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Erico, Owolabi, Adelabu, Lawal, make case for enrichment of local league

By Samuel Ifetoye
26 January 2020   |   4:17 am
Football has been described as more than just a game. It’s now more of a lifestyle, which defines how a country and its people are rated. Football has become a diplomatic tool, such that nations go to ‘war’ to defend their honour following incidents that happened on a football field.

Seek Accommodation For Home-based Players In Eagles

Football has been described as more than just a game. It’s now more of a lifestyle, which defines how a country and its people are rated. Football has become a diplomatic tool, such that nations go to ‘war’ to defend their honour following incidents that happened on a football field.

As an economic tool, football in some countries ranks among highest sources of foreign exchange and employer of labour. Thus, countries work meticulously to develop their football from the nursery to the national league level.

The world over, the local league is the foundation of national football. It is in the league that excellent players are picked to represent their country in international football engagements. In the past, national team players were picked from among the best players in the local league. Only on a few occasions were players called from overseas to represent their national teams.

But times have changed. With the exception of England, Germany, Spain and Italy, where almost 90 percent of international stars come from their local leagues, most other countries rely on foreign leagues for their national team stars. That is especially true of Africa and South American national teams.When Nigeria became a member of the international football community in the late 60s and early 70s, the Eagles comprised only home-based players. That was the glorious days of Nigerian league football when players were household names, treated like rock stars. The superstars of the various clubs were easily identified and idolised by a fan base comparable to what obtains in the major European clubs.

Things began to change in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the best of the country’s footballers started migrating overseas in search of better opportunities. With the exodus of the country’s best players to European clubs, the coaches began to rely on the foreign leagues for national team players. It has become so difficult for home-based players to play for the Super Eagles. This has also made the local league less attractive to budding players, as everybody wants to go abroad for greener pasture as well as national team opportunity.

This scenario has also underdeveloped the national league as football fans now prefer to follow the European leagues than the Nigerian Professional football League (NPFL).Recently, there have been calls for the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and national team coaches to help the development of the NPFL by choosing players from the league for the national team.

The advocates for home-based players cite Wikipedia, which says, “even the inventor of the round-leather game, the English Football Association saw the need to harmonise the essence of the local league when it projected for equity sake; the need to introduce the Homegrown Player Rule in order to allow for more domestic players to be developed from an earlier age in the hope of nurturing more homegrown talent for future success of the country.”

Some stakeholders believe that the essence of running a local league is to develop and establish the country’s football culture.At the exit of the Super Eagles from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, former Arsenal Football Club coach, Arsene Wenger had wondered why a footballing country like Nigeria would struggle to present a solid team of 23 players for any tournament, considering the country’s numerical strength in terms of population. According to Wenger, talents can never be a problem to Nigeria with her large population. Wenger, however, attributed the Super Eagles’ exit at Brazil 2014 World Cup to lack of solidarity and poor administration. He told Daily Mirror that, “Nigeria possesses quality in terms of players but off-field problems worked against them. I don’t think it’s purely down to quality. I think it comes down to organisational problems before the World Cup and during the World Cup.

“I think what hurts football fans both in Cameroon and Nigeria – two big footballing nations – was not that their countries did not reach the quarter-finals, it was the fact that both teams had no solidarity and they had problems that were exposed all over the world before the competition and that’s the main reason.”

The submission of Arsene Wenger, however, showed clearly that Nigerian football problem could well be beyond the league the players come from, but rather improper organisation of the local league and other forms of distractions. Some stakeholders believe the inclusion of a good number of home-based players in the national team will bring stability to the team.

Among those clamouring for the inclusion of the home-based players into the mainstream of the Super Eagles is former International, Felix Owolabi.Owolabi believes the wholesale population of the senior national team with players based abroad kills the spirit of the NPFL players, who now feel that no matter what they do, they will never get the chance to play for the senior national team.

“For as long as we continue to rely and align with the dictates of any foreign coach on already made materials, we will be making the greatest mistakes of the 21st century. I think we are forgetting the root of our football, which is the local league, where so many great players and I were discovered because we were given opportunities regardless the number of times.

