(By Goke Omolade)
“Indeed what obtains on the face value of the football industry are signs of the time. Take for instance, the whole gamut of Nigeria’s ’unprepared preparation’ for the Brazil 2013/2014 World Cup Mock Football Tournament. Virtually everything was typically Nigerian! With barely few weeks to the competition was its coaching crew as well as the endlessly recyclable, anaemic team hastily mushroomed. While the football-crazy but gullible lot was busy building their castle on sheer emptiness, the initiated ones already knew what would be the end of such a farce. Nigeria’s team was so disjointed, lackluster and lackadaisical in all departments that the FIFA ought to have started an award for unserious preparation/ misplaced priorities.“
That Africa’s ‘soccer giant’, Nigeria, was recently humiliated out of the just concluded Brazil 2013 Mock World Cup/Turkey 2013 U-20 Football Tournaments organised by the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) was to put it mildly a poetic justice. Because no nation that dwells on deceits, sheer hypocrisy/habitual laziness can go far or meaningfully in the comity of decent nations. Where does one really begin the almost never-ending tales of its near misses and missed opportunities? Is it in its political theatrics, prostrate economy, moral bankruptcy, religious/spiritual pollution? Going by the record of its achievements vis-à-vis ample endowments, one can aptly say that Nigeria, in reflective terms of its leadership outputs, has been unfair on the citizenry at large. Now to football politics.
In this age of football sophistication, one’s fulfillment goes beyond mere participation because no matter how entertaining a team is, victory is about hauled goals. When in 1930 Uruguay blazed the trail by winning the first world football jamboree which it won again in 1950, the entire football fraternity has not been its same-self since!
Among other football lords that have indelibly etched their nations’ name in gold include: Brazil (five times: 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002), Italy (four times; 1934, 1938, 1982, 2006), Germany (thrice; 1954, 1974, 1990), Argentina (twice; 1978, 1986), England (once; 1966); France (once; 1998); Spain (once; 2010).
Often, football is described as the opium of the down trodden and wretched of the earth. Perhaps this was hitherto but with the attendant gusto and glamour it attained particularly towards the end of the 1980s/90s, it is indeed certain that football is now regarded as a substantial part of the oft tagged invisible service sector of the global economy. In fact, some players are so appreciated that they are more popular than their nations’ leaders. But for football, generations of institutionalised poverty-assailed families would have passed on the baton and apron of deprivation(s) to their successor lineages.
Indeed what obtains on the face value of the football industry are signs of the time. Take for instance, the whole gamut of Nigeria’s ’unprepared preparation’ for the Brazil 2013/2014 World Cup Mock Football Tournament. Virtually everything was typically Nigerian! With barely few weeks to the competition was its coaching crew as well as the endlessly recyclable, anaemic team hastily mushroomed. While the football-crazy but gullible lot was busy building their castle on sheer emptiness, the initiated ones already knew what would be the end of such a farce. Nigeria’s team was so disjointed, lackluster and lackadaisical in all departments that the FIFA ought to have started an award for unserious preparation/ misplaced priorities.
Now that the myopic and ultra-power thirsty bunch has rubbished our corporate image and dashed the hopes of well-meaning individuals with Nigeria’s (deserved?) shameful exit; what is then to be done? Do we continue in our spineless whining again till Brazil 2014 woefully come upon us and be taken for another ride of musical chairs thereby ultimately produce the same disappointing result? Or do we shake off our irritating slumber and effect the inevitable, necessary action?
Among the first set of immediate/proactive actions is to appoint a competent Sports minister; in the mould of (the late) Tony Ikeahzobor / Abdul One Muhammad, who has an incurable passion for sports development and by extension overhaul the entire sports arena. This would be closely followed by sanitising the present jobs-for-the-boys-ridden Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) and that it is only those with soccer fervency who should be in its power hierarchy. As for entry/membership of its various teams of all ages/levels; it should be merit and competence-driven; and participation of Nigeria-based coaches and sponsors should be paramount. From hindsight, comparatively speaking, the best soccer team that has ever emerged out of Nigeria was Sebastine Broderick’s 1985 world-conquering Golden Eaglets and it was a 100 per cent Nigerian raised– without any foreign sourcing whatsoever!
