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Eagles, pawns in politics of Nigerian football

By Segun Odegbami
18 December 2021   |   3:48 am
Politics across Nigerian football will dominate the sports landscape starting from AFCON 2022. Politics in the game and its administration have, indeed, become a recurring decimal...

Augustine Equavoen

Politics across Nigerian football will dominate the sports landscape starting from AFCON 2022. Politics in the game and its administration have, indeed, become a recurring decimal, like a groove in a broken vinyl record repeating the same ‘lyrics’ over and over again.

In the next three weeks, all eyes will be on the Super Eagles by Nigerians as they commence their limp to AFCON 2022 in Cameroun. Notwithstanding all the recent crisis in the technical composition of the team, the Eagles are still expected to be one of the favorites to win the coveted African trophy.

Around the team now there is plenty of technical politics ongoing. Considering what transpired in the last few weeks, realistically, the chances of winning AFCON are slim. No army ever goes to a war amidst such internal crisis and expects to win. But, football is such an unpredictable game when the whistle is blown for the start of the championship, the crisis recedes to the background, and will not reduce the immediate expectations of Nigerians to win, without any acceptable excuses for failure.

Therefore, what happens at AFCON will determine the fate of various branches of the football tree in Nigeria.

That battle begins on January 10, 2022.
The Nigerian team has 3 weeks from now to get acquainted with, and quickly adapt to a new and different technical set-up with a Nigerian, leading a large consortium of football technicians as they embark on yet another experiment. Many see this development as a set-up to ensure that Nigerian coaches never succeed, or get enough credit to remain at the helm of coaching at national team level after AFCON.

Their success will surely stop the drainpipe that siphons foreign currency out of Nigeria into several wallets abroad in their usual guise of ‘foreign coaches are better than Nigerian coaches’.

The usual pattern is that there will be a few changes here and there, reluctant appointments are made that are never fully supported, there is a ‘shortfall’ in bloated targets, the Nigerians are sacked, and the era of another set of foreign coaches begins again, and the cycle is repeated.
From my observatory, I can see the outlines of this faulted construction again.

But what is likely to happen now with the technical crew on the eve of AFCON?
‘Cerezo’, as Eguavoen is called by his army of fans, is not new to the Nigerian football system and the intrigues that often play out at critical times before major championships in the past. He has been both a beneficiary as well as a victim of some of these last-minute changes in technical crew.

He is inheriting Gernot Rohr’s team and is unlikely to make any earthshaking changes in the list of players he will take to Cameroon.

He has also inherited Gernot Rohr’s Nigerian assistants, including coach Yussuf Salisu, who carries a big baggage into the team with his involvement in a disgraceful corruption incident some years ago that led to his suspension by the world governing body of football. His return to the team raises some serious moral questions about the justification for his recall to national duty. It is obviously a political decision made to fulfill either an ethnic quota in the national team, or for other pecuniary reasons unknown to the wondering public.

Alongside him, for continuity purposes probably, are Alloy Agu, the goalkeeper’s trainer, and a former national team goalkeeper who has served the national team in that position longer than anyone else in Nigeria’s history, and Joseph Yobo, a retired former captain of the national team.

In addition, there are now technical ambassadors (a new addition to the football lexicon) added to the motley crowd. These are renowned former international players without coaching badges or training, but vastly experienced as players and are some of the most celebrated players in Nigeria’s history – Jay Jay Okocha, Kanu Nwankwo and Garba Lawal. They are drafted in obviously to add some colour to the whole drama.

This technical team will have two weeks, at most, to work with their own assembly of players going to the AFCON.

They too may likely throw in one or two players from the domestic Nigerian league to fulfill all righteousness and be seen to be politically-correct.

One major thing that Nigerians should watch out for is happens to Ahmed Musa and Odion Ighalo. Both players have served Nigeria well in the past but have passed their prime. They were lingering at the edges of Gernot Rohr’s set-up before his ouster.

The most influential person in the selection of Nigerian players for the national team in the past two decades (and probably longer) is a Nigerian quietly working behind the scenes, monitoring the performances of Nigerian players all over Europe, and reporting to national team managers. Tunde Adelakun’s name has not featured in the present ouster or consortium. He has become so ‘powerful’ in the Nigeria Football Federation set-up since Taiwo Ogunjobi’s time as Secretary General of the NFA, that he has survived all previous changes and it should not surprise anyone if he is seen on the Nigerian bench again at the AFCON.

Some analysts think that the whole consortium issue is designed to shut up the loud calls for ex-international players-inclusion in football administration in the country, as well as the full indigenization of the coaching staff at national team levels, if they fail.

Should that happen and they fail to win the African Championship in Cameroun, the stage will be set to engage another foreign coach (already in the pipeline) and sustain the old tradition of foreign coaches, a practice that is an invisible lucrative conduit for ‘feeding’ the vampires in Nigerian football administration.

There is also a silent but brewing war going on about the faulty constitution being used to sustain the election racketeering that has crippled domestic football and has been fanning the embers of mediocrity and deep corruption in the bowels of Nigerian football.

A handful of members of the Players Union appear to be the only stakeholders in Nigerian football that are armed with knowledge and the courage to stand up and fight to correct the anomalies and faults in the present constitution of the NFF that are skewed to favor a particular constituency (undeservedly and erroneously).

The players have taken the matter to court. This will definitely rattle the present NFA whose tenure expires before the World Cup in November 2022. The elections into the next NFF Executive Committee must hold before the World Cup, and that presents a big challenge to the present board preparing, as other boards before them, to use the opportunity of taking delegates to the World Cup to finetune their return to power.

This time, with the unusual timing of the World Cup, the scenario will be different and only an elongation of the tenure of the board, which shall be vigorously challenged and made impossible, can make this clandestine plan work.

The excuse that elections before the World Cup would be a distraction to the players will not hold any water. The players are so far away from the shenanigans in administration that it does not matter when elections are held, the politicking will surely take place.

The present board will definitely call for a postponement of their elections until after the World Cup but many of the stakeholders will resist that call vehemently.

The Players Union is already in a civil court challenging the present constitution of the NFF.

The next few months into 2022 will be very interesting as Nigerians follow the battle for the soul of football administration in the country played out with the Super Eagles as the pawns!