“If you cannot rely on your local league and make it look perfect so that the bulk of your team can be sourced from it, at least 70 per cent, either for a competitive or friendly game, then that country’s football is doomed for failure.“It is only in this part of the world we are doing things the other way round. Everybody must remember his or her roots and go back there. What is happening in South Africa today is an eye opener. If you keep on relying on anything foreign, believe me, one day you will fall,” he said.

Owolabi advised Super Eagles’ coach, Gernot Rohr to always include some home-based players in his squad, especially in international friendlies to build their confidence.“Using some of these home-based players would give him the opportunity to justify his fear if they performed abysmally. But you cannot condemn them when you haven’t given them the chance. And the NFF too is not helping matters at all.

“For how long shall we continue to have it this way? Except if they want to tell us that nothing good can ever come out of our league, then we will know why our league was not given a look in! But I think our players need to be exposed too to get a team we all crave for.“The destiny of any nation’s football lies in the local league. A lot of things are happening in the Nigerian football. As someone who has seen it all, one must appreciate the little we have achieved so far. But it’s quite unfortunate there hasn’t been much improvement in our local league.

“Over the years, inadequate funding has hindered the growth and smooth running of the local leagues in the country. There have been recurring complaints of unpaid match bonuses and salaries by clubs, as well as difficulties in traveling arrangement, which have almost stunted the players’ desire, hence, the distortion in the growth of the local league”.He added that government’s role in the country’s football administration hasn’t helped matters.

“In Nigeria today, almost all the clubs that belong to the government find it difficult to get the needed funds to run successfully, especially when a government does not like sports, particularly football. Then you envisage the challenges that lie ahead for the club,” he said.Owolabi, who played for the IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan believes that a lot needs to be done on players’ welfare to get them back to the days of glory.

“I can’t imagine players traveling a long distance to honour a league match. I can recollect a match where a club that came to Ibadan for a league game and the players that I saw all looked hungry, like they hadn’t eaten. “The fact is that most of them are owed match bonuses, salaries by their clubs. Maybe, the only reason these boys are still putting up their effort is the hope that one day luck will shine on them, either via an invitation to the national team or a greener pasture abroad,” he said.Owolabi wondered why Coach Rohr would say that he did not see any player good enough for the national team.

According to him, part of the duties of a national team coach should have included discovering potential talents for the future growth of the nation’s football rather than relying wholly on already baked players from abroad.“I still insist that the future of a country’s football lies in the local league. By this, I will say that our administrators have failed us by not letting coaches handling our national teams know, understand and also realise that developing our local league through the invitation of players plying their trade in the local league is paramount to the development of our football.

“It is not enough for a coach to conclude that he cannot find players in the league, who can replace the ones he currently invites to the Super Eagles. And if that is his conclusion, I do not think he has any reason to remain as coach of the Eagles.“A complete dependence on players abroad is simply because we do not have a programme, no structure. I believe a good coach will always identify potentials in the NPFL. Many times, you see England’s coach, Gareth Southgate going to Premier League venues, Emirates Cup and the FA Cup to have a first hand knowledge of players by himself,” he stated.

Speaking on why the Super Eagles Team failed in their attempt to qualify for the 2020 African Nations Championship (CHAN) slated for Cameroun, former Eagles assistant coach, Joseph Erico, said the coach of the team, Imama Amapakabo shouldn’t be blamed for country’s failure to gain qualification.Erico, who said it took a strong coach to manage and succeed with any national team in Nigeria with the type of administrators running football in the country, described Amapakabo as a good coach.

“It is not Amapakabo’s fault that we didn’t qualify for the Olympics. It is because he doesn’t know the politics. You need strong coaches and the administrators here don’t like such coaches.“We used to have them in the past but after the demise of coaches Shuaibu Amodu and Stephen Keshi, we don’t have them again. When we were on board the administrators kept on controlling coaches.

“That is why the expatriates don’t stay for too long, they get fed up and leave. Anyone that stays is because he has no option. Look at Bonfere Jo; he keeps coming, because he wants to come back again since he hasn’t got a job.“Look at the female team coach, Thomas Dennerby, who left the Super Falcons; he now has a new job because he has the pedigree in his country. They like people they can manipulate and direct. Amapakabo may not be able to tell you what he passed through. He is not a bad coach, but the people around him, the sycophants.

