Broke Nigeria are a laughing stock!
Another chaotic build-up means the Super Eagles are expected to arrive in Zambia Saturday afternoon, get only a training session under their belt before facing the Chipolopolo on Sunday in a World Cup qualifier.
Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president Amaju Pinnick and his board appear to be caught between a rock and a hard place, trying to steer the country’s game away from mediocrity.
Without question, Nigeria is Africa’s principal exporter of football talents abroad.
But the sad thing is that the country’s football authorities appear determined not to help their players deliver big prizes like the African Nations Cup and even the World Cup. With every passing day and each passing hour, the Nigerian game just sinks deeper and deeper into the quagmire.
Earlier this week, the NFF boss announced that barely days to the Super Eagles’ World Cup qualifier against Zambia they are yet to pay for a chartered flight and hotel in Ndola. The NFF head told the nations Senate sports committee that the NFF sponsors have not been forthcoming with funds and this has forced them to apply for government intervention but are yet to get a response.
Pinnick also confirmed that the country’s Europe-based players were asked to buy their flight tickets and fly economy to join the training camp in Abuja for Sunday’s game. This comes in the wake of NFF’s public plea that the players will have to wait to be paid outstanding bonuses as the football body’s financial issues continue.
Since taking charge of the NFF in September 2014, Pinnick has banged the drum about how he would change the way Nigerian football is run. “I have already received calls from top corporate directors saying they will support us just by the names on the new NFF board, a clear indication that there is light and positivity ahead.” Pinnick said when he was declared winner of a controversial election in 2014.
So what happened to those corporate sponsors? Amaju said: “We had planned a massive dinner with all our potential sponsors at a big event in Lagos where we wanted to display a blueprint of our plans but then a court injunction came in invalidating our NFF board. Regrettably over 70 percent of the people including CEO’s we’d expected didn’t turn up for fear of contempt. It was a major blow. Despite the setback we managed to get three sponsors but imagine if everyone had converged and listened to my vision, imagine where we would have been today.”
What could have been is gone, what has happened includes the hiring and shock exit of Sunday Oliseh, Pinnick’s self-proclaimed Guardiola of Africa, back-to-back Nations Cup failure, hosting FIFA President Gianni Infantino, secretary general Fatma Samoura and 17 African football bosses amidst a dire financial strait.
Throw in the botched appointment of French man, Paul Le Guen as technical advisor, lack of kits for the Super Eagles, Super Falcons embarrassing slump, unpaid coaches’ salaries, bonuses row involving the U23 team at the Rio Olympic games and the dismal performances of the U-17 and U-20 teams.
Whatever expectations there may have been [not from me] that the present NFF leadership is capable of offering direction to Nigerian football must now surely be laid to rest. Many have watched in dismay as Nigerian football hobbled into the realm of embarrassment and humiliation.
It is also pertinent to mention that Nigerian players are the biggest losers in all this. Former Super Eagles captain and two-time African footballer of the year, Nwankwo Kanu believes Nigerian football lacks the quality leadership to steer the game from the dark. “What is happening with Nigerian football is that the top management is not what it is supposed to be so what is below is being affected,” Kanu told BBC Sport in a recent interview.
He said the NFF has to change its style of leadership if Nigeria are to achieve success.
“When the head is not right, even your body won’t be right”, said Kanu.
Another former international Jonathan Akpoborie, who won the 1985 Fifa U-17 World Cup and played professionally in the German top flight, believes success on the pitch will not return unless administrators “admit their flaws”.
“We’ve never had it so bad in our football and now we’ve completely become a laughing stock in international football,” Akpoborie told me.
“They call us giant of African football only on paper and our administrators must accept the flaws and the path they’ve taken the game. It’s nothing personal but this present NFF board has failed the country, our incredible fans and those who gave everything as coaches, players and hardworking staff.” Akpoborie said.
Dissenting voices indicate that it has now come to the point where something drastic needs to be done because passionate fans and the footballers deserve much better than this. Caught up in a maelstrom of personal, political and financial problems, the NFF have gone to great lengths, seemingly intent on destroying the reputation of Nigerian football along with their own.
But Pinnick disagrees: “We’ve been taken to different courts since that failed attempt to attract the corporate world. We are losing in the battle to bring sponsors as it is difficult to thrive under instability and a damaged brand. It is really difficult financially but we are trying to rebuild confidence in potential sponsors again. Things will improve if we can all come together because Nigerian football goes beyond Amaju Pinnick”
“We cannot afford not to be at the World Cup in Russia. We won’t be at the Nations Cup, we regret that but I want to assure Nigerians that we will do our human extreme to qualify. People should bear with us and pray for us, we are confident Nigeria won’t only be at the World Cup but do well.”
Suffice to say, Nigerians have become accustomed to annual promises of rebuilding, and every time they hit a new low they get to hear from the beleaguered NFF who come in with tales about restoring pride.
Pinnick has consistently reminded his vocal critics that amid a biting recession, he has single-handedly kept the game afloat with his personal resources and contacts.
He recognises the financial and political challenges but has refused to admit that his administration is riddled with problems: poor organisation, bad management and administrative deficiencies. Inevitably it affects the teams’ performances.
Good intentions and ambitions are great but he must learn to deliver. Promises alone are just not good enough anymore. Truth be told, If the NFF was a public business, I believe most of the directors would have been hounded out of office a long time ago for turning Nigeria into a laughing stock. A country like Nigeria with the amazing capital (human and financial) at her disposal deserve a better deal from football and sports administrators. We cannot continue to be a laughing stock.