REQUIEM FOR NIGERIA'S FOOTBALL AT THE BEHEST OF A NEW COLONY
If I had hopes for Nigerian football prior to a recent visit to Nigeria then those hopes have now evaporated. There is now a requiem for Nigeria's football. The global transition in football engendered by the vast economic liberalization opium has clearly hammered the final nail in Nigerian football coffin and even FIFA's haste to stem its impact will only slow itself in stutters. That much is clear to me but here is the key question: "Is it clear to the Nigerian FA?"
The media lliberalization in NIgeria has introduced a brand of neo-colonization where Nigerians have adopted the English Premier League (EPL) teams and are unable to name a single player who plays for their local NIgerian clubside. Shocking! EPL team gear is all over Nigeria and they are proudly worn by infants, college girls , their boyfriends, their moms, and the sugar daddies. It is Arsenal there, Liverpool, Chelse, and Manchester United galore. No room for the likes of Enugu Rangers, Enyimba, Insurance, 3Sc, or the Dolphins. Nigeria is indeed an EPL colony. I went into the Ceddi Plaza in Abuja and into a store selling football gear and not one item belonged to a local Nigerian team. In one evening outing with friends at Blue Island hotel in Enugu, the one time hotbed of Enugu Rangers only to endure an entire evening of discussion centered on Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea. I sought discussions on the local league but found no takers. I found out that very few knew the current league performance of the once-revered Enugu Rangers. Shocking? That was only a part of it, I purchased a local sports newspaper hoping to read about the local league only to quickly note that onl;y one page (tucked inside) focused on the local league. The rest was on EPL and other European leagues. The EPL domination is complete and total, make no mistake about it.
The long term effect is predictable and there are signs, already. The local stadia are virtually empty. For instance, Rangers hosted local league leaders Niger Tornadoes and only a handful of people showed up to watch. Guess what? the city was abuzz with football on that day but the buzz was not about Rangers or the visiting Tornadoes. Instead, it was for the televised Arsenal v Burnley and Liverpool v Luton, two rather pedestrian English FA Cup fixtures. Then I was informed that the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) recently interrupted its popular late news to broadcast an EPL game. Unbelievable! It is indeed deep.
Obviously, Nigerian fans of local teams are now part of a dinosaur-breed. They are now few and far between and soon they will be extinct. What then is the FA doing about this dreadful situation for local football? The facts are evident and they lie squarely on the FA's table and yet what we read about is the FA claiming effectiveness based on the achievements of the Under-17 team that it barely supported on the way to the team's win of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup. As for the big picture -- the ongoing colonization -- the FA is indeed comatose.
Sure, the current EPL hegemony is a response to economic calculations, a byproduct of liberalization. In essence, private broadcasters seeking a large audience have found nirvana in the broadcast of EPL games, creating and whetting the appetite of NIgerian fans that had long been denied live football on television. There is no question that it is the broadcast of EPL games that has attracted its worship.
Perhaps, it is also possible that televising local Nigerian games will restore a substantial part of Nigerian football's lost glory. I watched the Nigerian game and the talents are still there and the Enugu Stadium (and perhaps others) are reasonably in good shape. Unfortunately, the refereeing and financial issues remain problematic. Thus, the quality may not exactly be EPL but it surely compares or outpaces the PSL of South Africa that is also screened frequently on Nigerian television sets.
While the NIgerian FA may stick its head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich, FIFA clearly has worked to adapt and maintain some balance in this era of economic liberalization and global expansionism. FIFA's edict on football transfers, restricting movement of underage players and restricting transfer periods are some of the strategies that FIFA has used in attempt to negotiate and maintain a balance in the post-Bosman era. But even FIFA's edict, while slowing down European domination, does not extinguish it. But FIFA can only do but so much. The local FAs, like Nigeria's FA,must realize the threats that exist within their own environments and plan accordingly.
If the Nigerian FA fails to plan, there will be a time when even the Nigerian players will gravitate to other nationalities and play for other countries instead of Nigeria. Make no mistake about it, that time may well be nearer than we care to admit. Who wants to play in an environment where the local support may be grossly inadequate? In fact, one of the holdbacks to such a gravitation is the reluctance and slowness in several European countries to use available foreign nationals in their national teams. Just maybe, the appointment of Fabio Capello in England may open this vista for England. If he weathers the media flak that will follow then he would cement a new route to an England revival and a death nail for Nigeria and other countries like Nigeria.
