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Owolabi believes Aiteo/NFF Awards will be better next season


R-L: Business Mogul and Deputy Managing Director of Aiteo Group, Francis Peters; Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode; FIFA President, Gianni Infantino; and NFF President, Amaju Pinnick, during the maiden edition of the Aiteo-NFF Awards event held in Lagos recently.

Former International, Felix Owolabi has appealed to those, who feel slighted by the omission of their names at the maiden Aiteo/NFF Awards, to give the organisers the opportunity to correct the flaws of the first edition.

Owolabi is one of the legends honoured at the awards held at the Eko Hotel, Lagos last week. But the composition of the legends category of the awards generated controversy following the omission of such former super stars as Stephen Keshi, Emmanuel Okala, Peter Rufai and Rashidi Yekini. The inclusion of the names of two women football icons, Ann Chiejine and Mercy Akinde in a male dominated list also drew the ire of critics, who argued that male and female footballers should not have been joined together in the category.

Speaking with The Guardian yesterday, Owolabi said since the award was new, the organisers should be commended for thinking of honouring players, adding that the organisers would learn from the criticism and correct the mistakes in the next edition.

“First, I want to thank God for the award and I want to appreciate the NFF and the organisers for remembering me and even those of us honoured. This is coming for the first time in the history of football in Nigeria, particularly since the inception of the Football Association from 1945 till date.

“I feel fulfilled because it is coming at a time when I am still alive. A glorious moment like this must always come to be when one is alive, not when one is dead. I am happy that one of my children was there with me to witness it. I am happy for my colleagues who are beneficiaries of the award,” he said.

Owolabi, who was part of the team that won the first African Cup of Nations in 1980 for the nation, said the public disappointment on the list of players honoured as legends might be due to the organisers’ criteria.

“The players omitted, including Muda Lawal, Rashidi Yekini, Stephen Keshi, and Samuel Okwaraji, among others, are all late. That could have affected the selection. The NFF has said that this is the first time it is doing such a thing and that others would be considered in subsequent editions.

“You must agree also that when such a thing is organised, it is not everybody that will be accommodated. They said it is going to be a continuous thing, and I am sure that by the grace of God all the omitted names will definitely be given a mention when next the award is held.

“Remember this is the first time this is being done in the country and we must appreciate them. But we will also thank the public, particularly the media in trying to point out the names of those they thought should have been included in the list.

“Whether we like it or not, football is an 11 men’s game, and in that game, it depends on the coach’s idea on the system and style that he wants to adopt. They too have admitted their mistakes and have also agreed to improve on the grey areas of the award in the subsequent editions. So let us give them the benefit of the doubt,” he said.

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