THE MURDER OF NIGERIAN FOOTBALL!
Posted: Dec 08, 2011
Writing about Nigerian football and expressing an opinion these days has become very challenging indeed. Tempers flare up easily and passion runs very high. As these are obviously not the best of times for the game in the country and for all the national teams, it is even more difficult to comment without incurring the wrath of those whose responsibility it is to steer the ship away from storms and other obstacles. Within the corridors of football administration, our previous attempts to render candid opinions have been taken very badly and considered to be ‘poisoned chalice’. Our expressions have made some persons very uncomfortable and we have been ‘warned’ to steer clear. So, we concur.
Some two days after Nigeria’s Dream Team V were beaten by Senegal’s Under-23 team, and most Nigerians are seeking answers to what has befallen their beloved sport, I am struggling not to allow my sentiments and emotions to seep into this piece and stir up trouble. I am carefully navigating through landmines,by allowing the events around me to tell their own story.
I am in London.I am having an absolutely delicious dinner in 805 Restaurant, a very posh, very classy Nigerian ‘joint’ on Old Kent Road. I am sharing a table with nine other Nigerians, young professionals in their various fields, that are giving up their time and energy to support a reform program for the educational sector in Nigeria, through their civil society advocacy group in the United Kingdom called ‘Every Nigerian Child Project’. We have just come out of a meeting with the Nigerian High Commissioner in the UK and some of his top executives. It has been a truly rewarding experience sharing time and ideas with people with consummate passion for education, sports and the Nigerian Child. Expectedly, even as we discussed the very serious issues, my presence necessarily ignited discussion around Nigerian football, the national Olympic football team and the Olympic Games coming up next summer in London. The Ambassador, Dr. Dalhatu Tafida, veered into the subject matter as we rounded off the meeting. We learnt that Nigerians in the UK were preparing seriously for the greatest mobilisation of their people to support the national contingent coming for the games, particularly the football team whose fortune was already floundering with the result of their first defeat in the qualifying group matches in Morocco. He was asking all the right questions - What is wrong with football in Nigeria?
Why can’t Nigeria build on the successes of the past to make the country’s national teams consistently stronger? Why can’t we go back to the grassroots and start to rebuild our sports properly again? Why, why, why? Unfortunately, I was not in any position to provide the answers.
We had left the High Commission and were now settled inside 805 ‘washing’ the success of our primary discussions. The conversation around the table again veers to football and the Dream Team playing their second match that evening in Morocco. I am listening to different views around me. The memory of Atlanta ’96 floods back into my mind in nostalgic recollection. The interesting thing is that no one in that gathering is considering the likelihood that Nigeria may not qualify for the Olympics. They are really not connecting the matches in Morocco with the qualification for London 2012. Or it just does not sink in. It is assumed already that Nigeria has qualified and that the matches are just a formality.
Otherwise,I cannot understand the ‘arrogance’ of the conversation and the talk of preparations going on to welcome and support the team. I am hearing some very interesting statistics. There are, unofficially, three million Nigerians living in the UK. They constitute the highest number of Black immigrants in the UK, and the highest concentration of Blacks outside oftheir country in the world. Nigerians will show the world what supporting a football team should look like. The people areinvesting heavily in the purchase of tickets for the football events. They do not know the other athletes in the Nigerian contingent and cannot be bothered.For Nigerians, the Olympics start and end with their football team, period!
There is an interruption. ‘No!’.It is a scream from one of the young men. ‘Nigeria has lost again. Nigeria is down by 2 goals against Senegal’. The message does not sink in for a brief moment as the conversation around the table goes on. ‘Nigeria is out of the Olympics Games’, the young man whispers to no one in particular. There is a hush.
‘You mean we have not qualified for the Olympic Games football tournament?’.
I respond: ‘Of course not. We are in Morocco playing group matches with Morocco, Algeria and Senegal. The top two teams in the group qualify for the Olympics’.
The restaurant table goes absolutely silent.
People soon start to find their voices. There is a verbal explosion. The combination of pent up emotions, anger, frustration and despair is lethal. I cannot reproduce here what is being said. The questions are coming in a torrential flood. Most eyes turn towards me for answers. I stare also in apparent despair.
The people speak out. ‘I am selling my tickets’. ‘What is going on with Nigerian football?’ ‘No one told us we have to qualify first’. ‘Who is in charge?’ ‘This is the worst football season in our history’. ‘Was Stephen Keshi not meant to be there to help Eguavoen?’. ‘But the NFF promised that this will be ‘the team’ and that no matter what happens Nigeria would be at the Olympics’. ‘What went wrong?’ No one has the answers.
I am sitting, observing and absorbing it all. I am lamenting the impact of the turn of events.I am in London to prepare grounds for my work during the Olympics. All of that is gone now, with the defeats in Morocco. Reporting, analysing, and/or commentating on Nigeria’s national football teams is my means of livelihood. Nigeria has ‘failed’ in all competitions in the outgoing year. Should Nigeria not eventually qualify from Morocco it would mean that this has been the most barren year in the past three decades of Nigerian football - check the records! In the year 2011, Nigeria has not won anything, or qualified for anything! The Falcons and Falconets have both been knocked off the top rung of African football. The domestic Nigerian club champions could not make a major indentation on African football. Even age-group teams, with all our inauthenticity, have been humbled and their ‘myth’ destroyed. The Super Eagles have been grounded. In the New Year, Nigeria will not be at the Nations Cup in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Calamity!