The fight is on, the Nigerian FA just has not realized it. Its unwillingness to think BIG and deal with this deep problem will eventually upend Nigerian football.
Nigerian Football And Threat Of Foreign Domination
FOREIGN influence in Nigerian football is as old as the advent of television in the country.
Thanks to cultural exchanges as a form of mass communication for citizens of the world, German, English and Brazilian brands of football found their way into the living rooms of privileged Nigerians who were comfortable enough to acquire television sets.
Through TRANSTEL channel, German football and its talents became models of aspiring Nigerian footballers.
Names like Karl Heinz Rummenigge, Klaus Hrubesh, Hanze Muller, Gerd Muller, Frantz Beckenbauer, Uwe Seeler, were adorable figures in the eyes of Nigerian football fans.
Englishman Kevin Keegan emerged the brightest star of his generation in the German League. Keegan was so good he had the Germans singing his name in the colour of Hamburg football team.
The Keegan craze infiltrated Nigerian football scene and budding talents preferred to adopt the star as their role model.
One of Keegan’s fanatics, Niyi Adeleye, who was fondly called KK after Kevin Keegan, ended up as bronze medallist at the 1985 World Youth Championship (WYC) in the old Soviet Union.
Adeleye’s team mate and captain to the 1985 WYC, Andrew Uwe, also adopted “Seeler” after another German star, Uwe Seeler.
O’Globo went into partnership with Nigerian television and made Brazilian football attractive to Nigerian viewers. Through this medium, Nigerian teams adopted the names of great Brazilian sides.
Flamboyant Lagos side, Stationery Stores of Lagos, called itself Flaming Flamingoes, after the Brazilian side, Flamingoes. Another Brazilian stalwart, Vasco da Gama, caught the fancy of defunct Enugu side, P & T Vasco da Gama.
Not only that, Nigerian talents adopted Brazilian nicknames — Marinho, Zeze, Pintinho. One of Nigeria’s former national team captains, the late Sam Opone, who later became a coach, was fondly called Zagalo after the Brazilian hero, Mario Zagalo.
In the height of their achievements, Brazilian teams - Santos (starring the inimitable Pele) and Fluminense came on a playing tour of Nigeria for the country’s fans to see their idols live in action.
England, the traditional home of football, commanded a lot of spectatorship in the 1960s and 1970s Nigeria. Known variously as Star Soccer, Premier Soccer or Target Soccer (when a Nigerian tobacco firm capitalised on the profound viewership of the matches to sponsor the programme), the package aired on weekends featured a star match with footage of other games across England.
Harry Redknapp, Steve Bruce, Steve Coppell, Mark Hughes, now coaches of English Premier League sides became household names among Nigerian fans.
The late Ayo Adeniji was named ‘Allan Ball’, George Omokaro of the old Bendel Insurance was nicknamed ‘George Best’ after the late Manchester United enigma and perhaps the first real superstar of the game, George Best.
Italian football may not be a weekly feature on Nigerian screen, yet stars from that country-namely Paolo Rossi (who became toast of Nigerian musicians), Silvatore Schillachi were darlings of Nigerian football fans, thanks to their exploits at the 1982 and 1986 World Cup finals.
As famous as these foreign stars were, they lived in the shadows of Nigerian footballers who were idols to their fans.
The performance of Haruna Ilerika, the left-footed dribbler of Stationery Stores was enough to fill the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos to capacity. The entire stadium stood still for Nigerian stopper - Godwin Odiye - on his first touch of the day on match days.
The shout of Owoblow was enough to cow opposing sides when Felix Owolabi performed in front of his beloved fans. Former national team captain, Christian Chukwu was called the ‘chairman’ for the way he carried himself among team mates, opponents, match officials and administrators of the Nigeria Football Association (NFA).
Segun Odegbami was known for his enthralling dribbling, heading and speeding techniques.
By far, the most beloved set of Nigerian footballers represented the country in the United States at the 1994 World Cup.
Let it be said that as qualitative as the team was, the stars of that squad – Rashidi Yekini, Peter Rufai, Stephen Keshi, Daniel Amokachi, Uche Okechukwu - made their names playing for the IICC Shooting Stars (now Shooting Stars Sports Club), Stationery Stores, New Nigerian Bank, Ranchers Bees and Iwuanyanwu Nationale now Heartland FC respectively.
