clue on how to get us out of our present quagmire.
The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has not helped matters by dragging its feet on the fate of Samson Siasia. Will he be retained as coach of the Super Eagles or will he be fired? The longer the NFF remains indecisive, the bigger the confusion they will create and the less time we have to get back to the business of putting our football back on track.
Amidst the cacophony of voices currently dominating the airwaves on the ills of Nigerian football, it is pertinent for the NFF to immediately end all speculations on the Siasia affair and turn their attention to charting a new way forward for the restoration of the game.
One of the ways to do this is to set up three-man administrative panel to invite and collect memoranda from all football stakeholders - current and former international players, coaches, administrators, journalists and fans many of whom are very intelligent. Repeat: very intelligent.
The memoranda will be collated within a specified time frame; the three-man panel will sort them out and then submit to the executive committee of the NFF who will consider the suggestions proffered and then adopt the most sensible ones to chart a new path for our football. That, simply put, is my recommendation to NFF president Alhaji Aminu Maigari at this moment.
Acting on my own recommendation, I have reproduced below relevant sections of a report that I was part of sometime in May, 1999. Following the poor performance of our Under-20 team, the Flying Eagles, at the 10th FIFA World Youth Championship hosted by Nigeria between 3rd and 24th April, 1999, the then Nigeria Football Association (NFA) set up a panel to examine the reasons for the Flying Eagles’ failure and to make specific and general recommendations for the future. The panel was headed by Chief Amanze Uchegbulam and it was my responsibility as one of the members to prepare the final report of our findings and recommendations. Under “Special Recommendations,” our panel suggested as follows 12 YEARS AGO...
The panel observed during its deliberations that one major problem with Nigerian football and which also adversely affected the Flying Eagles at the 10th FIFA World Youth Championship is the issue of the true ages of Nigerian youth team players. Although the subject was not listed amongst our terms of reference, it reoccured so much in the testimonies of our respondents that it would not be fair to ignore it.
Most of the respondents averred that the ages declared by the Nigerian players were questionable, if not downright false. They argued that the situation is already having negative consequences on the national team as players expected to graduate from the youth teams actually burn out by the time they reach the senior national team.
The pannel agrees with this observation and wish to recommend the following criteria for the invitation of players to the various national teams, effective the date of the adoption of this report.
lUnder-17 (Golden Eaglets)
The players should be recruited strictly from the grassroots, secondary school competitions and the amateur club sides. No Professional League player should be called up to the team. Also, no foreign-based players should be considered for invitation.
Our Contention: There are hardly any players in the Professional League who have not first played in the Amateur ranks either at State or National levels. After putting in a few years in the Amateur League, they can hardly be under-17 by the time they get to the Pro-League.
lUnder-20 (Flying Eagles)
The players should be recruited from the tertiary institutions (that is Universities and Polytechnics Games) as well as from the Professional and/or Amateur Leagues as the coach desires. The Professional League players should NOT have spent more than four years in the Pro-League. The team should not contain more than 4 (four) foreign-based players at a time and these should be players properly transferred by the NFA. Exception should, however, be made for players of the most recent Under-17 squad, whether based at home or abroad.
Our Contention: By the time a player spends four years in the Professional League he cannot reasonably be Under-20 again. After four years in the Professional League, such player should be aspiring to the Under-23 team or the Super Eagles.
The restriction of foreign-based players is to provide deliberate opportunity for the home-based players to excel. Besides, with home-based boys, there is a better chance of long, adequate camping which is a necessity at this level of football. Players picked from the most recent Under-17 squad are exempted from the restriction in order to encourage continuity in the graduation of national team players from one age-group to the other.
lUnder-23 (Olympic Team)
This team is close to the national team itself, and so a high degree of professionalism is required. In order to fit reasonably within the age-limit, however, the team should be restricted to players who have spent not more than six (6) years in the Professional League, or who transferred abroad before their six-year span expired in the local league.
The majority of the players may come from foreign-based clubs, but no less than six (6) of the final squad of 22 players should be home-based. Exception again should be made for players from the recent Under-20 team in order to encourage continuity and graduation of players from one age-group to another.
Our Contention: There should be a continuous, deliberate effort to give home-based players a chance in the Under-23 national team. Coaches should be tasked to discover these players and a minimum six out of 22 is fair enough.
lNational Team (Super Eagles)
Emphasis should be given to players who have gone through the age-group cadres. The tendency is that, having gone through that regimen, these players would be more adaptable (and coachable) than players coming in at the top. Also, such progression encourages continuity. Whatever the case might be, however, at least four (4) of the final selection of 22 players to a competition should be home-based boys.
Furthermore, there should be a monthly gathering of the best home-based players to form a National “B” team which many refer to as “Standing Team”. This team should play warm-up games periodically and it is from there that the four or more who will make the final 22 will come from.
Our Contention: We recognize the merit in the argument that a country’s national team should be constituted by its best players where ever they may be at any point in time, either home or abroad. But we aver that Nigeria needs a deliberate policy to encourage and develop the home-based players, so the recommendation that at least four slots be reserved for them. Besides, in the domestic league lies the future of Nigerian Football.
lWomen’s Team (Super Facons)
Only the best should be selected at all times, irrespective of age.
lGeneral Advice on Monitoring and Recruitment of National Team Players
For all cadres of the national team, there must be adequate monitoring of the players, especially the foreign-based players. This is where a well equipped Technical Department will come in useful with relevant data, latest information about current from, etc.