“I wish you knew what the national coaches are going through. In my days we had the same problem, but we were strong. In qualifying for the 2000 Olympics, we had 21 home-based players and five goalkeepers from the national league. We invested time with them and introduced to them the basics, the techniques and individual tactics.

“There are enough materials in the local league. What we did was to identify their problems and took care of them instantly without anybody knowing. Defeat calls for explanations, while victory covers a lot of sins. The administrators want victory so that they will not be exposed for their squandermania,” he stated.

Coach Erico added that impatience, laziness on the part of the country’s coaching crew has affected the quality of players produced by the country,
“I will never be in support of the argument that we don’t have good goalkeepers in this country. You can only get good goalkeepers when you build their confidence, give them the right training, and the right frame of mind.

“After all, the good goalkeepers like Peter Rufai, Joseph Dosu, Ike Shorunmu, Vincent Enyeama were discovered on the streets, and from there they made their mark in the local leagues. They didn’t fall from heaven.“That we don’t have good goalkeepers is due to the coaches’ mentality. I think it is because they are too lazy to go around to watch league matches,” said the former Julius Berger coach.

Erico added that Rohr’s decision to rely mostly on foreign-based players is not fair to the NPFL players.“His decision to me, definitely, is not fair to the players playing in the NPFL. These games are merely friendlies and not competitive matches and these would have given some of these boys chance to grow. But the success or failure of a team is the coach’s problem. It is his responsibility to take decision that may work for him.

“What I can say about this is that this is not good for our football. We are not treating these boys well by not giving them opportunities to develop themselves and also build their confidence,” Erico stated.

Also giving his verdict on the need to look inward to develop the game of football is former International, Adegoke Adelabu, who advised NFF to consider assigning retired national team stars to develop football in schools through a training programme that would also gainfully engage the former stars.

“The coaching problem in the country has been a long-time thing. During the days of former Green Eagles coaches like the late Father Tico of blessed memory and Otto Gloria, I kept a note of what I learnt from them because I was at the university then as a sports science student.“I looked at their philosophy, the way they coached, how they got results, the way they read matches and so on. The major problem we have today in Nigeria is that we keep bringing these foreign coaches without any objective in mind.

“We have so many highly intelligent former Internationals, who are wasting away now. They may not be that educated, but we can organise a programme that will help them put their thoughts together. Because one can be illiterate and have good thoughts on the basics of football,” he said, adding that the call for the sack of Rohr wouldn’t be the solution to solving the problem of Nigerian football.

“Some people are clamouring for the sack of Rohr, but my question is, if you are sending him away, what did we gain from him? The coach brought in his own assistant and some people are working under him. What did they learn? So, by the time we throw him away, then we will now start looking for another one.

“I think it is time we begun to use our coaches. If we don’t use them, how can they develop? The NFF needs to understand that we must help our coaches to have a proper understanding of the game. Once they understand this, it will be easier for our coaches to start learning, so that when we lose, we will know why we lost and then we can build up from there.

“We should know our standard and know how we produce players, which is the most important thing. We cannot continue to invite players from one place to another just because they are playing professional football here and there.“I do not know how many home players are there in the Super Eagles of today. When I look at our league, I begin to wonder if this is how things will continue to go. If we can get all our players from abroad then I think anybody can coach our Eagles.

“As a sport scientist, I see it as disheartening that we cannot get what we want from the league because by now we should be able to produce sufficient players and only invite one or two players based abroad,” he said.

Former International, Garba Lawal blames absence of the NPFL on television for the underdevelopment of the league, saying it has denied Nigerians the opportunity to assess the quality of players in the competition.

“The NPFL has been fantastic so far this season. In some of the matches played in the league, there have been impressive results recorded with teams playing draws and even pulling victories in away fixtures, surprisingly.“How can one determine a player’s quality, let alone recommend him for national call up when one is not opportune to watch him live. I am here in Kaduna, and it’s not possible for me to watch some of the league games except the CAF’s matches.”“The CAF Champions League, and Confederation Cup are the ones I can talk about. I cannot talk on the league that I didn’t watch,” he said.

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