Also, teams like Leventis United, Abiola Babes, Flash Flamingoes, later Bendel United of Benin, Rangers International, Sharks FC, BCC Lions of Gboko and Bendel Insurance once reigned on the domestic soccer scene and filled stadiums to capacity.
Some crowd pullers include Bunmi Adigun, Wole Odegbami, James Etokebe, Andrew Uwe (Leventis); Taju Disu, Toyin Ayinla, Yisa Shofoluwe, Chris Anigala (Abiola Babes); Isaac Semitoje, David Ngodigha, Ben Iroha (Bendel United); Christian Chukwu, Emmanuel Okala, Okey Isima, Aloysius Atuegbu, Ifeanyi Onyedika, Slyvanus Okpala, Emma Okocha (Rangers); Adokiye Amiesimaka, Davidson Owumi (Sharks); Dominic Iorfa, Moses Kpakor and Samuel Addingi (BCC Lions) and David Adiele, Kadiri Ikhana (Bendel Insurance), among others.
Nigerian football receded into neo-colonialism in the 21st century, no thanks to a number of factors begging for solutions.
A clique specialises in forgery of International Transfer Certificate (ITC) to facilitate local players’ dumping loyalty to their local side for a stint abroad.
Another class of one-season flukes, believes it has arrived to try its luck in exchange for hard currency.
Some players believe an appearance in the colours of the national team, however ephemeral it is, should be good enough to land them a deal abroad.
The talents’ drain, dubious officiating, questionable attitude of coaches and insecurity at match venues combined to rob Nigerian football of quality.
The case is so amazing that players of the country’s cadet national team overlook Nigerian clubs and rely on their agents to secure foreign clubs for them. Very few members of Nigeria’s U-17 successful campaigners at South Korea 2007 returned to their clubs or the grassroots where they were discovered.
Top scorer, Chrisantus Macaulay has since joined German side, Hamburg, while defender Matthew Edile is hoping for the best after trials with English Premiership side, Manchester City.
Maurice Inok, a former captain of Black Cats of Ogoja said there was no chance for Nigerian local football to excite when stars of the game have their eyes fixed abroad.
“You can imagine how excited the fans would have been if those Eaglets had returned to their clubs but you can’t blame them. You blame the system which makes playing at home unattractive,” said Inok.
Rasheed Mohammed, former league winner with Stationery Stores of Lagos in 1992, blamed lack of adequate welfare package for the decline of Nigerian football.
“As a player of Iwuanyanwu Nationale, we lacked nothing. In fact, we got everything before we asked for it. So, there was nothing to look out for abroad,” Mohammed recalled his days at the Owerri-based side.
His experience with Stationery Stores of Lagos was also remarkable. Then bankrolled by a certain Mr. Anonymous, the Lagos side flourished in the early 90’s, got to away games in chartered flight and were dressed in attractive attires to match venues.
The club was good enough to attract players from the West Coast of Africa as ‘foreigners’ Arthur Moses and Stephen Botchway were pillars of that golden era of the Flaming Flamingoes.
Today, poor officiating indeed remains the greatest problem as many league matches had been ruined by men of the whistle.
Tribunesports investigation revealed that biased officiating is caused by gratification being given to match officials by clubs. Aside from the indemnities, referees are always tempted with bribe by home teams to curry favour. The practice is referred to as ‘tactical’ in football parlance.
Crowd violence is not peculiar to Nigerian football, as such had been witnessed several times in the European league. A case in point was the local derby involving Inter Milan and AC Milan during the 2005 UEFA Champions League. The return leg which took place also at the San Siro Stadium was disrupted in the second half by crowd violence as AC Milan keeper, Nelson Dida was chased out of the goal post with dangerous flying objects.
In Nigeria, the winatall cost syndrome results in fans’ unrest. The belief is that if your team plays at home, it must win regardless of the strength of the opponents.
The urge to help home teams win by referees at times could take the shine off the match and this is why the officials of the away teams do complain of ‘daylight robbery.’
A recent case was the one at the Aba Township Stadium when Enyimba FC of Aba played host to Wikki Tourists of Bauchi in a Week Seven Globacom Premier League.
The scoreline was 2–2 when Wikki scored another goal towards the end of the match but it was overruled by the centre referee due to the antics of a ball boy who threw in another ball onto the pitch at the time the shot was taken.
The referee, by the laws of the game, could use his discretion to accept the goal but he chose to decide otherwise.