Essentially, recruiting standard standing teams requires a couple of resources; foremost of which is to have people of demonstrable integrity and committed interests. That is, they should be those who have business being there; not just any fill-in-the-gap-novices! During the 1970s and 1980s, Nigeria used to have its own ‘localised cup of nation’ in Ajegunle, Lagos, which featured promising and determined the young –shall-grow stars and it was a veritable recruitment ground for prospective, deadly footballers of all wings. Alas, decades of suffocating corruption, bureaucratic inertia and, of course, the annoyingly overbearing European soccer league mentality have buried it. Undoubtedly, Nigerian/African football league is in virtual disarray and, even at that, concerted efforts need to be made to salvage it by putting right pegs in right, not square, holes.
Maybe a little dose of history would suffice. The word, soccer, is a corrupted slang of the abbreviation; assoc. vis-a-vis futbol (Spanish). In the 19th century, football was played in the then Chinese, Greek, Maya, Egyptian civilisation(s) according to each dictates and in 1872 there was an international game between an English all-star team with a Scottish team in Glasgow, Scotland. In 1888, regular games started in England and with its export by its traders, sailors and soldiers.
In 1904, FIFA was birthed with the membership of Belgium, France, Denmark, Netherland, Sweden and Switzerland and dutifully it regulates all levels of football, professional plays, Olympic competitions and youth leagues. Among its glamorous football competitions is the once in four years World Cup Tournament with 32 nations. Similarly, there exist other age-group competitions involving about 200 nations, worldwide.
As elucidated by football experts, during a typical game, players’ run-around covers a 12-kilometre range exhibited on solid skill, style and stamina. For each game, six types of skills: kicking, dribbling, passing, heading, trapping and tackling are part of the football fun while dribbling alone has tapping, dragging and rolling in its sub-branch!
Usually, a good team blends individual skills with an effusive team spirit and various passes (short, medium and long) are accurately horned.
Herein lies Nigerian and by implication African impasse in the global football settings because while European game is played in the winter, summer and fall when its fields are wet/jogged; African/American fields are generally drier and better thereby giving allowance for more individual skills of fewer but longer passes. Hence Nigeria needs to rediscover its own style of free-flowing and robust football artistry on which the then Green Eagles, the early Golden and Flying Eagles were once built. It should pay more attention to, and take a deliberate action on the abundant local resources yearning to be given a break (instead of resorting to its oft non-committal players offshore). It can draw instructive cues from Brazil’s football artistry and in-depth technicalities. No matter its temporary setbacks, Brazil sticks to its style of display and local milieu.
It may not be off-track if world renowned football legends like Edson Arantes do Nascimento (aka Pele); Diego Amando Maradona or the newer/current football heroes are periodically invited for inspirational tournaments like the now dormant 1980s Ajegunle cup of nation matches (thereby igniting our embryonic ones). In 1999, the International Olympic Committee named Pele as the Player of the Century while his Santos Squad several times over won world club championships and the man also called ‘the Black Pearl’ was characterised with powerful shots, skilful ball control, brilliant passes and field strategy during his football playing days.
Upon all this football razzmatazz, whither Nigeria/African place in the 21st century global football settings? If one reflects on the breathtaking pedestal of renowned club-sides such as AC Milan of Italy, Ajax Amsterdam of the Netherlands, Manchester United of England, Real Madrid of Spain, Boca Juniors of Argentina, Sao Paulo of Brazil and Colo Colo of Chile; it follows that the sensible thing to do is to establish the appropriate institution to get appropriate footballing!
After everything is said and done, now is the time to make Nigeria’s football truly professional, ranging from gate tolls, sponsors, advertisements, clubs, supporters, stadia management, policy articulation/execution, coaching crew to players’ welfare. Gone should be the ways and manner of lopsidedness, indiscipline, pecuniary administration and carpet bagger players. Only then will the world take its football gamut to be serious-minded and even in the oddities of occasional losses, sanity and decorum would stoutly stand in strong defence of virtues and meritocracy that are already put in place.
•Omolade wrote from Goshen Haven, Ifelodun Estate; off FUTA North Gate, Akure.
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