N30b investment notwithstanding, Nigerian football gasps for breath
In the recent past, Nigerian football has experienced a downward spiral as confirmed by the country’s free-fall in FIFA ranking. For a country that once ranked fifth globally in April 1994, sinking from the 35th to 40th position in the latest FIFA ranking is heart-wrenching. CHRISTIAN OKPARA reports that the decline is not for lack of funding for football development but for the gross mismanagement of the round-leather game and its proceeds.
Success does not come by chance. It follows well-thought-out plans, nurtured and pursued until the desired result is achieved. Morocco’s march to the semifinals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar was not fortuitous. It was the result of a carefully planned programme that has seen the country’s clubs and women’s football teams dominating African football. Morocco has followed a distinct pattern earlier adopted by the sport’s bigwigs like Germany, France, and Spain.
Germany was the world champion at the senior level in 2014, semifinalists at Euro 2016, U-21 champion in 2009, online betting sites U-19 title winner in 2014, and had four final appearances at the U-17 Euro level.
The country’s serial successes ran deep across its national teams, from the established stars to the young hopefuls, but it was not always the case. The Die Mannschaft was forced to rethink its football structure in 2004 after the country’s dismal outing at the Euro Championship in Portugal.
Writing for independent.co.uk, Miguel Delaney said: betting tips 1×2 “Germany and France have shown that those countries that could industrialise youth production and a certain style of football would come closest to matching it. It is no coincidence those nations won the next two World Cups.”
That is the exalted group that Senegal and Morocco belong to. These two are the frontrunners in African football because they have adopted a system that ensures that they always produce young, talented, bet prediction and technically astute players for their national teams.
While Senegal is the holder of all the top national team laurels, except the Women’s African Cup of Nations, Moroccan clubs are dominating all the continent’s inter-club competitions.
In December, last year, Morocco became the first African nation to reach the semifinals in FIFA World Cup history. This came after they won the African Women’s Champions League title, and reached the finals of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, while its club, bet prediction site Wydad Casablanca won CAF’s men’s Champions League and made the final in 2023, losing out to Al Ahly Sporting Club, commonly known as Al Ahly.
The successes were the results of many years spent investing in modern sports infrastructure. The country now boasts six FIFA-approved stadiums and a sports centre that is second to none in Africa.
In recent years, the kingdom has built a reputation for hosting major footballing competitions. Since 2006, it has been building infrastructure to meet the specifications and standards for the organisation of international competitions.
This infrastructure, apart from helping Morocco to win bids to host major international competitions, confirm bet predictions has also aided the kingdom in harnessing the talents of its youths.
At Raja’s academy in Casablanca, Morocco’s strategy to become a football giant becomes even clearer. The pitches are pristine and the gyms well-equipped. The facilities are at par with those found in industrialised countries.
The Mohamed VI Complex, the star of Moroccan football, is a $70 million structure that has all the facilities one can think of in modern football.
The kingdom has also helped its clubs to build modern training centres as exemplified by the Raja Casablanca Stadium, and the facilities at Club Berkane.
Senegal, on the other hand, is the first country to simultaneously hold Africa’s two most prestigious prizes, as they beat Egypt in a penalty shootout to claim the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) and won the 2022 African Nations Championship (CHAN), by beating Algeria in the final game earlier this year.
This is along with 2019’s West African Nations Cup; 2022’s Africa Beach Soccer Cup of Nations, and a series of youth events.
These wins did not come by chance. They are the results of meticulous investments by Senegal’s Ministry of Sports, which has given the football federation autonomy to make independent decisions.
The ministry has focused on important long-term work, such as building and refurbishing stadiums, while Senegal’s federation has concentrated on talent development.
In contrast to Morocco and Senegal, Nigeria’s football has been on a downward spiral since it last won the African Cup of Nations, in 2013, in South Africa.
This decline has been attributed to many factors, including corruption, which has denied the country standard facilities, gave birth to the neglect of the local league, and ill-equipped coaches and administrators.
Up to the early 2000s, Nigeria had about seven FIFA standard stadia across the country. These were the National Stadium, Lagos; Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu; U.J. Esuene Stadium, Calabar; Liberation Stadium, Port Harcourt; Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna; Liberty Stadium, Ibadan, and the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Stadium, Bauchi.
Sadly, these stadia have been so neglected that they have become big carcasses, which only serve as reminders of their glorious past.
The MKO Abiola Stadium, Abuja, is a good facility that is unfortunately far removed from the people; it only serves as an arena for competitions.