As a result of crowd violence, teams are banished every season so that their fans could learn to embrace the spirit of sportsmanship after defeat.
Heartland FC and Wikki Tourists, among others, have been banished in the ongoing season as a result of fans’ unruly behaviour. Heartland moved to Ibadan from Owerri ,while Wikki Tourists were banished to Calabar from Bauchi just as Akwa United is still serving its one-year banishment in Calabar as well.
Economic factor is equally affecting the standard of the Nigeria game as many players earn peanuts compared to their colleagues even in other African countries such as Gabon, Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt.
Most clubs end up not paying the players the agreed sign-on fees and even salaries except token as match bonuses.
Again, because of the literacy level, most of the players do not care to know what is contained in the contract they sign. They want to sign and play football as a means of livelihood hoping that when they get a breakthrough to Europe, their fortune will improve.
Some players have had cause to be paid their backlog of entitlements through the Arbitration panel set up by the Nigeria Football League (NFL), when clubs refuse to honour the contract reached with these players.
There are some clubs in the professional cadre today in Nigeria that still pay their players as low N7,000 as salary with fixed sign-on fees that will never be paid except the player wants a free clearance in return.
There is no gainsaying the fact that Nigeria needs to improve on the administration of the game. Most of Nigerian clubs are poorly administered because unqualified people are appointed to be at the helm.
95 per cent of the clubs are owned by state governments which nominate favourites to run them. Mostly, politicians are in charge of these clubs’ management board who are after their selfish interests, leaving the players who can deliver the goods to work on empty stomachs.
All these setbacks combine to endear foreign football to Nigerian fans so much that hardly can one see a Nigerian football fan without allegiance to one foreign team or the other.
For instance, the crave for foreign football in Nigeria has brought in emotional solidarity among motorists who gracefully concede rights of way to drivers who display stickers of their darling clubs on the windscreen of their cars.
Lanre Arogundade, former chairman, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) Lagos State, branch sees an advantage in this addiction.
He hopes that one day, the big clubs in Europe will realise they have a massive fan base in Nigeria and embark on a playing tour of the country just like teams like Santos, Fluminense, Brighton, Orient did in the 60s and 70s.
However, it is not all good news about foreign football in Nigeria. The aftermatch tauntings among fans of rival clubs had resulted in exuberance and, in extreme cases, tragedy.
UEFA Champions League match nights have become covers for unscrupulous elements which infiltrate the rank and file of fans as viewing centres have been swooped upon by security operatives.
A stadium manager of one of the southwestern states, in an interview with Tribunesports ,accused operators of viewing centres of harbouring vandals and rogues who pilfer facilities and equipment of the stadium on UEFA Champions League nights.
By and large, the indigenous game continues to prosper despite the incursion of its foreign brand. As long as the Nigerian teams give the fans what they want in terms of quality and result Nigerians continue to boast about their talents which have given the country a positive image in the world.
Matches involving world U-17 champions, the Golden Eaglets, were played on the dawn of new day, yet Nigerians abdicated their family, corporate and religious responsibilities to cheer the team to victory.
On those glamorous occasions, rival fans of foreign clubs partied together after successful Nigerian outings depicting that the soul of Nigerian football is not yet lost to foreign mentality.
John Obuh (Coach)
Nigerian league is being neglected because of biased officiating. The way our referees handle matches leaves much to be desired. The way clubs are run in this country is not encouraging.
We lack professionalism in the appointment of players and coaches. There is no club with a definite pattern because there is no continuity.
Ufere Nwankwo (Coach)
It is the power of the media, with good television coverage, our football will attract more fans to the stadium.
Abdulrahman Sambare (Fan)
Even if 11 members of my family constitute the starting line-up of the Super Eagles, I prefer to watch Arsenal.
Chief Olayiwola Olagbemiro (Soccer Administrator)
The press would have to give local football adequate publicity. Hardly can you get a soccer fan today who can name the line-up of any team in the Nigerian league, but you will see many who know the full squads of Arsenal, Manchester Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool. With adequate publicity, the standard of our league will improve.
The standard was not as low as this in the 70s through 80s. The local league then was the toast of every Nigerian and you can always expect a capacity-filled stadium in every match.
The players too were always inspired to give the fans what they deserved in terms of excitement.
Chief Segun Odegbami (Sports Analyst/Columnist)
During our time, the urge to play professional football abroad was low because everybody was comfortable. There was no sign-on fee but we relied on salaries and match bonuses which were a lot of money then. There was a time I got N1,000 as match bonus and I bought a piece of land out of it and invested the remaining in business.
