Nigerians are still awaiting the outcome of the investigations into the circumstances surrounding the fielding of an ineligible player, Abdullahi Shehu by Nigeria in the last World Cup qualifier against Algeria. According to FIFA, Shehu, a rising star in the national team was not eligible to feature in the last qualifying game as a result of the number of cautions he received in previous matches.
Though Nigeria had qualified for the World Cup showpiece in Russia even before the trip to the North African country, NFF threw cautions to the winds by fielding an ineligible player. The devastating effect this would have had on the psyche of soccer crazy Nigerians remains unimaginable.
Consequently, the world soccer governing body found Nigeria guilty of negligence and didn’t have any choice than to award the match which ended in a draw to Algeria. In response, the leadership of NFF in what is becoming a face -saving tactics, immediately apologized to Nigerians and promised speedy and detailed investigation into the matter. Expectedly, several months after, the findings of the panel, if any, are yet to be made public; or has anyone been punished? It will not be in our character that the reasons for such an international embarrassment, capable of truncating the dream of Nigeria featuring at the global fiesta will ever be known.
The best way to douse tension and sweep matters under the carpet, including criminal cases in our beloved country is to set up panels and committees. The outcome of such investigations will still be reviewed by another committee until the issues are forgotten and life goes on.
Interestingly, the history of football administration in Nigeria is replete with such unpardonable negligence. Our football administrators had in the past traveled out of the country, leaving the international passports of players and other vital documents behind. At other times they forgot jerseys, while on more than two occasions we were punished for age cheating. Administrative lapses are synonymous with our football administration overtime.
However, one man who confronted the monster and excelled in giving football administration in Nigeria a lift is the late Patrick Okpomo. He was also an adviser on sports to late business mogul, Bashorun MKO Abiola whose passion for Sports was legendary. Patto, as he was fondly called, shared his perspective on administering national teams at an event organised by the Sportswriters Association of Nigeria in Lagos in 1992.
According to him, administration is the pivot on which any organisation rests and as such, plays an important role in ensuring success. Proper administration plans and ensures implementation of programmes toward attainment of corporate goals and objectives.
He emphasized that the secretary- general as head of the secretariat should ensure the fulfillment of the objectives for which the association is set up, that is, the promotion and development of the game of football, both locally and internationally.
Okpomo maintained that top officials of the football house must have an overall plan which is to ensure the success of the national teams in all competitions in relevant areas and carefully pay close attention every little detail.
Such areas includes but restricted to; entry for competitions, proper budgeting to cover all stages of competitions, time scheduling for camping of players and the timetable of the various elimination matches. But, are we doing that?
Each of these, according to him, compliments one another and emphasizes how good planning is indispensable to success. The teams have to be formally and properly entered for the competitions before they can think of qualifying. He recalled that there was a year Nigeria failed to go for the Olympic football tournament because the entries were not made from the secretariat. An oversight, carelessness or negligence of this nature results in disqualification, he stated.
Plans without execution, the revered football administrator observed, would yield no results. Men, money and materials must be assembled and combined in the right mix for success to be achieved. He identified key areas of attention for the secretariat to be; funding, management of players and their clubs, relationships with other Federations as well as continental and global football stakeholders.
In his view, without adequate funding, failure is certain. Sadly, he recalled an occasion when the Super Eagles were thrown out of Obasanjo Farms Hotel because of a debt of N45, 000, while preparing for the 1990 African Cup of Nations in Algeria. On other occasions, he recalled how Nigeria almost missed out of sending out teams to international competitions because of inability to purchase air tickets.
Again, individual players, clubs and other stakeholders form a nexus of interacting factors in effective administration of a national team and the administrator must liaise between them for proper coordination and utilization of resources. The job of the administrators can only be made easy if there is a conducive atmosphere in camp. Disunity among players in the national team has also been a major issue according to him. One of the biggest problems that tend to divide the players is the issue of home based versus foreign based and some players who rate themselves as untouchable super stars.
The former Secretary General didn’t spare the media either. “The media have not helped matters but have compounded it. Such over-flogged issues in the media divert attention of the administrators from concentrating and tackling important issues which will enhance the performance of the national teams.”
In 1985, he continued, the issue of home based players versus foreign based robbed Nigeria of chances of qualifying for the 1986 African Cup of Nations. If the so called super stars are not invited to camp, the public raises dust and should they be disciplined, it is an explosion, he intoned. The issue of Etim Esin and the New Nigerian Bank players in 1984 is a typical example.
Okpomo recalled that two incidents made Nigeria fail to qualify for Italia ‘90. One, before the match against Gabon, one player refused to travel with the team because he wasn’t allowed to travel with his wife. Two, another player demanded to be paid a sum of N15,000 before he could undertake the trip to Gabon. “The football house refused to meet the demands and at the end Nigeria lost to Gabon, the whipping child of the group. The Super Eagles left for the last match against Cameroon a divided house, after too much distraction at the airport because of the conduct of one player,” Okpomo regretted.
Finally, he advised that the importance of exposure for the World Cup bound teams cannot be over emphasized. The clubs, local and foreign must be made to understand that national interest is bigger than their winning club laurels. Players to the national teams, he insisted, must learn to be team members and perform their roles without frustrating the team.
In his view, the administrative structure of sports in Nigeria must be redefined. “In one vein, we are told the Association is autonomous; in another breath, all decisions affecting the association are taken by the ministry and NSC. Such administrative ambiguity cannot help overall development of football,” he concluded.
Till next week, keep attacking.