Unlike the National Stadium, Lagos, which provides facilities for athletes to hone their skills, the Abuja stadium’s location, according to experts, makes its facilities difficult for athletes to access.
Some state governments have built new facilities, but only a few like the Godswill Akpabio Stadium, Uyo; Sam Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin, and the Adokie Amiesiemaka Stadium, Port Harcourt, have been certified fit by CAF for international competitions.
This lack of quality infrastructure impacts negatively Nigeria’s ability to raise talented stars.
In 1980, when Nigeria won its first African Cup of Nations title, the team coached by Brazilian, Otto Gloria, comprised 100 per cent homegrown players. The 1994 team that won the African Cup of Nations in Tunisia also had 99 per cent of players that learnt their trade in the local league.
However, since the turn of the century, the country has been depending on players of Nigerian descent, born and raised overseas, to play for the national team. Sadly, some of these players are those who could not make the teams of the countries of their birth and so chose Nigeria as a last resort.
While the Super Eagles, in 1994, had players who turned out for the best European clubs and participated in the UEFA Champions League, the current national team comprises struggling footballers, who are hardly reckoned with in their clubs.
In the 2022/23 English Premier League, four of the seven Super Eagles’ stars in the competition were relegated to the Championship, which is the second-tier competition in England. Even then, some of these players hardly played for these lowly clubs in the past season.
The 2013 team, packaged by the Late Coach Stephen Keshi, had 30 per cent of players based in the Nigerian Premier Football League (NPFL), unlike squads before it or since after.
Now, Nigeria, which was ranked as the world’s fifth-best team in April 1994, is currently rated as number 40 in the world. The game has gone so bad that such minnows as Guinea Bissau now come to Nigeria to defeat the Super Eagles.
The recent loss to Burkina Faso in the quarterfinals of the African U-17 Cup of Nations was the latest in a series of defeats suffered by Nigeria in international competitions in recent times.
Coming on the heels of the country’s failure to make the Qatar 2022 World Cup after losing to Ghana in the qualifiers, the latest fall has got followers to query the impact of billions of naira that has come into the game in the last few years.
Apart from the yearly budget allocated to the game by the Federal Government, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has in recent times been awash with money coming from its numerous sponsors and world football governing body, FIFA and the Confederation of African Football.
In the last five years, the NFF has received over $11 million from FIFA, and CAF. The Federal Government has allocated close to N12 billion to the federation in the past eight years. The monies are outside FIFA Goal Projects paid for by the world football governing body.
Regrettably, while Senegal, Morocco, South Africa, and Algeria, among others, have started reaping the benefits of the FIFA interventions, Nigeria has only the goal project in Abuja to show for such investments.
In 2016, FIFA increased its yearly allocations to member countries, including Nigeria, as part of the “Forward Football Development Programme, to $5 million per four-year cycle for each member association to $1.6 million per cycle.”
Thus, the NFF and other member-associations from 2016 started getting $750,000 per year for football projects like pitches, competitions, and women’s football development.
Also in 2020, as part of its COVID-19 pandemic intervention, FIFA donated $500,000 to each member association, outside the yearly operational costs due to them.
Each national governing body, including the NFF, was expected to receive $500,000, which FIFA said it would disburse upon the fulfillment of certain conditions.
The NFF in the last nine years has also enjoyed goodwill from sponsors, who see the game as an avenue to bring their brands to millions of their football-mad compatriots.
Apart from oil and gas outfit, Aiteo, which signed a five-year deal worth N2.5 billion in 2017 with the NFF, other companies like Nigerian Breweries, MTN, Cadbury, Coca-Cola, Bet9ja, Zenith Bank, and Air Peace, signed contracts with the federation worth billions of naira.
The deal with Aiteo contains a clause that specifies that the company would take charge of settling coaches’ salaries and allowances for the duration of the contract.
Although most of the contracts have non-disclosure clauses, sources in the NFF say that they, together with the over N3 billion yearly allocations from the Federal Government, are capable of turning Nigeria into a major football world power.
That can only come through a well-planned development programme that leverages the enormous human capital the country is endowed with. But rather than take Nigeria to the summit of, at least, African football, such humongous allocation from the Federal Government and sponsors have been frittered away in non-value-adding expenditures that have brought the game to its knees.
For instance, the NFF has been accused of turning players, who, ordinarily, should be fighting for the opportunity to wear the country’s jersey into cash cows.
According to a former NFF official, Nigeria is the only country that spends much of its budget on competitions, instead of developmental programmes.
The former official, who pleaded anonymity, said: The NFF spends about
$260,000 as players’ allowances for every match won. So, for a single game, the players get $10,000 each and you know we invite about 26 players from overseas for each game when only 15 of them will get the opportunity to play each match.