Well today, there is money in Nigerian football, players earn fat sign-on fees and entitlements but I notice a decline in the quality of the game.
We don’t have good strikers and players do not like to take risk again unlike during our time.
Our game is too defensive and we need to appreciate that goal scoring makes the game to be more exciting. Why should we go to Ghana, Guinea, Cameroun to look for strikers? Today, our clubs go to neighbouring countries to look for players. It is funny.
Abubakar Garba (Fan)
The first time I watched the Nigerian league live on the Supersports television, I was highly impressed. It has confirmed that the standard of Nigerian league is high. At least, the outside world is beginning to have the chance to assess our players in their localities before they become stars in Europe. The television coverage has also raised the standard of officiating.
Nathaniel Adewole (Football consultant)
I can only go to the stadium to watch a quality player and not anybody who puts on a shirt in the name of one club-I mean players who can make fans enjoy their money.
We need to check the exodus of our local players. The football authorities too are not helping matters. The FA should even make it difficult for these players to travel abroad.
The exodus is affecting the quality of our league. Where are the players to watch on the domestic scene when you have all the Taiwos, the Mikels, the Nsofors, the Adeleyes, the Okoronkwos abroad? The emerging ones will not also wait to acquire experience before they start junketing abroad in search of greener pastures. That is why you see some Nigerian players ending up in hotels, restaurants, car parks after just two seasons in Europe.
Dr. Ken Onyeali Ike (Sports Analyst)
A product must be well-packaged to attract sponsors. At the moment, we don’t know what our football is worth. We don’t have the structure in place and the personnel that can give our football economic power. Brazil has over 700 players in Europe.
We have the NFA that has the tendency to share wealth and the NFL that has the capability to create wealth. That is a problem because both parties do not have the same ideology. In England, they don’t fight over the sponsorship grant.
The organisers of the English premier league and the FA there do not have an axe to grind but it is not so in Nigeria.
Maurice Cooreman (Football Coach)
The standard of Nigerian league is high, but the organisation is poor. We need at least two experts from England to come and help us organise the league, at least for one year. It will help even our administrators to improve.
The administration of the game here is not encouraging. We need to improve the standard of our pitches too. You need a good pitch to play good football.
Monday Sinclair (Coach)
How do you appreciate what you don’t see? People are following foreign football religiously because they have access to it through the cable television.
With a token, you can go to any viewing centre around and enjoy good football instead of coming to the stadium in the face of crowd violence. It is not that our local players are not playing good football.
Again, every team in the Nigerian league is under enormous pressure to perform. The jobs of both the coaches and players could be on the line after two or three poor outings. Even, the management committees of most of these government-owned clubs are under tremendous pressure because the hammer could descend on them anytime if the result is not forthcoming. Nigerian football is about result and not planning.
John Fashanu (Soccer Ambassador)
The major problem with Nigerian football is that we have people on the board without the knowledge of the game.
You don’t need politicians to be on the board of FA. We have so many ex-footballers in this country, these are people who can run the game.
Kadiri Ikhana (Coach)
There is nothing special about these foreign coaches. We have a lot of indigenous coaches who are better, as well as talented players.
The problem with Nigerian football has to do with organisation. If you remember in 2003 when I won the CAF Champions League with Enyimba, we defeated teams handled by these white coaches. The standard of our league is improving.
Ifeanyi Onyedika (Coach)
Where are the players to watch in the Nigerian league again? During our time, people came to the stadium to watch Segun Odegbami, Christian Chukwu, Emmanuel Okala, Adokiye Amiesimaka, the late Muda Lawal, Baba Otu Mohammed and a host of others.
I refused to play professional football abroad because I was comfortable with what I was earning. I got an offer from Portugal alongside Sylvanus Okpala and Okey Isima but I didn’t bother to go.
Now, you don’t even know the players who are going to feature for Rangers or Shooting Stars. Imagine, a local player who reigns in his first season, the next thing is for him to play in Europe. The quality of the game is depreciating even though some exceptional players are still being discovered year in year out.
Shuaibu Amodu (Coach)
We have to de-emphasise win-at-all-cost syndrome, it’s not helping our football. In fact, the way out is to suspend the league for one year. Let us go back to the drawing board and see how we can put things in order. We need to change the face of our league so that it can attract investors. The quality of play is okay.