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AFCON 2021— Under threat

By Segun Odegbami
25 December 2021   |   4:04 am
There is something about the next African Cup of Nations holding in two weeks’ time that does not snugly fit into my spirit. To start with, AFCON 2021 will be taking place in January 2022. That’s the first anomaly.

There is something about the next African Cup of Nations holding in two weeks’ time that does not snugly fit into my spirit. To start with, AFCON 2021 will be taking place in January 2022. That’s the first anomaly.

In two weeks, all things being equal, I intend to be in Cameroon. The last time it was held there in January of 1972, when the country failed to win it on home soil. That disappointment of that failure has lingered since then, and the psychological Calabash is to be shattered after 50 years.

Unfortunately, there is a growing threat to the hosting of the championship that had already been postponed twice in the past year in response to the dangers of the Coronavirus, with all its devastating effect on human activities. Football has not been immune from the havoc the virus has wreaked on humanity.

The most powerful man in world of football, Giovani Infantino, the FIFA President, is considering advising the CAF and the Cameroonian Football Federation to seriously consider postponing the championship once again to a more auspicious time. His worry has little to do with the health conditions, but with the interest of its most powerful confederation, UEFA, how hosting the event this January will adversely affect several powerful clubs around Europe when their African players go away for between 4 to 6 weeks of African championship.

That has always been an issue through the past several decades. Some clubs actually suffered and paid for their absence.

At a time in the past some European clubs took the extreme action to shuttling their players to and from the venues between matches and ferried them back in special planes back to Europe to play in their leagues.

The physical and mental toll of such an arrangement made it unsustainable. It was the craziest possible arrangement that was doomed to fail.

Take Liverpool FC now, for example.

The club’s two best goal scorers are heading to the African championship. Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mane play for two of the best national teams in Africa, Egypt and Senegal respectively. The two countries are likely to remain in the race for the trophy till the end. That means that in addition to the mandatory 2 weeks before AFCON, and the four weeks of the championship, the players could be away from their club’s services for at least 6 weeks.

The fate of Liverpool in the race to the top of the English Premiership may hang in the balance with the absence of these two key players.

There are several other clubs with similar situations, but in different degrees.

The European clubs are putting pressure on the FIFA President to intervene and get CAF to either postpone the African championship or cancel it outright this year, until something can be worked out to accommodate the interest of the most powerful block in world football.

Meanwhile, the situation is compounded further by the escalating issue of the COVID-19 pandemic situation that will not go away.

This is hoping that Cameroon will ensure strict compliance with safety health measures during the championship for all attendees, and leave FIFA and UEFA to sweat out their problems without disrupting AFCON 2021.
Another foreign coach for Eagles – our mumu continues!

Apparently, there is a new foreign coach for the Super Eagles waiting in the wings.
On the eve of AFCON 2021 that is the disturbing news beneath the surface of Nigerian football. An unknown coach from Venezuela has been interviewed and hired by the Nigerian Football Federation and will be unveiled after the championship in Cameroon. I even hear he will be in the stands during AFCON observing but not coaching the team, waiting to take over from Augustine Eguavoen irrespective of Nigeria’s outcome.

What is even more shocking and annoying is that the man’s claim to fame is that he is recommended by his friend, ‘The Special One’, Jose Mourinho. This must be a joke! Jose, who, himself, has been ‘wobbling and fumbling’ from club to club in Europe, unable to find his feet and register any further success in coaching since his ignoble exit from Chelsea eons ago.

It is hard to believe that Nigerians will fall for this crap, this cheap stunt, to be led like sheep, after the humiliation the proudest Black people on earth were made us go through with the shameful handling of Gernot Rohr, a misadventure that should have taught them a lesson never to attempt to fool Nigerians again. It seems some people still think that our mumu is forever.

If not that this is an acute case of what the legendary Jamaican singer, Bob Marley, described as ‘mental slavery’, how can anyone offer Nigerians a coach whose best ‘credential’ is a recommendation by a coach that the country would have second thoughts of hiring himself with his ‘fall’ from the Olympian heights of coaching at some point in distant history, and still groping for answers to his problem?

Have we become that stupid to just accept any such blatant abuse of our collective psyche?

Haba, do the NFF realise the damage such an appointment would do to Nigerian coaches with better qualifications that will be denied, once again, the opportunity to garner the experiences the officials say they do not have (and no country would offer them anyway) by handling their own team after the failure of the racket with foreign coaches?

I have checked. This foreign coach is not known in any big football circles. He does not dangle any serious credentials. Venezuelan football is not even known in these parts, not to talk of Venezuelan coaches. He does not come with an intimidating profile. He did not win anything for his country either as a player or a coach. So, what are we talking about?

I am wondering why Nigerian coaches and players, particularly the current generation of retired, ex-internationals-turned coaches, whose opportunities are being sold to undeserved foreigners, are not on the streets already, screaming blue murder and calling for the sack of the entire NFF.

If I was a Nigerian coach, I would head for the courts today and sue the hell out of whoever brings another foreign coach to handle the national team of this country, and imprisons Nigerian coaches and the entire country in another spell of colonization in the process.

This would be very damaging, and mark a permanent blow to the confidence and careers of qualified Nigerians waiting for years in the shadows to serve their country and earn some respect.

When Nigerian officials, who have also failed glaringly everywhere (except in the write-ups of their pen-pushing collaborators in this racket with foreign coaches) continue to treat qualified Nigerians as not good enough to coach their national team, they too should be disallowed any peace and respect. Having failed to deliver themselves, they too should be fired and replaced by foreign administrators. What is good for the goose is also good for the gander.

The issue now has become that of racial self-abuse, if there is any such condition. What is wrong with us that we continually run ourselves down? When shall we respect who we are, tell our own stories and proudly project our own to the world?

If the report of this new foreign coach is true, it will truly be a hard and bitter pill to swallow, and a tragedy for our Nigerian football heroes who have excelled playing the game and are now denied teaching it.

The day the next foreign coach lands on the shores of Nigeria, I, for one, will shall lead or join the chorus of railing against an ill-advised and arrogant appointment.

My stand and act may amount to nothing, but my name should never be found written amongst those who would be silent in the face of such a tyrannical act against the proudest of the Black people of African descent on earth, at a time in history when they are suffering some of the worst cases of disrespect around the world.

Some of us are waiting for that foreign coach to come and face his own ‘hell’.