I am still sitting and thinking. One voice breaks into my reverie, suddenly rising above the cacophony of the rest. ‘Nigerian football has been murdered’. It is a young lady. Her shrill expression sums up the feelings of everyone on that table.The words are caustic but they are true, and let no one say they are my opinion because I feel worse than that.
The Dream Team was touted by the football authorities as the team of ‘redemption’ through which the football association was going to prove every critic wrong and shame all distractors by drawing the final curtain on its 2011 activities on a resounding note of success. The team was given everything the coaches asked for, camped for four months, assembled from amongst the best local players in the domestic league, trained better than every other national team during the year, assigned the services of the new national team coach to strengthen the technical base of the team, promised mouth-watering bonuses, supported by the presence of the largest contingent of officials to any competition this year, and pampered like no other national team in recent times, all to save face. That is the team that has just crash-landed unceremoniously even before it could take off the ground!
Some still think there is hope. They think Dream Team V can still use some mathematical abracadabra and qualify. I pray it be so, so that our Olympic dreams may not be buried in the desert sands of Morocco by some of our people who refuse to be humbled by the truth, and who seek peace and progress without restitution and justice!
THE DISBANDMENT OF SHOOTING STARS
I read the story on the internet a few days ago.It was in all the Nigerian newspapers. The government of Oyo State sacked all the players and officials of Shooting Stars Football Club Ibadan. The reason given for this disbandment is that the team has not been doing well in Nigerian football and the government intends to put in place a fresh structure to take the team to new heights.
Coming two weeks after I reported my encounter with the Governor of Osun State and his idea to sell the idea of building one or two mega-clubs in the South-West States to contest meaningfully in Africa instead of the present mushrooming of small ineffectual clubs in the zone, I want to believe that this is an issue of ‘there is no smoke without fire’. Could Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola’s idea have taken root already? I have received several correspondences already about the idea of jointly funding Shooting Stars FC by some or all of the South West States and building it into a pan-African brand that can immediately start to impact African football. So, to read of disbandment did not come as a complete shock even if it is unexpected and the immediate consequences may not have been well considered.
What happened in 1984 should provide a useful lesson.
Following the failure of Shooting Stars to defeat Zamalek Football Club of Egypt in that year’s African Club Champions Cup finals in Lagos, the then Governor, General Oladayo Popoola, angrily disbanded the team by sacking players of the club with all their officials right after the football match. That action was taken very badly particularly by the players. It is still hard to understand why the Governor acted the way he did. For sure, it was not an easy task for any team to get to the finals of the African Club championship, so Shooting Stars’ performances up to that point could not be discountenanced. So what prompted the governor to take the decision? Whatever it was, the consequence is that for many years after that, Shooting Stars lost direction and wandered in the wilderness of Nigerian football for almost a decade. Most of the top players that had built the club into one of Africa’s most formidable teams left in anger, some were lured away by other clubs, and some remained sacked. By the time a new team was to be rebuilt, even though good players were assembled from all over the country, the team could no longer be the same. Indeed, the team went into relegation two seasons later. It is still said by some people that it was that singular decision that took Shooting Stars from its original heights and made it just another struggling club. Although, 8 years later, in 1992, the club won the African Confederation Cup, that was it really. It never came near attaining its pre-1984 status in Nigeria and indeed Africa.
No team is disbanded without dire consequences. Great teams are built over time and not necessarily by the assembly of good players. The greatest teams in the world evolve through time and consistency in players and performances. If that were not so, Manchester City would have become the English Premiership champions since three years ago when they bought and assembled some of the best players and could not even come near the league trophy. Three years down the line, they have become a more formidable team and now look like possible champions.
As for Shooting Stars FC it may be a case of ‘begin again’ for the club. A new board, a new management, new players, new technical crew, all of this means ‘new pains’! Will the critical ‘sooting’ supporters have the patience to wait through the years that the team would require to evolve and become a strong unit again? Would the government have the capacity to ‘stomach’ the challenges (physical and psychological) that are bound to follow their own act?
Will the State government be able to provide the funds and resources to disengage with the past and provide for a strong future team?
The Shooting Stars FC was originally more than just a football Club. Now it is just another club in the Nigerian football firmament.
Shooting Stars Football Club can become a useful weapon in the dawn of a new political, social and political South-West reintegration project. This disbandment could be a curse or a blessing depending on what the motivation for disbandment is and the vision the government has for the club into the future. We have to wait and see!
GOTZE - NEWEST SENSATION OF GERMAN FOOTBALL
I reproduced an article concerning him last week on this page. Last Saturday also I watched him play. He is now 18 years old. 2 years ago, he played in Nigeria during the Under-17 FIFA championship that took place here. He was just one of the German players that came for the adventure and tutorship of football. Two years after that experience, he is set for the world of football.
that came for the adventure and tutorship of football. Two years after that experience, he is set for the world of football.
He wears the number 11 shirt and is a regular member of Borussia Dortmund FC. At just 18, he is the current youngest member of the German senior national team. I watched him in his team’s 2-0 defeat of Schalke FC last weekend, a victory that took Borussia to the top of the Bundesliga for the first time this football season. Mario Gotze was absolutely brilliant playing from the left side of attack.
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