“When you calculate their flight tickets, some of them insist on first-class tickets, you will be talking about another $54,000 or something close to that. This is outside of hotel bills and other expenses. Remember, the coaches get two times whatever the players take.
“This wholesale reliance on foreign players is because our coaches are so lazy that they don’t go out to scout for players from the local league.”
Quoting the former chairman of the defunct Leventis United Football Club, John Masteroudes, ex-international, Segun Odegbami, said Nigeria has too much talent in football not to be one of the top 10 in the world.
Odegbami said the loudest statement about Nigeria’s decline is the recent U-17s loss to Burkina Faso and the manner of that defeat.
“The boys were stronger, faster, fitter, but had no creativity and basic techniques where it mattered the most – in front of goal. That’s what the whole game is about – how to use the ball confidently and deliberately, after all the passing and movements.
“Not limited to football, Nigeria has abundant talent in most sports, but handled by technical persons without the capacity to make them champions. No capacity training, no good infrastructure and no science. To be the best, you must be handled by the best,” he said.
Odegbami said Nigerian football has too many problems, adding that the first and most glaring is the lack of quality leadership and experience needed for modern football.
He advocated a forensic analysis of everybody that has led Nigerian football since Amos Adamu’s days saying, “Therein lies the answer.”
According to Odegbami, Brazil is excelling in the game because it invested in excellent training and competition facilities, organises proper training for coaches within their university system, and the organisation of good domestic leagues.
“That’s why the yearly flood of some of Brazil’s best young talents to Europe does not adversely affect their domestic football, because there is a good production line of great players within Brazil to sustain development.
“In Nigeria, from 1995, particularly, circumstances, gradually and steadily, introduced corrupting influences into football when inexperienced new administrators came into sports administration. Football was particularly infected.
“Even the few good training and match facilities that existed then were destroyed in the process of ‘renovating’ facilities around the country for Nigeria ’95, and
Nigeria ‘99. Old good facilities gave way to poor substitutes.”
Stakeholders also say that the current slide in football is because the country no longer produces quality players for the Super Eagles. Instead, successive Super Eagles’ coaches scout the leagues of Europe for players of Nigerian descent, rejected by these European nations, to play for the country.
Therefore, it is no surprise that these players, who, in some cases, find it difficult to adapt to the country’s ‘chaotic’ system, fail to lift the Super Eagles when confronted by better-quality opposition.
To halt this trend, they advocate a complete rejigging of the country’s football ecosystem, from administration to talent discovery, and training.
The Proprietor of Vandressa Football Club, a Nigerian National League (NNL) outfit, Joe Udofia, said everybody involved in Nigerian football must resolve to work for the desired change to get the system working again.
According to Udofia, who noted that signs of decay in the country’s football had been manifest for a long time even before the current low, affirmed that the situation could be reversed by a deliberate resolve to do the ‘right things.’
“I have noticed increased enthusiasm, interest, and exchanges aftermath of our disappointing loss to Ghana for the Qatar 2022 World Cup ticket. The majority of us have agreed to the fact that our football is in a bad state with many factors affecting it.
“The major talking points are the poor state of our league and the entire local football ecosystem. However, the present NFF board is duty-bound to take drastic steps on governance, facilities, and training of personnel.
“We must clean our Augean stable. We have Nigerians home and abroad, who are equipped and knowledgeable about modern practices for the development of the game in our country. All we need to do is to get them involved. It is a project.
“It won’t bear immediate gains, but we must have it in mind that we need to start, be patient, and see where it would lead us to.
“Fortunately, the current Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) board just started their four-year mandate. The time is now because it is a massive job. 2026 is just around the corner. Now is the time to start planning, fumigating, and reforming the NFF. We must remove politics from football and get the league working effectively.”
Udofia said that the path to the country’s football regeneration lies in the government and the public sector coming together to remove the obstacles on the growth lane.
The problem with the country’s football, according to Udofia, is that Nigeria only plans to win competitions and not develop the game. He predicted that the country’s football would suffer the fate of such public concerns as NITEL and Nigeria Airways, which were managed into extinction by government officials if drastic steps were not taken to address the issues.
What is the way forward? Udofia said: “If the government repeats the licensing regime it did in the case of telecommunications, serious companies will come into football.
“Nigeria is the only country projected to be a superpower 30 years from 2019 and to get there is not rocket science.
“Sports is for disciplined individuals, who want to excel in their careers. Create an environment that can bring out the best in them and reward them for their efforts, and you will see so many talented youths coming into the sport.”