Coaches in the Professional and Amateur leagues should be instructed to pick the best player from the opposing side every week in every league match. Such names must be submitted to the Match Commissioner who will forward the names to the NFA Secretariat for recording by the Technical Department. Players whose names occur frequently in such “Best Opposing Player” polls will be considered highly for the national teams, depending on their age bracket.
If a particular player is picked very often by different coaches in the national league, he must have something special which the national team selectors must look out for.
Finally, all national team players must command regular places in their respective clubsides either as a first team starter, or regular substitute. A player who is sitting permanently on the bench at his club certainly cannot be good enough for the national team.
lRecommendations on Nigeria’s Participation in Future Competitions
As an antidote to avoid future poor outing such as this, panel recommends that the NFA should consider the possibility of a total shut-down of Nigeria’s participation in international competitions for a period of time to enable the Association to carry out a thorough grassroots search and grooming of talents, in addition to laying a solid foundation as was done in the past by countries like Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Holland and lately Ghana or, alternatively, the NFA should get involved in only selected international competitions as a departure from what operates at present where the country is involved in all international competitions without the results to show.
lGeneral Observation/Recommendations By Respondents On The Way Forward For Nigerian Football.
The pannel encouraged all its respondents to make observations and recommendations both within and outside the scope of our Terms of Reference. Following are the highlights of such observation/recommendations on the way forward for Nigerian Football.
Mr. Thijs Libregts, National Technical Adviser
The administration of Nigerian football is very poor. The NFA has no structure, no work methods and no planning. There is a quantity of staff but no quality. Only few of the people involved in running Nigerian football are interested in the development of the game. Others are self-seekers.
The Under-20 team was a mess. The coaches were not good enough. Most officials worked at cross-purposes and as rivals. There was no co-operation. Nigerian football is dying.
The NFA should be reorganised. Coaches need to be trained so that there is one football language and one philosophy throughout all the national teams. There should be greater co-operation amongst everyone involved.
Mr. Fabio Lanipekun, Veteran Journalist
Nigerian sports is “over-governed”. Football organization is very poor. Decent people have been scared away from football. Soccer fans have been alienated from watching league matches because of poor organization and poor standard. There’s “Federal Character Syndrome” in the national teams selections.
Government should reduce its involvement in sports to provision of facilities setting of policy guidelines only. Private sector should run the game . Coaches and players should be selected on merit. League matches should be played at good stadia. League coaches should be involved in recommending national team players through “Best Opposing Player” polls.
Linus Mba, Retired FIFA Referee
There is no specific development programme put in place for Nigerian football through which the country’s progress can be monitored. The game is grinding to a halt!
A youth development programme should be drawn up to graduate players from grassroot and primary schools, and monitored through Local Government Sports Committees, State Football Associations and on to the NFA.
NFA to constitute a Youth Development Committee to monitor the programme, employ and train specialized coaches to be on contract.
Decree 101 should be abrogated and NFA Board expanded to curb domination by club owners.
Mr. Muyiwa Daniel, Journalist
Decree 101 is an albatross for Nigerian football. There is too much Government interference in the running of the Game.
Club owners should run the Professional League while the NFA Board should be constituted according to CAF/FIFA Statutes.
Mr. Fatai Amao (Ex-International/Coach)
There is too much interference in the work of coaches both at club and national levels. Officials want to win at all costs, putting too much pressure on coaches. Excessive reliance on foreign-based players on the part of coaches.
Coaches should be placed on contract and given time frames to perform. Appointments should be on merit. Coaches should resist interference or resign. Inactive coaches should not be employed by the national teams.
Alhaji Sani Toro, Former Secretary-General, NFA
Excessive pressure on NFA Secretariat by government officials on crucial decisions like appointment of coaches and negotiation of sponsorship contracts. Late release of funds.
All national coaches to be appointed on merit and put on contract. NFA should be free to seek and negotiate its sponsorship contracts. Private Football Academies should be encouraged for youth development. NFA should pick few competitions to participate in especially in the face of funds scarcity. Office of the Secretary-General should report to one boss instead of two in order to avoid confusion and rancor in the management of football. NFA should plan ahead for all competitions.
Chief Jonathan Ogufere, Former President, WAFU
Youth development has been neglected. Nigerian football has slumped drastically because there is no action plan for development.
The objectives and imperatives of the national team should be clearly defined and deliberate action plans designed for the achievement of the set objectives. There must be close and regular monitoring during execution of the action plan. The culture of regular international friendly games should be established and maintained.
Dr. Ken Anugweje, Consultant Sports Doctor, Uniport
Military instructors should have no place in the training of footballers. Use of over-aged players in youth competition leads to short-term gains and long term losses. No succession plans for ageing players. The Nigeria Professional League is mediocre.
Sports scientists, exercise physiologists and sports physicians should take the place of military instructors in the national teams. Youth development programmes should be built around the club sides. Young players should be given the opportunity and time to mature into the national team.
lThe foregoing is only the first instalment of the memoranda that I will be submitting to the NFF. Watch out for another document from my archive next week. Readers who also have memorandum to submit should post it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will forward it to the NFF.
Enough of the talk. Let’s get down to work.
Jarret Tenebe Again?
lI HEAR that Jarret Tenebe’s alternative “Nigeria Football Association” have been threatening fire and brimstone again as the “legitimate” managers of Nigerian football.
I am not moved by Tenebe’s so-called threat and I think the media should stop wasting air-time and newspaper space on his group. If Tenebe and company have the muscle to implement their latest threat, they should go ahead and do so, then we will report their ACTION. We have had enough of all the noise-making on the pages of newspapers and the threats on the air-waves.
Give us some action, or forever remain silent, please. Enough is enough!
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