Udofia disagreed with those who say that Nigeria’s football is not getting patronage because there are no more stars in it. Rather, he said, people are not keying into the game because the environment has not been made conducive by those saddled with the responsibility of administering the sector.
He said Nigerians would start going to stadiums when they see that they would be safe in these arenas.
“Create an environment that will bring people to the stadium and keep them there for six hours; you will see a turnaround in patronage. If you will keep people there for that long, they will need to drink water and eat food. So many other things will follow.
Just like Udofia, former Super Eagles Head Coach, Gernot Rohr, said the bane of Nigerian football is “inadequate infrastructure and poor education, which is seen in poor upkeep, worn-out fields, or abandoned stadiums.”
“This was something I witnessed in Lagos, a city of 19 million people. Another issue with Nigeria’s football is the shoddy management of her championship, which was constantly interrupted,” Rohr told a German publication.
Lamenting how some coaches connived with football agents to bring “all manner of players to the national team,’ an NFF official, who pleaded anonymity, told a local website that the absence of a technical sub-committee, which ought to have vetted the list of players invited to the various national teams, allow coaches to invite every kind of player to the national team.
He said: “The Technical Committee, which would have independently questioned these dubious call-ups, has not sat for many, many years. So, who can ask questions as regards the suitability or otherwise of those invited?”
One of the presidential candidates at the last NFF elections, Dr. Christian Emeruwa, who is the current chairman of CAF’s Security Committee, believes that Nigeria will begin to get it right when it gets the right leadership.
He said: “Moroccan Football Association is the best on the continent as of today. It has developed its league very well and brought in professionalism, transparency, and accountability. They engaged in a massive infrastructural development across Morocco in the last eight years and above all, they have entrenched meritocracy in everything that they do. If you perform well, you are rewarded, if you don’t, you’ll be shown the way out.”
Emeruwa said that the efficient administrative structure has made managing their national teams easier.
“The condition that the national teams play is excellent. They have their hotels, medical staff, and hospital with incomparable conditions.
“We don’t have a home for the Super Eagles; we don’t have where players know that once they come for camping, they can move into their rooms. These are some details Morocco has taken care of.
“As a matter of fact, I know that the police of Morocco cannot get into the technical centre without proper clearance. It is not a place where anybody can walk in and walk out easily. It is a highly concentrated location.”
He said Morocco’s efficient management structure and its high level of accountability have attracted many sponsors to its programmes, adding, “The same thing goes for their development of coaches… they are the only country in Africa that their coaches have done the advanced coaching course in conjunction with CAF.
“The current coach of the national team that we are talking about was part of that course. So, it starts with the leadership.”
“We must also tackle corruption, nepotism and review the statute. We must invest in developing a viable strategy and as I mentioned earlier, our mission. We must look at those leading the game and ask questions.
“Who are those leading football associations at the local council level? Who are those at the state level? And who are those at the national level? The quality of the football leaders determines how far a country can go. We must recruit competent staff.”
Emeruwa also points at the leagues as clogs on the way of the meaningful development Nigeria desires, saying the dysfunctional league system cannot birth a functional national team.
“There is no way we can adopt the same failed LMC system in an IMC and expect to get a better result. I don’t know how they want to go about it, but I wish them the very best.”
The CAF official, who is a member of the FIFA security committee, also sees a return to grassroots football development as key to Nigeria’s aspiration for greatness. He said Nigeria must look for how to catch talented players young, adding, “We must look at our talent discovery mechanism because we need to scout and develop young talents to have a good national team. We must be ready to make football available to all persons… it must be accessible at the grassroots.”
Sports lawyer, Sabinus Ikewuaku, believes that Nigeria’s football salvation is around the corner, saying the only thing left is for the NFF to grab the opportunity offered by the world football governing body, FIFA.
Ikewuaku said FIFA recently introduced a programme, Talent Development Scheme (TDS) that would help federations develop their talents and raise their national team’s competitiveness.
The idea, according to him, is to bridge the competitive gap between nations and increase the number of national teams capable of playing at the highest level.
He said members that embrace TDS would be taught how to reach their full potential by raising the standards of talent development around the world.
According to him: “The scheme will focus on improving high-performance standards, creating the best environments for young players to thrive, and helping young talents make the transition to professional football.
“The ultimate goal is to bridge the competitive gap and increase the number of national teams capable of playing at the highest level, part of FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s Vision 2020-23.
“My problem is that the people at the NFF don’t seem to know what the rest of the world is doing. If they do, they would find that the TDS would help us solve the problems dogging our football.”
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